Something Old Is New, Again

Recently a client asked if we could conduct a three-hour training module in one hour or less. The client didn’t want to take their employees off the floor for that long, but I suspect there were other reasons. Not only are our attention spans getting shorter, but so are the ways in which we learn effectively. Gone are the days of eight-hour classes with death by PowerPoint. I have found, if I am lucky, that groups might last a max of four hours without checking out, so the content and format has to be dramatically different than what I did in the past.

Companies that fail to adjust their learning practices and solutions often struggle with employee engagement, organizational growth, or productivity. As a result, leading companies are abandoning traditional methods of learning in favor of more effective solutions to engage their talent and improve performance. While technology advances continue to make training more accessible to all employees, sometimes there is nothing like sharing examples through relevant stories.


Learning basic expectations from things like an employee handbook or an e-learning program can be difficult, but not because of the content; it’s just so boring and detached from your employees. At SGEi we combat this issue with various learning strategies, and storytelling is a powerful tool that we utilize. Storytelling is a fantastic way to make an emotional connection with employees and capture their imaginations, because stories often add a visual component to the facts. It can make your message relevant, meaningful, and engaging whilst capturing the attention of your audience.


Storytelling can bring learning content or key company messages to life that are currently only in print or on screen. It can also be used as a form of recognition, to communicate the company’s values, and to highlight the necessary behaviors and habits that support your company’s culture. To make storytelling an integral part of your learning culture, trainers and leaders must learn to weave a tale that achieves its learning goals and resonates with your employees.

Part of the trick is how to generate discussions that will bring out the stories of others in the group so that the manager isn’t alone in the storytelling process. People generally want the opportunity to share, so trainers should create an environment where this is possible. “Recalling the element of interactivity to effective storytelling, the manager and employees should participate by asking probing questions to better understand context and promote a healthy dialogue,” says Melissa Starinsky, chancellor of Veterans Affairs Acquisitions Academy.


Sprint uses storytelling to train its next generation of leaders, says Wendy Savlin, a manager of leadership development at Sprint. As part of a leadership development program in 2013, 150 Sprint leaders spent one full day learning about and practicing storytelling in small groups. “One participant used storytelling more frequently with his team and reported higher satisfaction and less turnover,” says Savlin. “He also added storytelling to his public speeches and believes his stories helped get his message across more effectively. He has been invited to speak at conferences worldwide and credits the storytelling as a big reason.”

At companies like custom software developer Menlo Innovations, storytelling isn’t just a training device or tool—it’s endemic to the culture.  “Unlike the boring, templated documents and mind-numbing PowerPoints used by typical analyst teams, our high-tech anthropology storytelling events during client show and tells draw the client’s minds and hearts into our work. The conversations that result are richer and more passionate, and, ultimately, produce better value in a more compelling and useful design that everyone believes in,” says CEO and Chief Storyteller, Richard Sheridan.

So after all this time, I am taken back to my days as a kid around the campfire, listening to the stories of the adults and wondering how I might some day be able to add my own story. I guess as the VP of Learning & Culture at SGEi, I have finally found a format in which to share.

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