Blog Post

One Secret to Salvaging Awful (Or Even Good) Training? Tell a Story

Cornerstone Editors

Is there anything more boredom inducing (and ineffectual) than PowerPoint training programs filled with endless bullet points? They're dull, impersonal and, chances are, don't make much of an impact on employees. Sound like your company's training programs? That's too bad because training is the foundation of any successful business, and a company's best shot to teach employees, at all levels, the skills they need to succeed. Avoid the missed opportunity and get creative with your training — tell a story.

Reanimate Your Training

Of course, it's important to assemble the right team for your business, but you can't stop there. Make sure that all of the work that went into recruiting and attracting new talent isn't wasted by training programs that are harried — or overlooked altogether.

Business leaders and hiring managers speak frequently about the skills gap, but, too often, those companies don't make the effort to train their employees. According to a recent Accenture study, 72 percent of executives reported that training was a top priority to develop the necessary skills in employees, but only 52 percent of employees at the same companies reported receiving formal training. Granted, that's better than the 21 percent who of employees surveyed from 2006 to 2011 who reported receiving formal training, but the study suggests that nearly half of employers talk a big training game, yet fail to follow through.

The slight majority of companies that do provide formal training, however, could make it more engaging and impactful through storytelling. Stories engage us on an emotional level and make a bigger impact than stale PowerPoint slides ever could.

Lessons from Hollywood

There's perhaps no industry that exploits the power of stories more than Hollywood. Robert McKee, a screenwriting lecturer and consultant whose students have written hits such as "Forrest Gump," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Toy Story," makes his living telling stories. McKee spoke with the Harvard Business Review about the importance of storytelling in business management and training.

"A big part of a CEO's job is to motivate people to reach certain goals. To do that, he or she must engage with their emotions, and the key to their hearts is story. There are two ways to persuade people. The first is by using conventional rhetoric, which is what most executives are trained in," says McKee. Rhetoric causes trouble when it comes to telling a story, he continues, because there is lack of personal connection with the rhetorical approach — usually creating an argument (real of fancied) between the presenter and the audience.

"The other way to persuade people — and ultimately a much more powerful way — is by uniting an idea with an emotion," says McKee. "The best way to do this is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener's emotions and energy."

As McKee points out, stories engage and persuade us by appealing to our emotions. Business leaders can co-opt the power of storytelling to make employee training more engaging and memorable, and to easily convey loads of potentially complex information. Parents use fables to teach children complex life lessons — and managers would be wise to use the same principles to train their employees.

Stop lulling your employees to sleep with dull training programs. Get creative and engage them with a story. Instead of simply going through the motions, employees will get something out of the session — even if they don't realize it right away.

Photo credit: Can Stock

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