Using Stories to Institutionalize Lessons Learned: How to Better Remember and Learn from the Past

Using Stories to Institutionalize Lessons Learned: How to Better Remember and Learn from the Past

Kimiz Dalkir (McGill University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6453-1.ch010
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One of the major challenges of any lessons learned system is how to ensure that this content is actually implemented: by individual employees, by work teams, and by the organization as a whole. While we are guided by a number of theories on how newly acquired knowledge can become institutionalized such that it becomes “the way things are done,” there is very little theory or evidence-based practice to guide us on specific implementation strategies. This chapter presents specific strategies that were used to ensure that lessons learned became embedded in the organization including storytelling, narrative databases, simulation games, employee orientation, training, and professional development strategies. The role of technologies and the role of culture in the success or failure of these strategies are discussed together with recommendations on how to best ensure lessons learned result in learning and, ultimately, how they create changes in individual, group, and organizational behavior.
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Organizational Storytelling

Swap et al (2001) define an organizational story as a detailed narrative of past management actions, employee interactions, or other intra- or extra-organisational events. These stories are usually communicated informally within the organisation. Normally, such stories consist of a plot, major characters, and an outcome. Gill (2001) describes narratives as frameworks that we use in order to make sense of the world. It is an ancient method of sharing and preserving valuable knowledge and therefore a very effective means of learning from the experience of others. Stories can also be used in organizations. In fact, “corporate anthropologists” conduct ethnographic research to better understand what defines and organization and what type of culture it has (Snowden, 2003). The most commonly used forms are anecdotes, myths, fables, and metaphors. What they have in common is that they convey a clear message, a moral of the story or … a lesson to be learned.

Denning (2000; 2005) was among the first to highlight the role of storytelling as a springboard to gain management support and catalyze organizational change. He noted stories can be very effective in motivating others to action, transmitting organizational values, getting people to work together, sharing knowledge, solving problems, and innovating. When they are done well, stories can help disseminate knowledge, especially tacit knowledge (Dalkir and Wiseman, 2004), as they do an excellent job of capturing complex, controversial content that requires a change in attitude in addition to the acquiring of new competencies. Stories can be easily understood and they can be easily disseminated through almost any communication channel (newsletters, blogs, water-cooler chats, formal training programs and employee orientation, or other onboarding activities).

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