employee engagement

Organizational Practitioners are Recognizing the Power of Story

If you haven’t been following the fast-emerging discourse around “organizational storytelling,” allow me to help you get caught up.

Here’s the idea: More and more organizational practitioners are recognizing the power of story to create culture; speed learning and change; archive knowledge; establish brand; and build shared meaning. (Gosh, there’s so much more to say here. If your attention is already piqued, check out resources like this one, this one, or one of my own articles here. Or just do your own Google search and be prepared to get lost in the heady fun for hours.

Funny thing is, pretty early in this conversation most people hit an immediate roadblock — not around best practices, but around something as basic as the very definition of organizational story.

That’s right. Many of the best thinkers in the story space are still deliberating over what a story is.

I’ll give you an example. Pause for a moment, look at the image below, and take note of any reaction you may have:

cokecolaSo my question for you is, is that a story?

Story purists say no, a logo or a brand is not a story. After all, the Coke logo above is lacking even the most basic story elements. Where’s the plot? The protagonist? The problem? The journey? Heck, it doesn’t even have a beginning, middle or end.

Right?

Granted, you probably wouldn’t shell out $10 to watch a corporate logo on a movie screen. But these objections miss an important point; one that has everything to do with the topics that concern us most here at Blueline Simulations, like learning and engagement. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)

Let’s stay with the Coke logo a little longer. When you reflected on that red, scripted icon, what did it trigger? Did you think about Mean Joe Green, or perhaps a multi-ethnic crowd singing in harmony on a hilltop? Did you have a memory of sharing Cokes with your kids as you strolled down a beach or paused in the shade at a Disney theme park? Or perhaps your reaction was negative: a perception you have of a monolithic corporation; or your distaste for their marketing efforts towards school-aged children. (Here’s what it evoked for me: the smells of cut grass and gasoline from a lawnmower; the feeling of sweat rolling down my neck; and the fizzy, carbonated feeling as it hits the back of my throat.)

Unless you moved through this little exercise quickly, the Coca-Cola brand triggered something for you — whether it was a feeling, a memory, a desire, or experience that was dormant in some remote network of synapses in your mind.

In other words, it triggered a story. And that story engaged you at a deeply personal level.

And so the question is not so much what is a story, but where is it; and the opportunity for learning practitioners is to ignite the rich well of stories that already exist tacitly in the minds of their learners, and unleash untold levels of participation and engagement.

There’s something important happening here for the practitioner of organizational change. Sure, I could present a PowerPoint slide with a series of bullet points telling why you should, say, build trust in a team. But somewhere in your experience is a painful story of what happens when that trust doesn’t exist. What if instead of clobbering you with bullet points I could somehow tap that latent source of emotion and conviction that already lives in your memory?

This is what we do at Blueline Simulations. We don’t market ourselves actively as a “story company.” (After all, there aren’t too many people asking for that. At least, not yet.) But the “co-creation of narrative” lives in everything we do… “ from simulations, to games, to our signature Blueline Blueprint learning visuals.

There’s a hallmark moment to every Blueline Simulation learning engagement. It almost never happens when we project a model up on the screen, or when the facilitator offers some brilliant word of wisdom. Instead, it is usually an invisible moment that happens silently in the mind of the learner, in which they have been invited to reach deep into their own wisdom and experience… and there they encounter a story that elicits powerful reaction and demands an actionable response. Like a silent explosion of some invisible supernova, we can’t always see it. But by designing our interventions to those moments of internal discovery (and not merely to the faithful reproduction of data via a series of PowerPoint bullet points), Blueline Simulations taps into a nearly inexhaustible source of engagement, participation… and action.

If you’ve never done so, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click around the Blueline website. There is a rich portfolio of learning resources here awaiting your discovery. You’ll probably be impressed by the cutting edge technologies, the unconventional learning devices, and the sheer creativity of the offerings. But remember that those are merely triggers, and that the real deliverable of Blueline Simulations is something we can’t depict in a JPEG image on our website.

In parting, a few questions for you:

What kind of change do you seek to create in your organization?

What might happen if, instead of dictating that change through a series of imperatives, you extended an invitation and an opportunity for learners to connect to their own stories?

What is the new story of success and opportunity that you and your people might co-create together?

Newsflash: The Process Doesn’t Revolve around You

You would be surprised – or maybe you wouldn’t – by how many people in your organization don’t understand how the organization accomplishes its work.

To be honest, it used to surprise us. We would run learning programs on a topic, like say, financial acumen, and it would never fail: People in the accounting department would say things like, “huh, I guess I should know these details about the balance sheet but I don’t.” And that’s coming from the guys in Accounting.

It’s an organizational myopia that we now recognize as commonplace. In fact, we empathize. We all have a tendency to view the world from the point of view of our own work, our own desk.

Like Galileo, leadership often involves delivering the unwelcome message that you, the individual, are not the epicenter of your organization’s process.

Fortunately, we at Blueline Simulations fare much better than Galileo for being the bearer of this message. In fact, we’ve found that giving people a view of the big picture is quite liberating, and a key step in generating organizational transformation.

And we have found that the best way to give that big picture is with an actual picture.

Using metaphors and a balance of both quantitative and qualitative data, we render the complex processes and work flows of your organization with a compelling degree of engagement.

Click Image to View Larger Version

Equipped with an enterprise view via a Blueline Blueprint Learning Visual, our learners report that:

  • I have a better appreciation for where I fit in the process.
  • Now I understand why the work those guys do in department X is so important.
  • I appreciate the difficult decisions that the leaders have to make to manage the many moving parts of this process.
  • I see ways to make my work more efficient, more focused, more optimized to the organization’s desired output.

Find out how a Blueline learning map can equip your people with an enriched understanding of your organization’s key processes and workflows. Contact us today for a demonstration.

Deconstructing the Classroom Simulation

A True Confession

The other day I was sitting in a meeting listening to a presentation. Here are the things I confess to having done during that time (I had my laptop open under the auspices of note-taking):

  • Googled something the meeting leader said to better understand it
  • Emailed my son some help with an algebra problem
  • Read the headlines of the New York Times, Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal
  • Bought a swimsuit (it probably won’t fit)
  • Added a client event to my calendar and invited others to attend
  • Rescheduled that event when the client declined
  • Took notes on the presentation

I got to thinking – so what does this have to do with classroom simulations? Turns out — everything. Every day it seems our capacity and urge to multi-task grows. To keep pace with the dynamic business environment we operate in, we need to deal with many things at once, problem-solve and complete tasks simultaneously. Simulations are uniquely able to replicate and leverage this phenomenon in a training environment. It can move a classroom training experience from teaching x + y = z to ensuring an understanding of a(xy)+ b2 = z.

How do Simulations Work?

When I think about how simulations work to accomplish this higher order outcome, I come up with three main mechanisms. Effective simulations I’ve created or experienced feature:

  1. Non-sequential learning
  2. Realistic, complex situations
  3. Demonstration of cause and effect

Simulations don’t have a linear, topic-followed-by-topic agenda that transfers knowledge via a “age on the stage.” A simulation might offer a scenario, deliver some learning content on a few topics, provide access to resources (live, written, online or otherwise), then require participants to play roles, work together and use the information combined with their experience to solve a problem. Data may be missing and clues may be provided that don’t get used until later. Decisions may be required that change the course of the learning. Teams might outperform other teams. People might get frustrated and things might go wrong. Kind of like the real world.

When I’m creating a simulation, I like to sift through a lot of stories. The team and I listen to the client tell us what business problems happen when people don’t have the insights the simulation is supposed to deliver. We dig around for drama, intrigue, heartache, achievement and fiscal pain, and then we build them into the simulation. The learning experience has to feel real, or participants won’t care as much.

Simulations are a great way to leverage the experience of some participants to enhance the learning of others. When teams debate decisions and consider multiple courses of action they practice cause and effect thinking that is critical to successful business outcomes. By trusting in the ability (and desire) of humans to process more than one thing at a time, we have found that we can cover more content in a shorter amount of time than with a linear training approach. Senior level employees tend to engage and respond more positively to simulations than to traditional training experiences. One thing is certain; participants usually don’t have the time or desire to buy a bathing suit during a simulation.

How “Fly Swatter Phonics” Can Help Solve Your Next Training Challenge! Part Two.

Last week, we started exploring the connection between having fun and actually learning…something my 4-year old grandson does by “swatting flies” as he’s learning to read. A key takeaway from that discussion was to keep your training content relevant and manageable. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the “fun-o-meter” will register pretty low. This week, we’re picking up there.

We often hear clients say something like this: “We rolled out training, but we can’t keep people’s attention. They aren’t engaged. What can you suggest?” Remember the client from last week? The one with the bazillion PowerPoint slides? What we discovered was their training wasn’t connected to people’s everyday work in a real, practical and believable way.

Our suggestion was to rebuild the training to simulate the learner’s real world. We felt it was critical to give people a chance to immediately apply what they were learning in meaningful ways and get immediate feedback at the same time. I’m happy to report that the client loved the idea, we built it, and it was a huge success! People remained engaged the entire time as they practiced “fly swatting” the way they would be doing on the job. The takeaway? If you want to make training fun, engage the learner through realistic practice!

In “Fly Swatter Phonics” the game mechanics were pretty simple. There was a fly swatter, some 3” x 5” cards, a blackboard and a few rules. But it wasn’t the game itself that made the learning fun. It was the fact that my grandson was actively involved in the learning. He wasn’t just a bystander. He was doing something. He was participating. He was making decisions. He was competing, appropriately, with his peers. He was responsible for earning his rewards or watching others earn theirs. These are the things that made it fun. (A fly swatter without purpose is just another fly swatter!)

When our client handed over all of those PowerPoint slides, we knew immediately that we had to find a way to make participants active learners rather than passive ones. We did that through the simulation. We also did it through a self-directed learning visual where, with minimal facilitation, teams navigated themselves through a collection of activities, team discussions, applications and mini-challenges.

Here’s what ‘our client of many slides’ had to say about their new program: “CONGRATULATIONS! The new training was amazing! What an improvement over the old method. Thank you on behalf of all involved. I would be very surprised if there was one person in the room who did not gain from the two days.” The takeaway? If you want to make training fun, involve the learner in the learning!

We at Blueline Simulations believe there’s no good reason—and no good way—for effective learning to be boring or passive. Let us help you swat your biggest training challenges!

Recorded Gamification Webinar Now Available

If you missed this interesting and informative webinar hosted by my friend and business partner, Brian Knudson you can watch it now. Brian is the Founder of NogginLabs and knows a thing or two about achieving learning transfer through gamification – and has 7 Brandon Hall gaming awards to prove it.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a huge budget or complex programming to design eLearning that’s as addictive as Angry Birds. If motivating your learners is a challenge, this webinar is for you. Learn the basic principles of gamification, and how best to apply them to your eLearning initiatives.

Watch the recorded webinar and see how gamification can take your organization’s eLearning to the next level.