Eliciting Stories in Organizations: Recent Highlights

Some extraordinary work has emerged recently on ways to elicit stories in organizational settings. Here are some highlights:

ElicitingStories.jpeg In 7 Tips for Finding Stories in Your Organization, Thaler Pekar offers tips especially geared to nonprofits but applicable to other organizations as well:

  1. Ask about moments of emotion.
  2. Ask for the stories behind the words.
  3. Plot stories on a timeline.
  4. Ask for superlatives.
  5. Play with objects.
  6. Use visuals.
  7. Create a living circle.

Love Heidi Cohen’s rich list of 29 prompting questions particularly for getting at a brand. Here are the first six:

  1. How did your company start? Think in terms of your firm’s “once upon a time”.
  2. What adversities did the company overcome, either in its early days or at some other critical point?
  3. What’s a day in the life of your company like?
  4. How did your company do something positive to make life better for its community or customers?
  5. What did your company do to pitch in for a local problem? Think of Walmart’s effectiveness during Katrina.
  6. Does your firm have a special association with a particular holiday? This doesn’t mean a sales promotion.

The Sparknow blog offers Five Great Questions to Elicit Stories, which I especially like because they would work equally well for individuals mining for accomplishments for various job-search communications (resumes, cover letters, interviews):

Tell me about a time when… Tell me about a moment when…

  • you or your team faced a dilemma
  • you or your team experienced a significant turning point
  • you took a real risk and it paid off or didn’t pay off
  • you encountered an obstacle and overcame it
  • you saw positive changes happen as a result of your work

Finally, in Tapping Intuition: A Key Is Storytelling, Denice R Hinden tells the story of eliciting stories from a client organization. Here’s the pivotal moment:

We spent a few minutes on “what is organizational culture” and explained we were going to tell the organization’s creation story. We prompted the group with, “Why was the organization created? One person shared and others added to it. Then we asked, “Who founded the organization?” And “What were the founder’s motivations and background?” With each question another part of the organization’s story got into the room, like a puzzle taking shape. People that had been quiet all evening got the courage to share and you could hear a lot of “wow I didn’t know that” and “that just helped me understand something I see happening in the organization today.” We also asked the group to talk about “What actually happened to form the organization (the details of it getting started).” That surfaced a very painful part of the organization’s story, and people said we don’t want to talk about that. We made a note to come back to that in the next meeting when we will be talking about “survival stories,” another part of the ROC process … The last question we had time for was, “What was happening in the broader world (i.e., social, economic and demographic trends at the time)?” Someone in the group said, more importantly what was happening in our own community? Getting that into the room created more insight as well. The reflections on the times said a lot about how this organization came together when it did. Our questions and the stories the group shared brought to the surface elements of the organization’s history that had been forgotten and that many of the new people in the room never even knew. These included elements of deep passion, tireless hard work, hard choices, nurturing students, involving families, and so on. The short stories each person shared came together to create a whole new appreciation for what the organization is and how it got to be that way. There was a fresh buzz and the feedback was we made an important breakthrough that will surely help the group with its planning this time around.

I was especially intrigued because I’ve recently revived my interest in intuition. Here’s how intuition came into this process, Hinden relates:

Defenses went down and intuition opened up. The stories created awareness at a level that everyone in the room could identify with. There was a new found “knowing” about the organization that was buried under the surface because the group didn’t have a common way to share it before. The creation stories changed that. The power of the stories was evidenced in the openness that continued into the post meeting conversation.

[Image credit: Help My People Tell]

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Dr. Kathy Hansen

Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...

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