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Five Ways Storytelling Can Be Used to Improve Career Development

By Mark Franklin

From the latest show on Netflix to a conversation at the pub, stories are everywhere. We humans are magnetically attracted to stories and have been sharing them for millennia, ever since we evolved the ability to speak. Why then aren’t storytelling techniques woven into workplace practices more often? In fact, more and more evidence-based applications for narrative techniques are emerging — from performance reviews to career transition services.

Consider these narrative techniques:

  1. Feedforward Performance Reviews. Stories form the foundation of positive, motivating career conversations with employees. According to an article in Human Resource Management, “Looking Forward to Performance Improvement: A Field Test of the Feedforward Interview for Performance Management” (Budworth et al., 2015), employees who participated a Feedforward Interview (FFI) performed significantly better than those who received a traditional performance appraisal interview.

In the FFI narrative performance review method, individual employees’ career stories are elicited as a positive alternative to traditional performance reviews. Stories of peak performance highlight strengths and indicate areas for improvement. The FFI also helps employees build and manifest a shared vision that keeps them feeling positive and motivated. This fosters loyalty and creates a powerful alignment between employees and the organization’s strategic goals.thers.

Join Mark at Imagine Your Workplace Conference 2018 for a gamified workshop on the “The Art and Science of Leading Effective Career Conversations at Work.” The conference takes place June 7 in Toronto.

  1. Story listening. As millennials continue to expand into the workforce, complying with their desire for effective and frequent career conversations becomes a key retention strategy. Time-pressed managers traditionally have not been trained to lead career conversations. Instead, employees have been left on their own to discern their career path within an organization. Some do a good job, many do not, and instead languish silently, feeling misaligned and spreading dissatisfaction among o

Using a structured, narrative method can lead to more effective career conversations. Listening to workplace success stories, generating ideas for career-building opportunities and supporting exploration of these possibilities is relatively easy to learn. By improving your story listening skills, you can empower employees, and create the basis for a learning organization better positioned to respond to the fast changing and often disruptive business world.

  1. Storytelling events. Interactive storytelling tools sidestep traditional assessments and workshops, and instead spark meaningful conversations, support team-building, and prepare employees for productive career conversations with their managers. We recently created a tool to facilitate this that can be used to help all different age groups and types of organizations and events, from students just entering the workforce to highly seasoned professionals like those at the upcoming Imagine Your Workplace Conference. Our highly interactive, gamified discovery experience — Who You Are Matters! — empowers participants to think, feel and say who they are and what’s important to them within their organization. A game like this that uses a narrative approach helps leaders and employees get greater clarity about their strengths, preferences, assets, goals and internal career paths.

  1. Narrative career transition programs. Story-based methods make career transition programs more engaging and holistic and better support meaning-making than traditional assessments, reveals a 2017 publication released by the American Counselling Association entitled “Postmodern Career Counseling.” This research also states that narrative methods are more context-sensitive, meaning that they take into account the uniqueness of an individual’s lived experience — so important in today’s diverse workforce.

Storytelling techniques — like those learned in Who You Are Matters! — also provide fresh thinking for been-there-done-that outplacement. A narrative process enables employees to better explain strengths and desires in order to clarify career fit and enhance self-understanding. Overall, a narrative methodology positively influences both the well-being of transitioning employees and the reputation of your organization.

  1. Knowledge continuity. When people leave, guess what leaves with them? As the workforce ages, organizations will be facing an irreplaceable loss of experience, knowledge and wisdom. And this loss will have a negative impact on innovation, competitiveness and profitability. When people move on due to retirement, transfers, promotions, secondments, and parental and other leaves, how can you ensure that hard-won knowledge and expertise are being effectively preserved and shared?

The term knowledge transfer suggests that people are like computers; just hit a “mind dump” button and critical information will come flowing out. But an organization’s intellectual capital is not easily transferred from one person to another. Why? Because knowledge lives in people, and people retain knowledge in complex, contextual and nuanced ways. Using a narrative approach activates an employee’s accumulated knowledge and shares it so that it is easily absorbed and put to good use. Then, in knowledge sharing sessions with specific invitees, hard-won lessons learned can be communicated, which benefits peers, honours the departing staff member, and provides a competitive advantage.

Mark Franklin
Practice leader and president of CareerCycles, a career management social enterprise. Our amazing team of Career Professionals have helped over 3500 clients become empowered in their career and life choices, using an evidence-based, narrative approach. We've trained Career Professionals across Canada, leading toward the Holistic Narrative Career Professional (HNCP) designation.

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