How to create a learning organization with storytelling

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As a child you learned from stories. Promote a culture of storytelling in your organization. Competences and skills for the future will be fostered. At the same time you strengthen the identification with the learning organization.

 

Perhaps your organization, like many others, is in the midst of change. Perhaps you are wondering how to "enroll" your employees. Perhaps you are wondering how you empower your employees to shape the change. Or you may ask yourself how you create acceptance in your employees for the new responsibility.

This is often a difficult situation. Change requires new competencies, new approaches that were not in the foreground before. The organization has worked well. It has positioned and optimized itself according to the needs. Now these patterns must be broken. Catchwords such as New Work, agility, innovation or artificial intelligence overwhelm most people, as they cannot relate to these abstract concepts themselves.

Managers and personnel developers have therefore started to think about new learning methods [1]. In some cases they have entered into a large-scale exchange and have asked employees and brainstormed what they need to support learning. They want both to apply new knowledge quickly and to build up long-term competencies that are relevant for the future. They want many things at once (such as competences for digital transformation, self-organisation, resilience, change management, presentation skills, or knowledge how to learn from each other, how to find knowledge immediately, or how to combine work and learning).

It seems that traditional education or training (like seminars to which one is sent by the boss) alone is no longer sufficient. Also, formats such as sprints under the guidance of an external coach reach their limits, as they may be too local and isolated in the project team in relation to the overall organization. The many conferences are also a welcome opportunity to get inspiration from others.

New concepts and offers are very useful and should therefore be introduced according to the situation. However, one should also look at what has happened in companies that have managed to break old patterns. There was a high degree of introspection for this, as was the case with Vaude, for example, but above all a new communication culture has grown up over time. The culture is characterized by increased emotional intelligence among employees and managers. It is okay for creative abrasion of ideas to arise and for "disturbing feelings" to be addressed when they occur [2].

Such organisations experience themselves as more "mature". They open up more options for action and know that structures and management models need to be adapted to enable the creation of customer value for the long-term.

This is all quite a lot at once if you want to bring the above-mentioned points into a company on a large scale. It is therefore worthwhile for you to take a look at how people learn.

The best example is given by children. At the beginning, children have a few abilities, they have to learn a lot, from motor skills to language and social behaviour. This is a wonderful learning journey, which one may accompany as a parent. But you as a parent also play an important role. You provide the framework, create opportunities and talk about your own experiences.

Children try to mimic the older people. They simply try. If it doesn't work, they get up again and try again. If they are still too young, they usually try again a few days later.

Children learn through their own experiences and observations

Children learn through their own experiences and observations. Parents would do well to praise children for their attempt and progress, rather than just highlighting the results. Curiosity and the desire to try out new things is thus strengthened. These are many small challenges paired with care by the parents. Kim Scott recommends this combination to leaders [3].

But what motivates children to try something new? They want to be able to do what the older ones do. Maybe your child has also become angry that it is not yet working out as well on a bike as it did with its big brother.

Children are addicted to stories

But children are also addicted to stories. For good reasons. What child would not like to listen stories in the evening? They learn about the world through stories. With stories they also grasp abstract things like values. Stories were and are used to pass on experience and knowledge. Identification with the heroes generates new courage to conquer the world. Stories connect. If you as a parent do not like the story, you will not read it to the child all the time. Other stories become evergreens and have to be read to the child regularly.

Children become more independent over time

You as a parent are less and less needed by the children (with some exceptions) as the years go by. This is a sign that they have grown up and become independent. The same is also desirable in organisations when colleagues have learned the desired new skills and competences and they can act on their own.

What does this mean for your organisation?

To increase up- or reskilling among employees or yourself, look at how learning works naturally with people. Trying out new things or learning competencies is the beginning of a journey. It is important to tell about the journey so that others are motivated to start a journey or to benefit from your experiences.

Use opportunities for storytelling

Storytelling is the glue that binds people together, even in your organisation. When people start talking about their own learning journey, challenges and experiences, it rubs off on other colleagues in the organisation. If you do this for a while, a new self-image is automatically formed for the employees but also for the organisation. It creates a new identity as a strong learning organization, which is also designed to master new challenges. Storytelling also trains authentic leadership as recommended by Bill George (exploring one's own life story and its turning points, reflection and introspective practices, seeking honest feedback from friends and colleagues, understanding one's own leadership purpose, tailoring one's style to the audience) [4]. Of course you make yourself a little vulnerable because you show a new side of your personality. However, this is perceived as courageous and attractive. Exactly what they want to see in your organisation.

How you can strengthen storytelling

   Make use of existing possibilities, whether it be townhall or other meetings, letters, presentations, videos, customer appointments, employee interviews or intranet contributions; include little stories, ask about the "journeys" of the audience. Listen actively!

   Invite customers, other stakeholders, or representatives from outside the industry to share your experiences with you, e.g. in interviews, panel discussions

   Set up a story club where volunteers test and train the techniques, but also illustrate them with examples. Good starting topics are: Stories from the future (how is life after the completion of the big project or in 5 years in our organisation), stories about "what else is true" (relevant stories from outside the usual radar like new trends, new customer groups), stories about how customers experience your products or services and fantasy stories about the disruption of your own business model or stories that show new possibilities. Report regularly from the story club on the intranet or social media.

 

[1] new learning at Audi und Innogy

[2] Interview with Antje von Dewitz

[3] Kim Scott, Radical Candor: How to Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

[4] Bill George, https://www.billgeorge.org/articles/hbs-the-truth-about-authentic-leaders/

 

 

strategy

I work with clients who have the courage to grow.

Dr. Holger Laabs

founder and CEO
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