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About this book

This book shows how to work with stories and narrative approaches in almost all fields of action of a company, and demonstrates the added value resulting from a holistic narrative perspective. The authors take thereby a practice-based perspective from the viewpoint of managing directors, the C-suite, organizational developers, corporate communicators and advisers with a rich description of the methods and implementation.

By the employment of these narrative methods, leadership styles, communication, knowledge and change management can be planned in such a way that on the one hand the identity-core of the enterprise remains always apparent and on the other, the organization can develop in an agile fashion into the future.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Introduction: Storytelling, Storylistening, and the Stories About Your Boss

Abstract
We might not always realize it, but stories are everywhere! And if the culture and leadership style of a given company allow for it, they will also be recognized as an invaluable resource. Even when they are ignored on the surface, they are still pulling the strings behind the scenes. The evolution toward becoming a narrative organization involves distinct and characteristic steps: from the traditional fact-based foundation along storytelling and storylistening to a stage at which the executives and employees of a mature narrative organization fully realize and acknowledge that narrative structures, i.e., the basic components from which stories are built, lie at the core of nearly every process. This completely new perspective is one major step for any company to develop into a sustainable, future-oriented organization.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

The Narrative Side of Organizations

Frontmatter

Stories: What Organizations Are Made Of

Abstract
Humans are “storytelling animals.” Stories color our memories, communications with others, and attitudes toward change. They help us learn from the past, build our identity, inform our actions, and plan for the future.
Social systems, including organizations, are built from the sum of the stories that are being told about them. This makes organizations narrative systems by default, whether or not their members are fully aware of this. Organizations that understand themselves as machines or bodies can only capture a very small portion of the hidden qualities that shape their internal coordination, communication, and purpose when compared to those that see themselves as narrative systems.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

The Cartography of Narrative Organizations

Abstract
From a narrative perspective, the stories within or about an organization reveal a lot about the inner workings and attitudes that shape its actions and self-understanding. Stories uncover hidden aspects of an organization and are thus an indispensable source of information about its identity, purpose and value, knowledge, and communication.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Why the Future Belongs to Narratively Competent Organizations

Abstract
A narratively competent organization knows the stories that are being told about it and acknowledges the significance of narrative structures for its identity, sense of meaning, values, knowledge, and forms of communication. Narratively competent organizations thus achieve a state of resonance with themselves and their environment. This is the prerequisite for becoming an agile, transformative, and sustainable organization.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Intermezzo: Clearings in the Jungle of Narrative Terms

Abstract
Words like “story,” “narration,” “narrative,” and “storytelling” are often used interchangeably even though they can mean very different things depending on the context. Sometimes “story” may for example simply refer to an interesting topic; sometimes the expression comments on a specific aesthetic or emotionality. In spite of the different circumstances under which the terms may be used, all narrative forms have one thing in common: a temporal structure. This little interlude develops a handy dictionary of narrative terms, so you will not get lost on your journey.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Change, Transformation, and Renewal

Frontmatter

Rabbit Holes to Narrative Organizations

Abstract
A company that seeks to redefine itself as a narrative organization must first and foremost adopt a narrative perspective and thereby realize that it is built entirely around its many stories and narratives. The narrative perspective is a radical departure from systemic-constructivist management theory and is decidedly different from the attitudes and assumptions that still define most major companies today. Narrative interventions facilitate brand-new experiences for employees by encouraging dialogue, emphasizing listening, and acknowledging all perspectives as equally important and “true.” This is how these interventions become effective: They can lead to fundamental change in organizations because they permit a unique and highly desirable form of collaboration.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Narrative Interviews: The Big Stories

Abstract
The narrative interview was originally designed as a qualitative method for social research. For those who wish to learn more about an organization’s stories, it is often the ideal starting point. In contrast to “regular” interviews, narrative interviews do not ask any questions about facts or the interviewees’ opinions. Instead, they seek to encourage them to tell their personal stories. Thus, the interviewer becomes a listener. Their encouragement usually takes the shape of biographical or episodic impulses. The goal of narrative interviews is to uncover the interviewees’ experiences and memories.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

The Storylistening Workshop: Sharing Experiences

Abstract
The storylistening workshop is a straightforward but highly effective narrative intervention for up to 16 participants with the goal of collecting and exchanging their personal experiences and memories. Each participant picks an authentic experience to share with the group. Their selection may be completely free or guided by a specific topic. A title for each story is written on a whiteboard, so all participants can see the full list at the end of the workshop when the stories are clustered based on emerging patterns. Storylistening workshops do not only introduce all participants to the experiences of their colleagues regarding a specific topic like “interactions with customers.” The shared stories are also instilled with a shared meaning as they become associated with concrete events and personal memories.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Event Curve: Identifying Central Experiences

Abstract
The event curve is also known as the “fever chart” in systemic therapy and coaching contexts focusing on biographical work. Using an event curve allows interviewees to decide the direction of the conversation while the interviewer takes a back seat. Prior to the actual interview, the curve determines which topics will be covered. The horizontal axis represents the time from a point t0 to the present, while the vertical axis has positive values at its top (+1 to +5) and negative values at its bottom (−1 to −5). The focus may lie on an interviewee’s entire life, their work biography, or a specific project, and the visualization serves as a facilitator that helps the interviewee more easily remember positive or negative events and experiences.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Learning Histories: Learning from Multiple Perspectives

Abstract
A learning history is a narrative method that collects and evaluates the (experiential) knowledge of individual employees and teams about critical events in the past (e.g., projects that went particularly well or badly, conflicts in teams) to write a shared story on their basis. This new story is then carried into the organization through workshops that help kick-start a learning process by which past mistakes can be avoided and new solutions found. The goal is to make as many employees in comparable situations as possible benefit from instructive experiences that would otherwise remain completely inaccessible. The final product is the so-called experience document which is a written retelling of the events in narrative form.
Karin Thier

Core Story: Finding a Common Denominator

Abstract
A core story tells an organization’s central message in concentrated form. Ideally, each story that is being told in an organization refers back to this central message. Core stories follow the narrative schema of beginning/transformation/end. They may be core narratives that adhere exactly to this schema or model stories exemplifying the central message.
The development process of a core story usually goes through two stages. During a first workshop the story is developed as a core narrative by closely examining the shared story of an organization and distilling its central features. A second workshop then revisits the resulting narrative and refines or adjusts it where needed.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Case Study: Storytelling in the Press and Public Relations at Porsche AG

Abstract
For years Porsche AG has successfully used narrative branding and storytelling in its external and internal communications and won several prizes for its narrative contributions (e.g., German Prize for Online Communication, Best of Content Marketing, Econ Awardee of the Year). Unsurprisingly, the company has become one of the global leaders in innovative press and public relations. This interview with Josef Arweck, Vice President Communications at Porsche, discusses the company’s use of storytelling in its external business communications.
Karin Thier

Narrative System Map: Analyzing the Culture of Organizations

Abstract
The narrative system map, also known as narrative culture analysis, is the most important method for the creation of narrative self-awareness because it reveals those central structures and facets of a system that would otherwise remain hidden. Before the map can be drawn, the users of the method sift through the transcripts of narrative interviews with employees to identify their organization’s cultural parameters, shared history, central values, and meaning and identity constructs. The procedure borrows several of its evaluation criteria from semiotic-narrative text analysis.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Transfer Stories: Retrieving Hidden Knowledge

Abstract
Transfer stories are a method for narrative knowledge transfer suited for accompanying leadership changes or securing the knowledge of leaving experts—because whenever experienced employees at any level leave an organization, their knowledge and expertise leaves with them. Good knowledge management might guarantee the conservation and future availability of explicit knowledge. Yet, not everything leaving experts know can be easily put into words, and this implicit knowledge is tied closely to each expert as a person. Transfer stories combine narrative interviews with a thorough knowledge documentation and thus ensure that an organization does not lose its elusive experiential knowledge.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Case Study: Narrative Knowledge Transfer with Leaving Experts

Abstract
“Transfer stories” can support narrative knowledge transfer processes and secure the elusive experiential knowledge of longtime employees for the memory of an organization. In 2014, several employees at the “Hessische Verwaltung für Bodenmanagement und Geoinformation” (HVBG; English: “Hessian Administration for Soil Management and Geoinformation”), a state-level governmental organ in the German state of Hesse, were trained in the use of this narrative method. This interview with one of the employees undergoing training covers the experiences with the method since then and the ways it can be applied to knowledge transfer in areas beyond the work with leaving experts.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Hero’s Journey: Imbuing Projects and Processes with Life

Abstract
The hero’s journey is a narrative method that makes projects and strategic processes more alive and tangible by superimposing a story on the procedures. Thanks to movies like Star Wars, the archetypal structure of the hero’s journey is widely known and easily accessible to many first-time users. Even though it has many successive stages in its original form, organizations can usually reduce them to the following five stations: (1) The heroes hear the call to adventure; (2) they commence their journey into the unknown where (3) they are met with many challenges, but (4) eventually they prevail and obtain a treasure before (5) they need to find a way to return to their home world. Its similarities with projects and the potential of these stations to provide a blueprint for planning upcoming strategic processes turn the hero’s journey into a narrative method with a wide range of possible applications.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Actants: Establishing the Field of Relational Forces

Abstract
Actants are the central characters of a story, i.e., the hero as subject, an opponent, a helper, and a sender. The hero wants to achieve a certain goal, and all characters have their own force fields which may be implied or spelled out openly. These fields are determinants of the characters’ behavior and are in turn influenced by their actions. Their representation makes the actantial model a very suitable narrative method for coaching contexts. The actants might for example depict the force fields surrounding the protagonist, i.e., a hero or workshop participant, with cards placed on the floor around them.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Springboard Story: Using Stories to Win Over People

Abstract
Springboard stories are short “change stories” that push their listeners to make a mental leap (hence the name) in their understanding of a change. Ideally, the story gives them the impression that they came up with the intended change themselves. The stories are therefore not about conveying information—they want to impart a feeling for the opportunities afforded by a change.
Karin Thier

90-Second Backstory: Saying a Lot in a Short Time

Abstract
The 90-second backstory is a short story of roughly one and a half minutes about a person or a company that is meant to build trust. The kinds of stories storytellers tell about themselves decide whether or not others are willing to place faith in them. In the case of companies, these others are its customers, colleagues, or the public. The 90-second backstory asks four guiding questions that quickly steer the listener to central personal narratives such as the storyteller’s biography. The method is also useful for large-scale events, e.g., whenever the question about the backstory of an organization comes up.
Karin Thier

Working with Metaphors: Building Parallel Worlds

Abstract
Metaphors make it possible to render even complex topics or emotions more accessible to an audience. Their potential may be employed as a narrative tool to increase the meaningfulness of a message or the ease with which listeners will remember it. Metaphors can serve many purposes, e.g., structuring information in presentations, reducing complexity, illustrating differing viewpoints, or supporting conflict management.
Karin Thier

Case Study: Storytelling for Urban Development in Bad Bergzabern

Abstract
Bad Bergzabern (https://​www.​bad-bergzabern.​de/​stadtportrait.​html) is a small town in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate—and one of the first German towns to actively use storytelling in its urban development. City manager Susanne Schultz told us in an interview how exactly she has applied storytelling to craft the town’s image and what she considers the greatest successes and key takeaways of the process.
Karin Thier

Narrative Change Architecture: Making Change Accessible

Abstract
Stories are always about change. Therefore, it makes sense to support change processes with narrative methods: When we think of change processes as stories, we need to know the starting point of each process well, i.e., the present state of the organization. This state also reveals a lot about the hidden aspects of the organization’s culture. Too many change processes are destined to fail because these latent, concealed attitudes and beliefs among employees remain unknown. A narrative change architecture can be built on this current state, and if a change story is told until its end, it can open and motivate employees for the intended change.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Narrative Strategy Development: Narrating the Path Toward the Future

Abstract
The development of a company’s strategy is essentially a story about its future: Where do we want to go, and what exactly can we do to get there? The strategic plans of many organizations are contained to closed story worlds. But a narratively competent organization, one that is agile and resonant, sees its own future through an open-ended, multi-perspective lens. Whether an organization can remain sustainable depends on the extent to which its shared meaning-making and identity-creating narratives advance or hinder its self-defined purpose for the future.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Case Study on Future Stories: A Narrative Change Process at the Vorarlberger Kinderdorf

Abstract
Martina Eisendle and Florian Oberforcher supported the Vorarlberger Kinderdorf (English: Children’s Village of Vorarlberg), an organization that primarily offers child and youth welfare services, during a change process starting in the fall of 2017. The organization has a history of almost 70 years and 300 employees. It is currently undergoing an expansive generational shift and other challenges.
Christine Erlach, Michael Müller

Backmatter

Additional information