Storytelling: A training tool

Several years ago at a Monday morning standup meeting, the staff was reviewing the weekend’s events. We came across the Saturday MOD report that told of a young supervisor, who upon receiving a complaint of noise at 3 a.m., had sent security to locate the room from which the noise was coming. Unable to locate the noise, security returned to the lobby. The guest called the front desk again 15 minutes later, this time indicating the noise was from the next room. The young supervisor called the room and asked the guest to discontinue the noise. The young supervisor was happy to report the noise had stopped. Many of the managers sat nodding their heads, which I took as an indication of approval of this report.

A little taken aback, I began my story. Imagine there was a party in that room that night, with many young college-age students. Students can be quite clever and understand they could get evicted if they make too much noise; they are able to do some self-policing. However, in the end, the young — by their nature — often lack self-control. The noise starts again, but is quickly subdued by the young supervisor’s call. The next morning, the managers get a call from a frantic mother: her young college student had not returned home and was at a party at our hotel the previous night. The manager quickly gets the MOD and goes to the “party room” and discovers a young adult incapacitated. The medics are called, and the parents are sobbing as their child is taken to a hospital. The mother looks at the nearby managers and tearfully asks if they knew there was a party in that room that night.

The meeting room was silent. The hotel has a zero-tolerance policy for parties and noise. I asked again, “So if you had to answer the question, what would you say?” There was hedging: “Well, no, not exactly a party.” Reminding the team of their training and SOP, I asked, “What is the procedure?” Everyone knew: Two people go to the room, knock on the door and preferably do a visual check. Did we look at the registration card to see who was in the room? No one could say with absolute certainty.

I tell this story to them and to others, because handbooks, SOPs and reviews at stand-up meetings aren’t enough. They had read the policies and SOPs and had gone through the training. Why didn’t they retain the procedure?

A professor at Biola University, Tom Steffen, states, “Storytelling not only conveys the message in a profound way, it makes it memorable and repeatable.” Steffen puts forward that stories provide an inoffensive and non-threatening way of challenging one’s beliefs or behaviors.

The story I told my staff will undoubtedly stay with them much longer than any admonishment I could possibly give regarding how the event was handled. This is good news for me, an avid storyteller. Our monthly and semi-annual meetings are rife with stories directed toward educating and initiating behavior changes. It reaches across the cultures of our team, where language and the printed word struggle to go. It helps to inform and entertain in a meaningful way. It helps with information retention.

How effective has the issuing of handbooks, job descriptions and SOPs been without some type of hands-on exposure or role-playing?

How have you been able reach your team members through methods that did not revolve around reading, presentations and emails?

What creative successes have yielded great results in training and behavior modification in your operation and experience?

Heard any good stories lately?