Microsoft: Transmedia storytelling for the classroom

The Challenge

Microsoft challenged Korn Ferry to develop a one-day diversity and inclusion program that would be “less Harvard and more Disney.” Korn Ferry partnered with the Gronstedt Group to develop a transmedia storytelling experience.

The Solution


About a week before the one-day program started, participants were sent a movie “trailer” to build excitement. The trailer showed highlights of a dramatized television-style show and proclaimed, tongue-in-cheek, that “Human Resources Illustrated gave it three thumbs up.” The trailer was used as a promotional tool to get participants motivated for the event.

When Microsoft leaders arrived for the live session, a facilitator introduced posters in the conference facility featuring each character of the story line with QR codes. Participants were divided into teams and charged with locating the posters and scanning the QR codes with smart phones or tablets. They watched introduction videos of each character on their mobile devices to learn more about each of them.

After some introductory classroom activities, the group watched a video on the big screen that set up the story line: An IT team is planning a large project where tremendous demands will be placed on them. Annika, the team leader, is the hero of the journey. However, Dariush, who participates via conference call from Cracow Poland and is the subject of “Darisush Bingo” every time he uses a jargon term, doesn’t see her as a hero. The Hollywood-style video dramatization was shot with professional actors and film crew.

Throughout, the day, the class watched “scribe videos,” animated shorts of artist sketches drawn on a whiteboard with audio narration. In one of these instructional videos about how to conduct a coaching conversation, the characters from the live-action video appear as cartoons. The animated characters in the scribes are in narrative synchronization with the live action video. An instructor voiceover talks about how to hold an effective coaching conversation and illustrates his points with the Annika and Dariush characters. Each medium is used for its strengths: Live-action video drives the storyline forward. In one of the videos shown mid-day on the big screen, Sara, an HR business partner calls Annika to schedule a meeting. Sara plays the role of the mentor, providing wisdom that Annika uses to face up to her faulty assumptions about her team members and start coaching them. The scribe video explains particular skill sets, such as coaching skills, that the hero of the live-action video puts to use.

Later in the day, each team was asked to research the barriers to inclusion for one of the characters in the story. The teams got a laminated card with the assignments printed and a QR code. By scanning the QR codes, each team watched a video about one of the characters, which provided more detailed back stories to their barriers. For instance, team member Lauren reveals that she’s expecting a baby and is hiding her pregnancy, as she is struggling with the idea of disappointing the team because she wants more work-life balance. She knows she needs to speak to Annika but is reluctant and unsure of how to approach her. The team that watched this video got to report back what they’ve learned and their analysis of how to address the situation. A sigh went through the class when the team told the rest of the class about Lauren’s pregnancy.

The Results

“Participants leaned back to watch the story on the big screen and leaned forward to watch on the small screen throughout the day,” explains Doug Maxfield, VP of Business Development at Korn/Ferry who led the project. The video dramatization on the big-screen drives the story line forward, the videos on the small screen provides the back stories, and the scribe videos provide instruction. Each medium made its own unique contribution to the storyline that framed the entire day of learning activities.

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