Organizational Storytelling

free essayStorytelling is an activity that is typical for colloquial communication of different types, which is why people usually do not associate it with business communication. However, managerial and executive representatives of business communication tend to pay special attention to the ways they can use storytelling in their professional activities. The current paper is basically devoted to the exploration and analysis of the role of storytelling in organizational life. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to answer the research question, “How do stories and storytelling contribute to the work of organizations.” The performed research clearly demonstrates that special storytelling practices in business allow getting various benefits, ranging from the enhancement of interpersonal understanding to crisis management and to problem-solving. The major organizational tasks that are solved with the help of stories in business include knowledge sharing, problem-solving, product development, and innovations, sharing organizational norms and values, and crisis management.

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Knowledge Sharing

The most widespread sphere of storytelling is connected to the cultural practices of different communities that have a long history and are connected with traditional ethnic stories in diverse forms. Many scholars approve that stories allow the representatives of different cultures to transfer their traditions through oral narratives to individuals that lack this knowledge (Kowalewski, 2013). As a result, the function of knowledge sharing can be understood as one of the oldest roles of storytelling. Gradually, storytelling has become a process that “assists individuals and organizations in aligning ideas, culture, and teaching in dynamic environments” (Kowalewski, 2013), which is especially relevant in organizational work. Moreover, the transformation of storytelling has led to the fact that its modern forms are more about the ways the future is approaching the present, prompting, and a re-storying of the past through diversity of voices in various organizational contexts (Boje, 2014). Moreover, the transformations have increased the persuasive value of the stories, making them more pragmatic and intended to solve the concrete business tasks, one of which is knowledge sharing. The literature review approves that stories may be efficiently used with the aim of tacit knowledge sharing. For instance, the research performed by Tobin and Snyman (2008) demonstrates that an oral method of narration and its conjunction with media visuals was an efficient way of tacit knowledge sharing in a large mining company that is located in South Africa. Also, the scholars claim that stories tend to stick into the mind longer than the abstract ideas, offer an effective instructional practice, and boost the process of capture of tacit knowledge (Tobin & Snyman, 2008). At the same time, in order to successfully validate this function, stories require the specific transformation. Thus, as explained by Wijetunge (2012, p. 212), “the comprehensiveness of the tacit knowledge that could be captured through stories would depend on the degree of confidentiality of the contents of the stories.” Consequently, the stories could not be recorded in the way they are told, but the slight contextual changes are required; these changes support their validity and allow organizations to minimize the organizational losses, when transferring the tacit knowledge.

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Crisis-Management and Problem-Solving

Furthermore, modern practices of organizational storytelling approve its usage with the aim of solving organizational problems and crisis management. For example, these functions were successfully met in such organizational fields as nursing, business, education, and psychology, where they were combined with an action research function (Sole & Wilson, n. d.). Moreover, there is the evidence that organizational storytelling that pursues a goal of problem-solving and crisis management is efficient when solving problems that are associated with the project-based learning. Among the most typical problems solved with the help of storytelling is the promotion of motivation, improvement of the concentration of the recipients, assistance in combining the old and new knowledge, the promotion of cooperation and other (Hung, Hwang, & Huang, 2012). At the same time, the academic literature notes the critical aspect of storytelling for it to be efficient, which is the appropriate structuring. The reason for structuralizing a story is mainly caused by the need to prepare the audience and initiate its engagement with the context, which easily establishes the roles to employees and fosters their understanding of the action plan. For example, Kang and Kim (2013) propose an eight-staged model of a problem-solving story that consists of the initiative, main, and the concluding phases, each of which is aimed at reaching a specific practical goal. The eight stages include preparation, team building and role setting, problem providing, planning, structuralization of the story, cooperative learning, problem-solving, reflection and analysis (Kang & Kim, 2013). The suggested model and its analogs demonstrate that modern storytelling is a complex activity with an advanced structure, each element of which aims at ensuring that the overall goal of a story is reached. Therefore, the complexity of the structure may change, depending on the outcomes that are expected by the narrator, which is why, complex goals directly impact the complexity of a story in terms of its structure.

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Product Development and Innovations

In the modern global market, managers and organizational leaders tend to use the stories for gaining a competitive advantage over their competitors by the means of fostering the process of product development and introduction of innovations. Experts approve that storytelling, used at the stage of new product development, is capable of boosting the capture and sharing of employee knowledge by enhancing the product development cycle itself (Zammit, Gao, & Evans, 2016). The benefit of storytelling at this stage is associated with its ability to unite various elements of corporate and general culture. Among these elements is learning, culture, technology, social knowledge, process and infrastructure (Duffield & Whitty, 2016), which form a single multi-dimensional concept. In its turn, this concept eases the process of shaping the innovative organizational solutions because the employees engaged in this process obtain a complete map of their tasks and the options for their completion. Many scholars describe this method of organizational communication as symbolic, contrasting it with the substantive communication that includes concrete behaviors and decisions (Slater, Mohr, & Sengupta, 2013). The experience of implementation of storytelling by Xerox demonstrates that stories are good for “presenting things sequentially” and casually, being “a powerful way to understand what happened and why” (Chirumalla, 2014, p. 206). Such an analysis is critical at the analytical stage of product development, as it allows to avoid the typical organizational mistakes. Last, producers of innovative goods may use storytelling as a part of promotion campaigns by shifting the opinions of potential customers towards more positive (Fenger, Aschemann-Witzel, Hansen, & Grunert, 2015). Therefore, stories may be used not only as the main means of initiation of innovations but as a supportive strategy that promotes an unknown product to the public.

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Organizational Norm and Value Sharing

The functions of storytelling are not limited by the discussed issues and also include the possibility of sharing the sets of organizational norms and values. Apparently, this is one of the easiest ways to communicate the values of an organization with the high possibility of their understanding and memorizing by addressees. Thus, various types of organizational stories may be used as a part of training and development programs, which use workplace-related fictional stories to improve employee performance (Beigi, 2014). The reason for the efficacy of these stories is that they combine the specific cognitive and emotional mechanisms that foster understanding and acceptance of the presented concepts and values (James & Minnis, 2004). In addition, storytelling has approved to be efficient in group communication due to a presence of a group of individuals, who express a need for guidance. For instance, the research by Kenter et al. (2016) demonstrates that storytelling allowed revealing a number of group and corporate values that were previously implicit with an accent on value-sharing, as a deliberate intervention. Also, other investigations have revealed that the complexity and type of value-setting stories strongly depend on the set and significance of values, which, in the case of Bordeaux wines, had a connection with the price range of various kinds of wine (Mora & Livat, 2013). Thus, often, the employees and the customers want to feel special, which is successfully achieved by setting values and norms through a storytelling framework. Therefore, the performed literature review and analysis of the cases of organizational storytelling approves that this is one of the most successful ways of solving various corporate-oriented tasks.

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Conclusion

Summarizing the above presented information, the paper arrives at a conclusion that organizational storytelling is a powerful mean of achieving the diverse corporate goals. These goals include knowledge sharing, problem-solving and crisis management, product development and innovations, and sharing organizational norms and values. In their turn, the complexity of organizational stories depends on the complexity of goals and difficulty of their achievement. The case study analysis has revealed that storytelling is practiced by managers and top executives of diverse organizations and businesses that are ranging from mining companies in South Africa to educational institutions, producers of winery and digital office appliances. Therefore, in case organizational leaders and executives want to enhance the quality of diverse organizational processes, they implement the storytelling strategies.