Leadership & Collaboration

On Procurement and Storytelling: Overcoming the Storyteller’s Fatal Flaw

On Procurement and Storytelling: Overcoming the Storyteller’s Fatal Flaw

This is (probably) the last in what became an impromptu three-part series on The Point about the value of storytelling for procurement. Part 1 considered applications of the idea in general. In part 2, Dr. Tom DePaoli provided a real world example and some further guidance. The post that started it all, on Executive Presence by Chip Scholz, can be found here.

For all its potential advantages, storytelling does have one major risk as a communication strategy, and that is the challenge of knowledge management. Part of what makes the storyteller so powerful and appealing is that he or she has internalized all of the facts about what happened as well as the reasons why and the reactions seen. If that information does not also live somewhere else, it is likely to be lost over time or if the storyteller leaves the company. In some cases this may unintentionally sacrifice long term knowledge retention for short term communications success.

Traditionally, storytelling was the best way to retain knowledge and traditions between generations and towns. Today, unfortunately, it creates more of a risk that the information will be lost after the story is done being told. While we should absolutely harness the power of storytelling to get the message across, the knowledge within must reside somewhere more accessible as well.

Here are some ways to manage that tribal knowledge:

PowerPoint Notes: Let’s face it, today’s corporate stories are more likely to be told around a projector than a campfire. Storytelling can actually be thought of as effective presenting, and there is no reason why very basic PowerPoint slides can’t be used to provide an outline or accompanying visuals - as long as the storyteller does not have to break his or her stride to advance the slides. Putting additional detail, or a sample of the narrative that will be delivered, into the notes portion of the slides allows additional details to be captured and stored alongside all of the other documentation for the project.

Audio or Video recording: The abundance of gadgets with multimedia capabilities makes it easy to make a video or audio recording of the storyteller in action. This is the truest form of storytelling knowledge capture as it stores not only the facts and words but also the emphasis and dramatic effect. It also provides an opportunity to study and perfect the storytelling craft through post delivery replays. Unfortunately, this format is also the least likely to be re-used afterwards. In an office setting, it may not be practical or simple to access and watch or listen to a replay as it is to scan a written document for the desired terms or information.

The Power of the Scribe: Another traditional role not to be overlooked is that of the scribe. This person’s job was to make a written record of information delivered orally (often in times when the general population could not write themselves). In our knowledge management context, a person can be assigned the task of recording the story – not an exact transcript, but a faithful summary that includes both the information and surrounding dynamics. This person should have no other role or responsibilities in the meeting so that they can focus exclusively on ‘recording’ the story. The other benefit of this approach is that the scribe, ideally positioned at the back of the room, can also observe and record the reactions (both spoken and otherwise) of the audience.

There is always a risk of knowledge loss, whether as a result of employing storytelling to share the results of a project or just through run-of-the-mill discussion. Forming a connection with our audience of stakeholders in order to get the job done is always priority #1, but if a non-written strategy is to be employed on a consistent or growing basis, knowledge management planning should be incorporated from the beginning. If the storyteller has really managed to connect with their audience, they may want an opportunity to review the details afterwards. Having the ‘story’ available in some sharable form takes the pressure off the audience to record it for themselves and allows themselves to be immersed in the tale – the ultimate communications compliment.

And now my story is told and the hour is late. I wish good luck and safe travel to all...

How does your organization manage tribal knowledge? Join the conversation by commenting below or on Twitter: @BuyersMeetPoint.

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