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Learning initiatives need stories not measurement

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —September 25, 2005
Filed in Employee Engagement

I learnt from Nancy Dixon that it’s difficult (perhaps impossible) to determine the organisational impact of a learning initiative. Say, for example, you introduce After Action Reviews (AAR) in your organisation. This intervention is designed to create knowledge through personal and group reflection but once the practice is in place is it the AARs or something else creating new knowledge? This knowledge, the argument goes, should create new behaviours. But it is the knowledge gained from the AAR, or something else, creating the behaviours? Finally these new behaviours should impact organisational outcomes. Again, are the new behaviours creating the impact or something else? There are two many causal links in this complex system to know for sure. In these situations your best strategy is to capture stories of change and use them to persuade people of the learning initiative’s effectiveness.

Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users also advocates capturing stories in her handy guide on how to make progress inside corporate behemoths like Microsoft:

Keep a notebook or hipster PDA with you always and whenever another employee, blogger, (or user) tells you something good or bad about a real user’s experience, write it down. Build up a collection, and make sure these stories are spread. Be the user’s advocate in your group and keep putting real users in front of employees (especially managers). Imagine that you are the designated representative (like the public defender) of specific users, and represent them. Speak for them.

The hipster PDA is a great invention. Personally I use an Olympus DS-4000 and transcribe the anecdote. Either way capturing a set of stories of how your interventions made an impact should be part of any project.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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