Development of line managers’ ability to cast corporate strategy as a story boosts emotional engagement of managers and staff.
FY2005 Sales: US$11.2 Billion
Headquarters: Houston, Tex.
This practice may be of interest if any of the following are true: Our internal messaging is bland or fails to engage our employees. Our managers are uncomfortable or ineffective in appealing
to employees’ emotional side.
We are trying to arm our managers with multiple forms
• Make the acquisition of seemingly “soft” skills like storytelling more accessible by breaking them down into simple
As Continental’s then CEO Gordon Bethune begins to lead the firm to a performance turnaround, his effective use of storytelling as a means to engage audiences and earn their support catches the attention of other executives. Pushing that skill across the firm’s management ranks appears promising, but managers are likely to struggle in adopting this very personal practice.
Continental develops a workshop that breaks down the “art” of storytelling into discrete steps for managers to learn and practice. Simple tools augment the training experience and guide participants in their use of storytelling afterward.
Workshop participants give the course high marks for helping boost their ability to communicate credibly. Early successes with the program have given Continental confidence to roll it out to the entirety of their managerial ranks.
• Create a safe environment for storytelling trainees by using peers for feedback.
• Provide simple tools to boost the likelihood that managers will use storytelling in their recurring communications.
Please note that the CEB program names referenced in this document have changed since the time of publication.
Driving Engagement with Corporate Strategy
A Rare Skill
The potential upside of boosting managers’ communications skills becomes clear at Continental Airlines after several years of poor performance. The company’s then-new CEO, Gordon Bethune, recognizes the importance of engaging employees (among other levers) to restore the carrier to profitability. Over the coming years, as Bethune leads the company to improved performance, his colleagues count his ability to engage employees emotionally through stories as one of his primary strengths as a leader. Wanting to extend the power of storytelling beyond the CEO and develop the communications skills of its executives, Continental codifies the underlying skills and develops a storytelling workshop.
Please note that the CEB program names referenced
in this document have changed since the time of publication.
Commoditizing a Scarcity
The resulting four-hour course effectively accomplishes two important goals. First, by starting the sessions with discussion by the company’s CEO or president (who use stories themselves), the course helps overcome any skepticism by attendees about the importance or effectiveness of storytelling as a management tool. And second, by breaking down the (largely tacit) skill set of storytelling into simple steps, then building on each step across the session, the course helps engender nimbleness in the use of storytelling among participants without overwhelming them. Participants begin to develop storytelling skills by preparing an anecdote of their own for delivery. They identify an event from their own experiences, construct a story around it, and audition the story with fellow trainees. Subsequent exercises challenge participants first to modify story content based on an understanding of audience motivations, priorities, and touchstones, then to do so based on the different objectives the story might accomplish.
There’s Nothing Like a Good Story
Continental seeks to leverage the
power of its...
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