Organizations have ignored the power of
stories in favor of ofcial reports, formalspeeches, and press releases. Fortunately,the last decades have seen the art ofstorytelling being tapped to achievepractical results.Organizational storytelling is anemerging approach and looks at howstories can be used to understand andinterpret organizational life, connectemployees to strategy, motivate employeecontribution to organizational outputsand outcomes, enhance leadership, inspirechange, and much more. Other approachessuch as learning histories and socialreminiscing have also used stories for suchpurposes.
Th Ooph of Stos
The exemplary achievements of thePhnom Penh Water Supply Authority arewidely documented, its many internationalawards putting it at the same level as otherworld-class organizations. But listeningto its general director, Ek Sonn Chan, talkabout blindly digging for pipes becauseall the utility’s blueprints were destroyedduring the Khmer Rouge regime, eschewinginternational consultants and tappinglocal expertise to rebuild the water supplysystem, or seeing smiles on the faces ofslum dwellers as they get piped water forthe rst time, evokes a totally differentexperience. Through stories, Mr. Chaneffectively expresses his commitment tothe organization, imparts its values, inspirestrust, uncovers tacit knowledge (that isalways difcult to convey), and generatesan emotional connection with listeners.Stories create sense, coherence andmeaning, even for abstract concepts;connect people and ideas by condensingeven complex, multidimensional messages;inspire imagination and spark action; andshowcase different perspectives. Theyallow the articulation of both emotional andfactual content, giving expression to theknow-how in peoples’ heads. Groundingfacts in a narrative structure augments thelikelihood that learning will take place andbe passed on. Storytelling can produceeffects that more serious and conventionalforms of communications cannot.Stories that are short and sweet,stripped of unnecessary detail, and easilytucked in conversations or documentsnd many uses in organizations. So, too,can anecdotes about successful (or notso successful) project teamwork hereand there. But these stories must enablelisteners to imagine themselves in similarsituations. If a story is too removed fromthe audience’s reality, it will lose relevanceand fail to make an impact. This is whychampions like Ek Sonn Chan are able toconvince his listeners to institute their ownwater reforms. Not only is Mr. Chan able totransport them to Phnom Penh at the timeStories are vivid descriptions of ideas, beliefs, personal experiences, and life-lessons
that evoke powerful emotions and insights. From the time people sat around campres
or lived in caves, stories have been a natural way to break communication barriers,forge connections, convey experiences, and have fun.
The Long Reach
of Short Tales