Improve Knowledge Transfer Through Storytelling

knowledge transfer

The tumult in the labor market is real. We’ve all seen the headlines about the “Great Resignation” and the “Big Quit” as well as heard the news stories with employers talking about just how hard it is to find the people they need to fill their open positions. There’s a good chance you’re living the reality of our post-pandemic job shake-up within your own organization. 

And in this time of commotion, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re not losing one of your company’s most important assets: employee knowledge transfer.

Narativ CEO Jerome Deroy and Julienne Ryan, business author, communication and HR specialist, and frequent Narativ training contributor, recently tackled this very important topic in an episode of the Narativ Story Talks podcast. They talked through just how companies can use storytelling to make sure they’re capturing and transferring the knowledge of their employees—so the organization is covered whether they’re saying goodbye to someone who’s been there for years or onboarding a new hire.

Knowledge Transfer Through Storytelling

Julienne told us, “Storytelling is not about once upon a time. It’s telling them what you were doing and allowing them to get into your head.”

Storytelling in the workplace needs to go way beyond motivation and inspiration. Many businesses are missing out on huge opportunities by neglecting the power of story in sharing essential information among employees when recruiting, perfecting the onboarding process, increasing productivity, enhancing job performance, improving employee engagement and retention, and more. 

As humans, we’ve been using stories for millennia. Our brains are programmed to use stories to filter and remember information that is shared with us. And when you embrace that by building in the details your employees need within a story, you put them ahead of the game by effectively explaining company policies, procedures, needs, etc in a way they’re set up to understand. 

For example, instead of telling a new hire, “We use this machine to complete large orders instead of this machine,” the manager can explain why one machine works better than the other with a story of how the machine overheated and crashed when it was tasked with too large of an order. This will help the new employee work smarter and more efficiently as well as make the lesson more memorable.

Benefits of Story-Focused Knowledge Transfer

As a simple illustration of just what this knowledge transfer does for organizations consider this hypothetical… 

Imagine a household with a parent who has to step away from doing their assigned tasks in keeping the household functioning smoothly. Maybe they’re away on an extended business trip or are seriously ill. If the remaining parent and children do not understand the first parent’s role and how and why they tackle their standard to-do list, the household may quickly go to shambles as everyone tries to figure out exactly what the absent parent was doing and how they can fill the gap. The time wasted trying to understand the task could have been avoided if knowledge had been transferred prior, and we see this same thing happen within organizations as employees have to chase answers in understanding the different functions of their jobs.

This time savings is one of the major benefits of ensuring knowledge transfer, and there are also hard costs of skipping this process. Julienne recalled previous employers where people were retiring and getting ready to embark on a new journey. In each case, these individuals were not just retiring—they were leaving with decades of information the company could use to save time and money. These retirees knew things that those replacing them would have to learn the hard way. They knew how to avoid mistakes that would inevitably be made again, costing these organizations time and resources (both in the actual costs of the mistakes as well as the opportunities that would be missed).

What This May Look Like Within a Company

So what does this look like within an organization? Though this approach can be used in any area of a company and at all job levels, let’s consider what it may look like within recruiting as a specific example.

When recruiting, some teams focus on who they want a new employee to be. Alternatively, managers can focus instead on the story behind why they are hiring and what the company’s needs are. This will help the recruiting team have a clear understanding of what to look for during the interviewing process and be able to articulate what the company’s needs are so the interviewee can set realistic expectations. Julienne points out, “If you want to learn something, you teach the subject, and I think talking about it in story form could really save you from some mishires, misinformation, misrepresentation of what the job is.”

Julienne also talked about how stories are also an excellent tool to show interviewees the good, bad, and ugly of a potential role—which can be a great way to increase talent retention by setting appropriate expectations upfront. You can do this by organically weaving in stories that exemplify who the company is and what the applicant can expect if hired or even telling a story about a time you or someone on your team encountered something that a new hire is likely to encounter with details of what was said, what happened, and the outcome. There are lessons in stories, and they can become practical steps to overcome anything employees may face.  

How to Capture and Share Knowledge 

There are two sides to effective knowledge sharing: knowledge capture and knowledge transfer. Step one is effectively capturing knowledge—whether it be done by recording videos, writing a guide, or another method. How well you’re able to capture knowledge is key to how successful your knowledge transfer efforts will be as a whole. The best way to capture the knowledge will depend on the particular topic, but here are a few general steps to get you started:

  1. Identify what was the most important thing your team has achieved.
  2. Understand the why behind that achievement.
  3. Break that achievement down into an example and create a memorable story that has a beginning, middle, and end.
  4. In your story, identify where things may have gone wrong, the turning point, and the end results. Be sure to give details of why something happened rather than just telling what happened.
  5. Find a way to store and share data, whether that be through a private YouTube channel, a company library, etc.

This same approach works when identifying other critical company aspects such as stories of rejection, overcoming challenges, understanding job functions, company disasters, and more. These are teachable moments that can be passed down to new employees, and they can become the foundation they build upon as they have their own experiences. 

It is important to note that these stories must be captured by someone who has the ability to extract and frame the story in a way others will be able to understand. This requires them to be a great listener. This person should also identify the type of knowledge needed, who has that type of knowledge, and who needs it. 

Facilitating Knowledge Transfer

Storytelling isn’t just a great tool that can be used to inspire people in business. Because our human brains are already primed to respond to story, it’s a powerful tool in your knowledge transfer efforts—whether you’re making sure knowledge doesn’t walk out the door as employees leave or working on getting new hires up to speed faster. 

At Narativ we love showing companies how they can use story to transfer knowledge and continue building a company’s legacy. If you want to learn more about how to transfer knowledge through storytelling specifically to meet your company’s needs, please contact us

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