Plots from Procedures

This is another example of interactive storytelling.

Storytelling is a powerful tool for trainers. Unfortunately, however, traditional storytelling encourages the participants to become passive listeners. In contrast, interactive storytelling encourages them to interact with the stories and with each other. Different types of interactive storytelling techniques invite the participants to create their own stories and share them with each other. Even when the stories come from the facilitator, the participants modify the stories, change the beginning or the ending or characters or the setting, expand or shrink the stories, make decisions at critical junctures, analyze the stories, and roleplay them. The result: More engagement during the session and more learning after the session.

Formula from Procedures

In an earlier article we introduced the concept of formula stories, in which the same elements for a plot are used to create new stories. In this article, we explore the use of step-by-step procedures to create a formula for stories.

This example below explores the steps in the Human Performance Technology (HPT) process. The frame of this storytelling activity can be easily modified to provide interactive stories for training sessions related to any other workplace procedure. Several sample applications involving other procedures are listed at the end of this article.


To identify the steps in the Human Performance Technology (HPT) process and to explore their application to a business project.


Any number can play. This activity works best with 12 to 30 participants.


Generally, 30 to 45 minutes. The exact time required depends on the complexity of process and the number of steps.


Copies of a handout that explains the process: The Human Performance Technology (HPT) Model

Copies of a short case study that illustrates a specific application of the process: How We Held on to Our Best Talent


Master the model. Your success in using this interactive story format will depend on your fluency with the process model. Carefully study the model and figure out what is happening in each step and how the steps are linked to each other.

Create a story. The best way to master the model is to make up a story that illustrates the application of the process. This is what you will be asking the participants to do, and you need a sample story. Review our sample, How We Held on to Our Best Talent, which is in the form of a case study. You can base your story on one of your own successful projects. If you do so, don't let facts get in the way of a good story that clearly tracks your progress through the steps. If you are adventurous, create a story around some popular TV show. If you are fainthearted, plagiarize our case study.


Brief the participants. Using your own words, present some introductory comments about the HPT process.

Distribute the handout that explains the process. Point out that the handout identifies the steps in the process and the relationships among them. Ask the participants to read and review the handout. Announce a suitable time limit for this activity.

Tell your story. At the end of the time limit, announce that you are going to tell a story of the HPT process in action to make the abstract model become concrete. Narrate your story, pausing at the end of each section.

Distribute the case study. Explain that this case study illustrates the application of the HPT process. Suggest that the participants refer to this case study later—after you give them an assignment.

Assign the story-creation task. Divide the participants into teams of three to five members each. It does not matter if some teams have an extra member. Ask each team to create a story of a successful application of the HPT process. The story may be based on a team member's experience, or a historical event, or some popular TV show. The story should use the steps of the HPT process as the plot line. The teams have 11 minutes to create the story.

Conduct a storytelling session. Give the teams a 1-minute warning. Ask the teams to give finishing touches to the story and to select a representative to present it to the whole group. After another minute, randomly choose a team to send its storyteller to the front of the room. Ask this person to present the story. At the conclusion of the story, select another team. Repeat the process until all teams have presented their story.

Conclude the session. Briefly comment on the stories and congratulate the teams on their depth of understanding of the HPT process. In your own words, explain the advantages of using the systematic process. Follow up with a few caveats for preventing mindless overuse of the process.

Variations and Adjustments

Not enough time? Divide the players into teams and distribute both handouts. Immediately assign the story-creation task and announce a 5-minute time limit. Skip the storytelling session.

Ample time? Allow plenty of time for the teams to come up with their stories. During the storytelling session, ask different teams to comment on each story.

Too many players? Conduct the early parts of the activity as usual. However, select only two or three teams to tell their stories.

Too few players? If you have only two or three players, ask them to create a joint story. With fewer than seven players, ask them to pair up with each other and work on the stories.


PLOTS FROM PROCEDURES is a framegame: It is designed to permit the easy removal of the old plotline and insertion of a new one. It is a generic template that permits instant design of new interactive story activities.

Here are seven examples of different instructional content loaded into the PLOTS FROM PROCEDURES frame:

Team Development

Process: Development of a team

Steps: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing

Dynamic Change

Process: Implementation of a new system

Steps: Awareness, Interest, Evaluation, Tryout, and Use

Idea Power

Process: Creative Problem Solving

Steps: Investigation, Goal Specification, Idea Generation, Integration, and Implementation

Investing in Real Estate

Process: The Real Estate Cycle

Steps: Low Vacancies, Leveling Off Prices, Increasing Prices, New Construction, Oversupply, High Vacancies, Declining Prices, Absorption of Space

Intercultural Sensitivity

Process: Dr. Milton Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity

Steps: Denial, Defense, Minimization, Acceptance, Adaptation, and Integration


Process: Action Learning Strategy

Steps: Selection of Task, Team Formation, Data Gathering, Analysis, Recommendations, and Debriefing

The Life of a Widget

Process: The Product Life Cycle

Steps: Introduction, Commercialization, Growth, Maturity, and Decline

Handout 1

Human Performance Technology (HPT) Model

The HPT process consists of eight individual activities. Because some of these activities are very closely associated with others, our HPT process model presents them as four steps, each integrating a pair of associated activities. The paragraphs below briefly describe each step.

Analysis and Allocation

The purpose of this step is to define the performance problem, identify the probable causes of the problem, and select one or more specific HPT interventions. This step begins with a suggestion of an opportunity or a performance problem. It uses a variety of data-collection techniques (such as testing, observation, interviews, and analysis of existing records). At the end of this step, we obtain a clear definition of the performance problem as a gap between what should be and what actually is, a list of causes of this gap, and a suggested list of HPT interventions to remove or to reduce the impact of these causes.

Design and Development

The purpose of this step is to systematically design and produce HPT interventions to solve the problem or to leverage the opportunity. This step begins with a clear definition of the problem, a list of probable causes, and one or more suggested interventions. It uses strategies associated with the selected intervention to prepare a blueprint, design and produce components of the HPT intervention, and integrate the components into a total package. At the end of this step, we obtain a total HPT intervention package consisting of materials and methods that are ready for implementation.

Implementation and Institutionalization

The purpose of this step is to manage the change effort associated with the HPT intervention. This step begins with an intervention package. It involves planning for implementation, training local managers, implementing the intervention, troubleshooting transition problems, and ensuring smooth working of the new system. At the end of this step, we obtain improved performance, increased productivity, and local commitment and capability for the sustained use of the intervention.

Evaluation and Enhancement

The purpose of this step is to improve different materials and methods based on expert review and user feedback. This step is used in conjunction with all three earlier steps of the HPT model, especially with the design and development step. It begins with draft reports and prototype products. The step involves collecting data through expert reviews, individual tryouts, and field tests. These data are analyzed and used to revise the materials and methods. At the end of this step, we obtain improved reports, methods, and materials–along with data on the effectiveness of the HPT intervention.

Handout 2

How We Held On to Our Best Talent

Chapter I: Analysis and Allocation

I am a performance consultant.

It all started when the personnel manager of a software design company called me with a problem. The CEO of the company was concerned about the high turnover among software engineers. The personnel manager thought that this was an unavoidable problem plaguing the entire industry. However, the CEO wanted a motivational seminar and threatened to take drastic action if “employee loyalty does not improve soon.”

I interviewed several people. In addition to the CEO and the personnel manager, I talked to employees who quit their job after the first year, employees who have stayed on their job for more than five years, and newly recruited employees. I also reviewed the company’s employment records, exit interviews, and information about employee turnover in the software industry. By analyzing the information, I came up with these conclusions:

  • The turnover rate in this company is greater than the industry norm. It should be possible to reduce turnover by 50 percent.
  • Most of the new software engineers are recruited from other companies with a salary that is significantly higher than their current salaries. The candidates are treated like royalty during recruitment. They receive special bonuses when they join the company. Once they join the company, however, they are frequently given uninspiring tasks to “get them used to the company’s way of doing things.” The pay raise at the beginning of the second year is insignificant.

Based on this analysis, I identified the cause of the performance problem as an inappropriate incentive system. I tactfully communicated my findings to the personnel manager.

Chapter II: Design and Development

With the approval of the personnel manager, I worked with a team of compensation-and-benefits specialists. We carefully reviewed the system of salaries, bonuses, incentives, and non-monetary rewards. What we found out confirmed my earlier suspicion that employees leave their jobs at the end of the first year because the incentive system does not reward them for staying with the company. We came up with alternative pay-and-reward systems. After suitable reviews and revisions, we recommended the following package:

Recruitment of new software engineers will be less aggressive. More attention will be paid to recruiting new graduates. Recruiters will stress long-term prospects of working for the company. The beginning salary will not be significantly higher than the industry average. There will not be any bonuses for signing up. Instead, new employees will be given stock options at the end of the first year. Working conditions for the new employees will be significantly improved and they will receive sustained attention from the top management. New employees will be invited to work a third of their time on their own projects and all innovative projects will be recognized and rewarded. Annual salary increases will be significantly higher than the industry standard.

Chapter III: Implementation and Institutionalization

Throughout the project, we kept the CEO and the top management informed of our plans and progress. We explained how we can fund the new package by a redistribution of the recruitment budget and how we can save money by avoiding the costs associated with replacing and training software engineers who leave the company. We received buy-in from the top management for all major decisions. We provided information on the new recruitment and retention system to HR managers through a briefing conducted by the CEO and the personnel manager. We provided additional information through the company’s intranet. We supported the new recruitment strategy with attractive brochures outlining long-term prospects of joining the company. We accompanied the company personnel during their new recruitment efforts and provided feedback on their performance. We completed our project at the end of 3 months.

Chapter IV: Evaluation and Enhancement

We integrated evaluation activities during all phases of the project. For example, we asked an expert on incentive systems to review our analysis and recommendations. We made suitable revisions to the draft report on the basis of this expert’s suggestions. We designed different types of compensation and incentive packages and had them reviewed by senior managers and outside experts. Most importantly, we tried out alternative packages with focus groups of current employees and potential recruits. We continuously improved the system until fresh focus groups rated it as the best possible package. We also tested our new recruitment brochures and revised them on the basis of reader feedback. During the first 2 months of implementing the new system, we made minor changes based on recruiters’ feedback. Although it is too early to prove the bottom-line impact of the intervention, most old and new employees predict that the turnover rate will be drastically reduced.