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Telling stories is human nature, or so you’d think

After a week to review and reflect on some of the feedback from #KCUK09, I’m now back at my desk trying to take it all in and process what I’ve learnt so far.

Depending on where you are in your understanding and application, presentations at any event can float right over your head,  seem a bit basic or completely knock you off your chair.

Judging by the response on Twitter, I was not alone in being inspired by Tony Quinlan. His presentation on Retaining essential business capital through retiring staff, redundancies and mergers was an eye opener.

I’m afraid I’m to blame for the rather ambitious topic title, which as Tony quite rightly pointed out, is a tricky one to cover. There is no catch-all solution and what might work for one organisation may fail miserably for another, so what options are available to you?

You would hope that the traditional ‘water cooler’ chit-chat would disseminate a certain amount of business knowledge throughout your organisation so it should be easy to extend. Shouldn’t it?

Apparently not. People can be very protective of their knowledge – there is that feeling that ‘if everyone knows what I know then what is my purpose within the business?’

People aren’t stupid. They know when you’re trying to extract information and, let’s face it, would you want someone to suck your brains out?

Sucking out information by force?

Another point Tony raised was what is ‘best practice’ anyway? It’s a rather grand sounding term but how does it work in reality? How can people (and therefore the business) learn and grow from it? How can ‘best practice’ inspire learning and innovation?

To know how you have narrowly avoided or recovered a bad situation is far more valuable to the business. An understanding of what went wrong and how you can put it right is an effective learning tool for companies, so why are we so focused on developing best practice?

One Cognitive Edge technique that you can use is anecdote circles and competitive storytelling. It’s human nature to say ‘you think that was bad, what about…?’. Use it to unite your team and capture lessons learned at both the start and end of a project, giving you the context of decisions made and knowledge gained – people can take real learning out of that.

What I’ve learnt so far is that if you are facing a merger, try and help people to understand different aspects. Another helpful tool from Dave Snowden is ‘The Future, Backwards‘ technique, which can help you blend the organisational perspectives and understanding the past and possible futures for the business.

With retiring staff, a good way to engage them would be to ask about the highlights of their career. Employees who have been with the company for a long time have seen a lot so focusing their minds on what has and hasn’t worked is a great place to start.

Get them together in a room; find out about them, their careers, the big shifts in the organisation while they were there. There will be periods in the company when they learnt real business lessons. Engage them and make it social! A ‘remember when’ session can be great for both old and new employees and also gives you context so that others can apply it even if the story came from somewhere completely different.

Sadly when it comes to redundancies, it’s a harder sell. If it’s a hostile redundancy then it’ll be tough to get social material from them and if they are being forced out then you run the risk of causing real damage with the deliberate provision of mis-information.

Right now, more than anything we need to be encouraging innovation and running pilots is a good place to start (if anything it is one of the limited advantages of a recession). If you can find a small group of people who are genuinely excited about what you’re trying to achieve they will want to get involved. The only resource you will need is your time and attention.

“Every person’s map of the world is as unique as their thumbprint … in dealing with people, you try not to fit them to your concept of what they should be.” Milton Erickson

If you’re still unsure about what to do, check out Dave Snowden’s website. There are lots of useful methods there for you to use.

Tony’s advice: be brave.

Good luck!

A big thanks to Tony for his inspirational talk and for letting me write it up for my blog. We hope to make the session available to download at the beginning of next week so watch this space…


1 Comment»

  Helen Nicol wrote @

I enjoyed Tony’s session. Agree that when using storytelling you should do it by “stealth” and not actually mention that you’re doing to “do some storytelling” – just using it as a facilitation tool when it looks like it might help has far more impact.


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