Why is storytelling in business an effective tool for contextual knowledge management?

People enjoy a good story. Telling stories is a particularly human activity that's been valued by cultures for thousands of years. Before the printing press was developed in the 15th century, stories were shared via oral histories, paintings, and scrolls, which had limited distribution. Today, people use platforms like YouTube and Snapchat to share narratives with friends and publish to the world. Storytelling in business could also prove a valuable tool for disseminating "deep" or contextual knowledge throughout your workforce.

Continual education has become a reality for today's professionals, in a workforce where flexible teams and changing roles are increasingly common. In fact, 53 percent of global professionals report that in their current role "constant role-shifting requires learning new skills quickly," while 64 percent are using technology as a tool for learning, according to the ADP Research Institute® report, The Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workplace.

Capturing individual stories could help you record the knowledge of your most experienced talent and provide contextually-rich lessons for your global workforce. Drawing inspiration from the age-old human art of storytelling could be an important tool for boosting organizational knowledge while honoring the expertise of your seasoned talent.

Capturing Your Employees' Experience-Based Knowledge

Knowledge management is an emerging, highly interdisciplinary field, perhaps best defined as a systemic approach to capturing and structuring an organization's knowledge for dissemination throughout the enterprise.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) reports that today's most effective organizations understand that success depends on the "deep smarts' of their employees — the business-critical, experience-based knowledge that employees carry with them." While many organizations have systems and processes for capturing technical knowledge, experiential knowledge is more elusive. It can't be recorded in an instructional format, and it's challenging relaying context in training videos. Capturing stories — as videos or podcasts — could be one of the most effective and compelling ways to share your organization's deep knowledge.

The Value of Storytelling in Business

Some of the most valuable deep knowledge can be relayed through stories of how a problem was solved, and the thought process behind important decisions. Experienced workers' stories of how thinking and processes have changed, and lessons learned, are likely relatable to current challenges in your organization. When these stories are shared, it can open up spaces for conversation, and potentially, new and inspiring problem spaces.

The context that surrounds these professional's stories can shed light on the real-world questions they encountered and the challenges they faced during a long career that impacted the organization, your products or services or even your entire industry. As your older workers look toward retirement, beginning to record these stories could be critical to helping your organization weather upcoming transitions and preserving insitutional knowledge.

Everyone's Stories Matter

Knowledge management has gained a great deal of attention as a tool to help organizations navigate the upcoming wave of baby boomer retirements. According to Bloomberg, millennials bring data and analytics, but boomers have experience they can rely on even when the data isn't enough. While capturing the "tribal" knowledge of baby boomers before they leave your organizations is certainly important, HR leaders would be wise to think of storytelling as a tool for co-learning.

Each member of your workforce has a story to tell. Individual histories are informed by a complex web of cultural codes, including national and ethnic backgrounds. In an increasingly global workforce, the most innovative teams are formed from diversity of people and opinions, with a goal of thinking differently about people, products and services. The belief that each of these team members has individual stories worth recording and sharing could be the basis of building successful multigenerational teams.

Listening to Stories to Build Innovative, Diverse Culture

As HR leaders explore methods of capturing baby boomer's contextual knowledge, think deeply about the intersection of knowledge management, co-learning and individual stories within the workplace. The belief that we all have something to learn and something to teach is key. We each bring something of value that, when genuinely appreciated, bolsters our desire to share what we know. And within this spirit of generosity, we continuously replenish our capacity to learn from others.

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Tags: People Management and Growth Diversity and Inclusion Employee Engagement and Productivity