What is storytelling?
It is believed that stories always existed among us, and it contributes in passing the knowledge and culture from one to another (Sole & Wilson, n.d., Gill, 2011). Also, it helps people to give a sense to their experiences and associate with others (Michael S. Poulton, 2005). Any story is a structured narrative, where the narrator can be a participant in it or just observer, conveying a series of events which may not be necessary chronological (Michael S. Poulton, 2005).
According to Bowman et al. (2013), there is not an official definition for what a story is but most of the scholars agree that stories show certain attributes. A story has a temporal sequencing of events structured chronologically or thematically being integrated into a plot. It is believed that a story has to have a scenario in order to be understood by human and attach a meaning to it. Usually, stories are hinged on emotions allowing people to relate viscerally to the message (Bowman, et al., 2013). The classic storytelling sequences are exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution or denouement. Consequently, every story has a beginning, middle and an end formed by a sequence of linked events (Poulton, 2005).
Storytelling vs. Narrative
There is a disagreement in the literature over the use of the terms “narrative” and “story” (Roper, 2013). Usually, a story is a type of narrative, and it has features such as characters, setting, plot, episodes being coherence, whereas narrative is just a recount and do not need to have coherent plotlines (Roper, 2013). However, most of the journals, related to the storytelling in the organisation, use those two terms interchangeable (Gill, 2011a). Therefore, in this article narrative and story will describe the same thing.
Storytelling in Organisation
Corporate storytelling uses narration to describe the activity of the organisation, values, policies, culture (Gill, 2011a). This is just another way of how any internal PR practitioner can persuade, motivate or inspire employees about their organisation and strategies (Poulton, 2005). Traditionally, storytelling already existed in the workplace, being used in describing the safety and wellbeing in order to reduce the risk (Gill, 2011b) and added an emotional component of understanding (Gill, 2011a). Stories started to gain significance in corporate communication strategy (Spear, 2015) being an efficient method to enhance the culture within an organisation (Gill, 2011c). Hence, IC practitioners need to make sure that the story content is related to the overall strategy of the organisation, and the employees will understand the strategic message from stories (Gill, 2011c). The storytelling can reference to organisation’ past, vision for the future or any work related story (Gill, 2015).
An example of a framework for organisational storytelling is given by Forman (2013) who describes five levels for a successful storytelling. At its base should be the authenticity. The second level is characterised by fluency in engaging emotions and employees’ intellect. Then, the next stage is to build trust followed by the last level which is to achieve business objectives.
Benefits of Internal Storytelling
Storytelling in the organisation has many benefits. It motivates people (Gill, 2011a), it helps employees to organise, remember and understand information (Roper, 2013), has an important role in organisational change (Poulton, 2005) and maintain employees’ loyalty (Spear, 2015). According to Kelley and Littman (2006), there are others values that storytelling can add to an organisation. For instance, storytelling strengthens credibility, helps teams bound, it encourage people to discuss uncomfortable topics or build order in chaos. Also, stories energise and entertain employees helping them to change their behaviour more easily (Denning, 2001).
Moreover, stories help employees to share knowledge among them empowering an individualised perception about problems, solutions, and explanations (Denning, 2005 cited by Gill, 2011a), especially because employees are co-producers of organisational storytelling. They reinterpret and convey stories to other colleagues (Spear, 2015) and contribute to a deeper understanding of the organisational culture (Boyce, 1996). Storytelling offers the possibility to convey the same message to different audiences, regardless their age, culture or gender (Gill, 2011a; 2011b).
So how do you see stories in organisations? Let me know in the comment section below. In the next article, I will discuss how stories are used in IC and what are their limitations.