Sales Transformation: Leading and selling within and beyond the organisation

6th July 2023 |   Grant Van Ulbrich

In this summary of his doctoral thesis, Grant Van Ulbrich explores how his public works have highlighted how sales can be transformed to sell within and beyond an organization.

Introducing sales transformation to Royal Caribbean Group ignites a SPARK practice.


In this synopsis of my doctoral thesis, I draw on my professional work in the public domain (ie, public works) to highlight how sales can be transformed to sell within and beyond an organisation.

My first body of public works generated the first luxury travel agency facilities onboard a major brand cruise vessel, where employee-based travel agents would sell and rebook existing guests onboard so that they would walk off the ship with their next cruise vacation experience already in place. This programme is called “Future Cruise Sales”.

In my second body of public works, I built and established the first office of diversity and inclusion within the cruise industry. My third body of public works focuses on my launching the first office of Sales Transformation which, through a partnership with Consalia Sales Business School, offers a scientific and psychological approach towards selling via sales education. This is the focus of this article.

The key question driving the analysis is: How does a person sell within their organisation and beyond its limitations? This, I propose, requires transforming sales by becoming an intrapreneur, a hermeneutic who interprets the brand as a text, and a transformation leader with these approaches being leveraged together rather than separately.

I propose a new working framework – “Tri2Lead” – to develop the sales transformation capacity of practitioners in the field. I advocate narrative hermeneutics as a methodology that facilitates sales through re-interpretation of the brand and storytelling, and I contextualize transformational leadership theory within my practice to demonstrate that one can lead within an organisation regardless of title, position, or level of authority. I share how the Tri2Lead framework can be useful for sales members and leaders within their practice.

Introducing sales transformation to Royal Caribbean Group ignites a SPARK

I had learned through my first and second public works the importance of developing your successor by giving everything of oneself to your employees to further their development and growth. In doing so, one allows for continued mobility and movement within the organisation. I wanted to return to the sales side of the business as I thrived in this area. And my right-hand team member was ready to carry on the business and allow for me to transition onward.

Careers in sales were undergoing rapid transformations. The advances of the internet and social media were entrenched in the sales community. Sales professionals changed their practice during this time by enhancing their skillsets and learning new ways to innovate to remain competitive. I was eager to adapt to this shifting context by working on sales improvement.

In 2018, I inaugurated the office of sales transformation at Royal Caribbean Group in the wake of a meeting with our senior vice president of international. I had collaborated with him for several years and I respected his leadership. During our meeting we discussed opportunities in international for the Royal Caribbean Group of cruise brands. He was aware of my skill in building new departments and programmes and was particularly impressed with future cruise and diversity and inclusion. He invited me to join him in international to build a programme to support the international sales force.

The lack of any formal sales guidelines in the company brought to the fore a sense of urgency in adapting to the dramatic changes in sales. Once again, I was determined to reinvent myself.

Royal Caribbean Group was at its peak. It was a time for investment and growth. The international SVP asked for a new head count, and it was granted immediately when the brand presidents learned that it was for me. I was earning internal recognition as a builder. I received compliments comparing my trajectory with that of our biggest brand president: he too had begun working on ships and had ascended through the ranks by working in different areas.

In June 2018, my husband and I moved to Barcelona, Spain. I was now Director of Sales Improvement and was part of the international sales teams for all our cruise brands.

Corporate entrepreneur to intrapreneur: I had an Idea

Brian Oconn (2018) combines the buzz words of “Sales Enablement” and “Sales Improvement” as tokens of the digital transformation of sales. As a result of the new digital CRM platforms and tools, the sales career pathway had collided with the digital era. These changes brought with them a need to articulate the story of how these tools will enhance centuries-old sales processes that have been handed down from generation to generation.

I wanted to shift the focus away from improving our teams, which were not broken, to investing in them and transforming them through sales education

My role was at the crux of these transformations. I decided to use my new office and position within sales improvement to create a sales manual to help guide our sales force in using new CRM tools such as Salesforce and Power BI, which the company was beginning to introduce. Sales Improvement, according to Oconn (2018), is continuous enhancement that utilizes new digital resources. My new supervisor was the vice president and managing director of Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). While I was working at the Barcelona office, he was running the London office and I travelled frequently to meet him. He understood that I needed to be further groomed to lead the sales force. While I had been successful in my previous roles, I needed to develop my professional maturity and presentation. He enlisted a personal executive coach to support me on my leadership development journey.

I cherished the opportunity to work with this professional coach, who mentored me in international leadership. I confided in my coach my distaste with my new title in Sales Improvement, which conveyed arrogance and the idea that I was fixing something and someone that was broken. He offered “Sales Transformation” as an alternative and explained how it represented a journey of leading change and helping others and the organisation to transform themselves. I sensed that the idea of transformation aligned with my prior work in building and transforming departments within the organisation. The art of transforming someone or something from one shape to another was intriguing.

I did not think that my role was to produce a sales manual. Many new hires throughout our organisation have requested such a manual, but I thought that creating a written manual describing our sales policies, procedures, and compensation structures was perfunctory and did not represent a valuable use of time. Instead, I thought that our company should adapt to the digital age. My idea was to create the first digital sales academy that would focus not on the typical products we have to sell but on how to sell. The academy would interrogate the role of the sales professional in Royal Caribbean Group. It would focus on the latest sales science and psychology and cultivate our values as salespeople and our customers’ values.

I created a proposal with my executive coach. I wanted to shift the focus away from improving our teams, which were not broken, to investing in them and transforming them through sales education. This digital sales academy would convey content that was not being taught in any cruise brand in the industry.

My coach prompted me to learn so that I could embed the latest sales science and psychology in sales. My supervisor approved of this idea to innovate by investing in, developing, and transforming others. He saw the plans as pioneering for our company and industry. I realized that this process of building something new would entail building myself in the context of university education. My position, office, and title changed to the first Director of Sales Transformation in the industry.

Narrative hermeneutics: Translating to facilitate meaning and understanding

The master’s programme gave me a new foundational knowledge of sales from a perspective that now includes a scientific, methodological, procedural, and psychological framework. Before the master’s programme, I had leaned upon the skillsets and competencies that I had learned over the years within my sales practice. Those skillsets and competencies were gleaned from learning by doing as sales had not been professionalized through an academic lens until now via the master’s programme.

In the past, there were tips and tricks taught under the guise of consultative sales techniques. But I now understood that much of what I had learned on the job and through available sales courses was manipulative and focused on the needs of the organisation rather than the true needs and wants of a customer. On the other hand, the master’s programme would focus on how the sales cycle and process should be structured from a scientific and evidence based process. It would then teach us how to tie this into the psychology of how a customer wants to be sold to and impact our sales behaviours to sell in the positive sales mindsets that customers want and expect.

In the past, there were tips and tricks taught under the guise of consultative sales techniques.

It sounds obvious and easy, but when one gets into the practice it is often quite difficult, as sales today is primarily focused on the business needs and wants. This is disguised as being client-centric but as we learned, it is often not authentic.

The highlight of the master’s programme was focused on how a sales leader must lead members through change. It was here that we learned about the major change models that exist for business leaders today. I found these models to be familiar, but I quickly noticed that for the most part they all had one thing in common. They were focused on facilitating change for the organisation and the individual and their personal observation of change was not in focus.

I found this to be in conflict with my own ethics. “How can I use these models by themselves without something to support an individual’s own journey,” was the question I asked myself. I was very passionate that the individual’s own personal sense of being in a change situation must be supported but there was not a model available to support their journey. As such, I was challenged by my professors, and I encouraged myself to create a new model for people to use in managing personal change. The model was called SCARED SO WHAT (See “My Journey” in this edition).

The master’s degree was the foundation for this public work. I had to build on this foundation by interpreting the teachings and adapting them to the context of our own sales academy. In this way, I was able to foster new meaning and understanding to facilitate sales transformation within our teams. I partnered with the Consalia Sales Business School of London and began to license their tools and framework to design sales content and structures for our new sales academy.

At the centre of this body of public work was the establishment of the first office of sales transformation with a SPARK. The word SPARK was our guiding principle for the newly formed office of sales transformation. SPARK stood for SALES, PERFORMANCE, ACTION, RESOURCE, and KNOWLEDGE. These five pillars of sales transformation guided our mission. We were embarking on an enterprise that was unprecedented in the cruise industry: we were applying the science and psychology of sales to our own organisation for the first time.

Before connecting with Consalia, I conducted internal research on existing sales training in our organisation. I wanted to include the senior leadership within sales on this journey. In my research on existing training and education of sales staff in the company, I interviewed the senior leadership on our current training programmes. I discovered a disconnect between the number of sales job descriptions I had found (1,153) and the far smaller number of staff in the major sales roles.

What my sales leadership thought was pure sales training consisted of product training only. Product training made sense because our brands and services consisted of ships and destinations. Therefore, our sales teams had to learn the nuances of each ship and our destinations so they could teach our travel partners and guests about them.

These interviews added to a bank of evidence on our product training programme from around the globe. I then had to translate this evidence for the benefit of the leaders. There was considerable pride in the years of experience and dedication of our teams and our sales leadership. We were confident in our position at the apex of our industry and enjoyed our reputation as cruise industry innovators. Therefore, I had to be cautious in my report on the paucity of sales training that instructed professionals on how to perform their role at Royal Caribbean Group.

Initially I was tasked with creating the first sales manual for Royal Caribbean International. However, through intrapreneurship, I found another way to foster sales training through a new digital academy. As I progressed in my investigation of existing sales training at Royal Caribbean, I was applying the narrative hermeneutical approach to uncover the substantial difference between what they thought existed and what really did exist. The interpretation of what existed was not reality, and thus the meaning and understanding was inconsistent with the findings.

Their understanding of sales training as texts was not a true representation of what sales training should be. The narrative did not match the evidence. The training was exclusively product training for the field, account-based, and business development sales force, which generated most of the revenue. Product training refers to training concerning the ship and its features, as well as the destinations and itineraries of each ship. This product-related sales training was used by our team members in informing our customers and educating our travel partners so they could sell our cruises. The contact centres were the only mechanism that provided guidance in performing sales roles. But these centres focused on transactional sales, with a supplier-centric and consultative sales process. Sales science and psychology had advanced since the 1980s when this training was conceived.

The sales support team members had limited advice on how to perform their roles. The lack of a sales manual for Royal Caribbean Group and the lack of usable content advising how to perform duties as a regional or account manager meant there was little support for teams. Furthermore, there was an absence of coherent structures to align the different sales groups. I surmised that these absences could be explained by the fact that sales had never been professionalized like HR, IT, Finance, Accounting,

Transformational leadership: Transforming sales through the team

It was early 2019 and it was time to begin building the SPARK Sales Academy. I had to choose what to build and to decide how to achieve it. Together with a newly hired manager, we knew that we were going to be introducing content that was different from what our sales force had encountered before. Rather than tell others what needed to happen, I chose to adopt a style of transformational leadership through inclusion and empowerment. Transformational leadership differs from transactional leadership. The TL role “has direct impact on the perceptions of openness of communication, role and mission clarity, and subordinate satisfaction with the leader as well as ratings of leader effectiveness” (Tracey and Hinkin, 1996).

Sales science and psychology had advanced since the 1980s when this training was conceived.

In this vein, I chose to work across top levels of leadership and include the sales force. I worked with these groups to build the new SPARK Sales Academy, a digital version of a sales manual but in an interactive learning format. The task was time-consuming and inherently risky. There was a risk that other sales leaders would challenge our methods with the claim that our current revenue did not warrant introducing new sales philosophies and structures. My task required sales leaders to step away from their current roles and to be in a safe space outside of normal working parameters, where they could openly look at our existing sales processes.

While the task was difficult, it was more rewarding because there was a movement within the sales team that reflected our investment in them by including them for their contribution. They supported and contributed to the creation of the new SPARK Sales Academy. Their own internal communications and discussions among their peers testify to their drive to build something new. Our international sales team championed the process and others volunteered to participate.

I worked with my executive coach and the Consalia Sales Business School to introduce the key framework for sales and the content from a sales science and psychological framework. This framework involved looking at sales as a proven methodology that focused on behaviours, values, and beliefs as fundamentals. The five key areas of sales are:

  • Territory management
  • Opportunity management – business development
  • Account management
  • Contact centre sales
  • Sales enablement

We started with territory management and brought in the content from Consalia Sales Business School as well as scholarly research that supported that digital learning pathway in showing how salespeople could perform their jobs. We did not provide the content from the outset. In early workshops we invited them to share their own ideas for content generation. Our next series of workshops built on the initial discovery phases with presentations on the content they had asked for or supported. These workshops prompted them to express their viewpoints. We then made this content bespoke to Royal Caribbean Group.

The act of leading the entire international sales team and involving them in creating their own educational digital platform could have been achieved easily through task direction and transactional leadership. However, by choosing to do it in partnership with the teams and by seeking their input and approval, we were facilitating their learning the new language of sales transformation through a process of co-creation. This work supported the overarching sales transformation of the teams. Their participation in the final sales education product helped to embed the new practices in their daily working routines.

The process was led not through a transactional, topdown approach, but by a transformational process built from the ground up. The topdown approach would have failed to facilitate the learning and embedding of a new way of selling. I chose to lead from where I was and to gain strength by involving the team members themselves.

In their research on transformational leadership and sales, Smith, Andras, and Rosenbloom (2012) build on the work of Bass (1985) and Bass and Avolio (1994) in characterizing how a transformational leader:

  1. Elevates the awareness level of subordinates about the importance of having vision, committing to strategy, achieving performance goals, and contemplating other desired outcomes. 2. Encourages subordinates to place group vision, concerns, and goals, above their own self-interests for the benefit of the whole organisation; and 3. Broadens and deepens subordinates’ needs, wants, and desires to include enthusiasm for continuous self-improvement and goal advancement.

The focus in their characterization is on subordinates. There is an assumption that transformational leaders must be of a higher position of supervision over others. In my role of leading sales transformation, I had only one subordinate. I treated him as my equal. I supported all three of the elements described above for my subordinate and for the entire sales force who participated in building the SPARK Sales Academy regardless of their reporting status or hierarchy. None of the international sales force reported to me directly.

Nevertheless, I was able to work in a transformational leadership style from where I was. I fostered collaborative meetings, workshops, co-creation, and brainstorming sessions as ways of gaining input and ownership to create the programme. This allowed members to voice their opinions while I drove the process. They were able to perceive how they were instrumental in this process. I was responsible for guiding and instructing the senior leadership while building the academy. That included associate vice presidents, vice presidents, senior vice presidents, and even our brand president, none of whom was my subordinate.


Covid-19 struck once we had built learning pathway one on Territory Management and two on Account Management for the SPARK Sales Academy. These two learning paths accounted for training that would support most of our cruise ticket revenues. However, in March of 2020, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) issued “no sail” orders for the cruise industry. We did not know how long it would last or what it would mean for the cruise, hospitality, and travel industries. We worked diligently to support our travel partners and pressed ahead with the launch of the SPARK learning pathways for our sales force.

Much of the conversations about sales drew on new perspectives gained in the SPARK Sales Academy. The Academy advocated working with a positive mindset and sought to cultivate authenticity, client centricity, proactive creativity, and tactful audacity. These words articulated our focus on our customers in an authentic and ethical manner. Our customer focus came before our own needs. We put our travel partners and our guests first. These mindsets characterized by a focus on customer loyalty would be put to the test by the global pandemic.

In July 2020, Covid-19 forced us to close our Barcelona office and I had to relocate to our Miami headquarters. We kept most of our sales force intact, but many employees were furloughed and laid off. Our fleet, in common with those of every cruise brand, was stalled. My immediate supervisor, a mentor and friend, left the company. I was devastated at his transition and began to contemplate what my future within the organisation held.

Upon returning to Miami, I met my new supervisor. I had known him from earlier working instances before, but I had never reported directly to him and had not interacted with him in several years. He knew nothing of what I was doing in Europe, nor my remit. I was in a position where I had to become an intrapreneur in selling my programme to him. In explaining my role and responsibilities to him, I used a dialectical hermeneutic method to expand the narrative within the litany of documents and programme content so he could find new understanding and meaning of what it was I had created. I had to lead my new senior vice president in a transformational way to inform him of my work for international and why he would benefit from keeping me and the programme in place.

Fortunately, he appreciated the value of academia and sales, and he knew about my record as a builder within the company. He was responsive to the new language of the SPARK Sales Academy and encouraged me to continue championing our team members. He was convinced that Sales Transformation and SPARK would need to remain and would require continued investment. During a time when the cruise industry was not generating any revenues and was not spending anything beyond keeping the ships afloat and payroll, my leadership chose not only to keep me on but to continue funding the SPARK Sales Academy to achieve sales transformation and future growth.

In summary, the creation of the new sales transformation division within the Royal Caribbean Group started as a way of improving sales through the creation of the company’s first written sales instructional manual. This step was significant for a leading global company that for the previous 50 years had operated without any formal documentation to help sales staff to function in their roles.

Royal Caribbean Group is not an organisational outlier in its lack of a scientific and psychological methodical approach to sales professionalization through education. The outdated sales training programmes that focus primarily on consultative sales techniques or quick tips and tricks, which are still being taught today, will ultimately fail to give companies a competitive advantage. As sales continues to change over the years through the advancement of the internet, artificial intelligence (AI), digital marketing, and social media, the salesperson will retain a fundamental role in the selling relationship. Salespeople must continue to evolve to lead their industry.

Finding myself on the first master’s programme established exclusively for sales was serendipitous. My introduction to the science and psychology of sales enabled me to bring a unique perspective to our teams and to enhance their skills, knowledge, and competitive edge. The SPARK programme continues to grow and thrive to this day.

What have I learned?

At the time of writing, I am still with Royal Caribbean Group and my work continues. Our ships are sailing again with paying guests, and we are on the road to recovery after the pandemic. At a time when cruise lines had to make significant cuts to survive, our brand continued to invest in my work in leading sales transformation to ensure the recovery of our sales force and our travel partners.

Creating these varied and interrelated bodies of public works within the cruise industry has taught me the value of drive and determination as instruments for achieving one’s aspirations. These traits are formulated early in our lives and are shaped by the circumstances of our upbringing and formative experiences. These experiences shape an individual’s values, identity, and sense of self.

In the creation of these public works, I faced situations in which my values were tested. Prompted by others, I questioned my role in leading and transforming the cruise industry. Upon reflection, I discovered that my motivations were shaped by a determination to serve others and by a deep affection for my parents. During my public works I learned that people yearn for positive influence and direction. My spirit of creativity, enthusiasm, compassion, and empathy inspired me to share the rewards of my work with others and to attribute the success to them rather than to myself. It was rewarding to witness others take a share in my ideas to create projects together.

What did my public works mean in the context of selling within the industry in which they emerged?

Transforming future cruise programmes in the cruise industry

Growing up with an affinity for travel agents enabled me to appreciate their importance and contribution to the context of the industry. I understood their value proposition as intermediaries between customers and the hospitality industry. Travel agents were the brokers and the mass marketers of hospitality brands. My first role as a de facto travel agent was to sell future cruises and perform other onboard duties. I was able to see an opportunity that was opaque to others to act on this opportunity.

Future Cruise as a duty and function onboard had to be separated from the service and loyalty functions. The two operations were incompatible. The separation of these functions opened the opportunity to establish an industry-first, luxury travel centres onboard each ship. These new travel centres amplified the reach of land-based travel agents who were now able to service their customers while onboard. The Future Cruise teams on the vessels became extensions of the travel agents on land: when they secured a new booking, they handed it over to the travel partner.

The new sales education, apprenticeships, and undergraduate and master’s programmes apply sales psychology and science to the everyday role of the sales professional and offer a paradigm for other companies and industries.

This model continues to be successful across the Royal Caribbean Group that incorporates Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Cruises, and Silversea Cruise brands. Norwegian Cruise Line America and Norwegian Cruises International still use their Freestyle Cruise programmes. However, the latter have not expanded in the same way as Royal Caribbean Group, nor have other cruise brands. It is a unique business model that requires the support of every business unit and owner to flourish. Separating the loyalty service aspect from the sales aspect and creating luxury travel centres onboard has proven to be highly successful for our brands and beneficial for travel agents worldwide in their earnings potential. This opportunity is conceivably not limited to the cruise industry but could be capitalized on in other industries such as property management, airlines, and others that feature combined sales and service functions. I often see this opportunity at hotels and resorts where a loyalty representative or concierge service person also supports repeat guests and future bookings.

In my experience, sales and service are incompatible. My experience in building Future Cruise taught me that these two areas are most successful when they remain separate.

I have also learned greatly from my right-hand colleagues in launching these future cruise programmes both for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises most recently. In both brands, the team members under my care have promoted up and have taken over the programmes and have even built out new public works for themselves.

My Celebrity manager took the lessons I’ve shared within leading transformationally, working as an intrapreneur and translating programmes into meaning and understanding and made it work for his own career progression. He has since been promoted to a Global Director level and has created the first working relationship between the Forbes corporation and their rating systems with a major cruise brand at Celebrity Cruises. This is now his own body of public work, and he has demonstrated that the teachings identified within this context statement are learnable and replicable.

Likewise, his counterpart on my team at Royal Caribbean and I worked diligently through the same process to build out future cruise at Royal and I was able to promote her to a director level taking over the programme. Since then, she has created her own public work by taking on a new role within the cruise destination development space and now heads up sourcing and redeveloping new ports of call for our ships to transit. Her work attributes the same learnings that these three working elements of transformational leadership, intrapreneuriship, and narrative hermeneutics are learnable and applicable in generating her own public works by replicating our experiences together.

Including diversity in the cruise industry

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are intuitively beneficial tools. Recognizing, prioritizing, representing, and championing a truly diverse and inclusive workplace culture is an evolving process. Diversity and inclusion become part of the fabric of our culture and a way of working to achieve a better workplace. Since 2016 other cruise brands have moved from limited awareness of diversity and inclusion toward more comprehensive internal and external D&I messaging. Yet there is still little evidence of established D&I practitioners within other cruise brands. The development of other brands’ D&I programmes remains to be seen, but I am confident in the continued success of the programme built at Royal Caribbean Group.

My right-hand manager championed the programme with my teachings and our experiences once I moved onto build sales transformation. During the global pandemic she championed the intrapreneurial spirit, translated her own experiences and gained a new role as a Chief Diversity Officer for a global video gaming corporation in California.

Transforming sales management:

Establishing and transforming our international sales team’s knowledge and functions has been an undertaking without precedent in our industry. Information about other cruise lines’ teaching support in sales is hard to obtain because of proprietary and confidentiality restrictions, but some of our employees join us from other cruise brands. We are able to claim with confidence significant innovation in this area. We are the first organisation in the cruise industry to establish a programme with the following aspects:

  • A science and psychology-based sales programme from Consalia Sales Business School and Middlesex University.
  • Participation of sales members in the sales ethics accreditation programme certified by the Institute of Sales Professionals (ISP)
  • Continued performance development accreditation for sales members to become CPD Certified Sales Professionals & CPD Expert Sales Professionals through the Institute of Sales Professionals programme.

As a result of launching these initiatives and aspects our travel partners attest there is a difference in our ways of working and selling at Royal Caribbean International. The learning programmes, platforms, and tools offered through Consalia, and Middlesex University enable us to innovate in our work with our B2B customers. Our partners confirm that our training makes us more competitive and different and that gives us an advantage in marketability. Through our licensing agreements, we know that we are the first in the cruise and hospitality industry to undertake this educational sales journey with Consalia Sales Business School. We have established a model for others in the hospitality industry to follow.

The new sales education, apprenticeships, and undergraduate and master’s programmes apply sales psychology and science to the everyday role of the sales professional and offer a paradigm for other companies and industries. Royal Caribbean International is joining the ranks of leading organisations through sales education and accreditation and is an industry leader in sales transformation.

And again, within this new journey into sales transformation, I am applying all of my lessons learned in leading as an intrapreneur, championing narrative hermeneutics and leading transformationally with my current right-hand manager so that he will be ready to take over my role as I continue championing new ventures. As we speak, I am transitioning him to take over all of the sales education, sales coaching and tools, while I bring a sales transformation focus into new revenue streams for us to continue to grow. I am witnessing for a third time, that these tools are learnable and replicable with others to utilize for themselves.

What has enabled me as a practitioner to put my public works into the world? My early life lessons and life differentiators have laid the foundations of my ability to put my public works into the world. These life differentiators include being gay, the experience of coming out and isolation as a teenager, being ousted from the US Navy for being gay, falling off a cliff while skiing, and undergoing multiple surgeries and a yearlong process of recovery and going through bankruptcy.

In each of these incidents I could have taken a negative turn and ended up homeless. But I chose to allow these incidents to serve as an impetus for me to move forward in my career. I chose not to focus on the negativity of the situations but to seek opportunities to recover and grow. My parents’ stories of their childhood helped to teach me the traits I needed to overcome these setbacks and to learn from them. My core values contributed to the fruition of these public works. My main core values and beliefs are documented in Figure 1.

Figure : Core values and beliefs
Figure 1 : Core values and beliefs

These core values and beliefs stem from my childhood and formative experiences throughout life. I live by them and practice them in everything I do. They have served as a roadmap of how to behave, function, live, and work with others. They have been instrumental in the creation of my public works.

Another contributing factor to my public works is a new lens through which I view my activity in selling within my organisation. I believe that as salespeople, the most important thing that we sell is ourselves. Almost all situations demand that we sell ourselves, either the persona and self-projection we sell ourselves internally or the external selling of ourselves to others.

There is a unique system and methodology that can be used to facilitate this personal sales role. For my public works, this process of selling was instrumentalized through intrapreneurship, narrative hermeneutics, and transformational leadership theory. Scholarship on leadership illustrates the ubiquity of leadership; what is significant is one’s actions as leader, how and for whom one leads. These factors determine the type of leader one embodies. Different styles of leadership have unique sets of abilities, success factors, limitations, and critiques. My decision to bring together Intrapreneurship, narrative hermeneutics, and transformational leadership theory in a new working framework is designed to mitigate against the shortcomings of isolated leadership styles.

Separately each of these approaches has received sustained scholarly attention. I propose that the three are utilised in tandem as a reliable means of strengthening the ability to achieve success. I offer this framework for consideration and debate in the hope that it can be applied to other contexts. The interaction of these three approaches in my own practice is represented in Figure 2. The practitioner is at the centre of this framework. From this central position the practitioner chooses which working element or aspect they wish to use in the process of leading and creating their own public works or general working methodology.

Figure 2: A new working framework for selling within an organisation


At the top, the practitioner creates the initiative, the concept, or the work to be facilitated. The intrapreneur is the person with the idea who works to establish, embed, and create change within the organisation. They are most likely a change-maker but, without proper support or other tools, they may not be successful in selling within. I further hypothesize that there is another version of this model for persons working outside of the organisation. In this case, the intrapreneur could be replaced by the entrepreneur.

My assumption is that an entrepreneur will still need to be able to translate whatever it is they are creating and be able to tell the story of their ideas or creations. Through narrative hermeneutics, the entrepreneur would also be able to practice transformational leadership in building their creations with others. According to my hypothesis, this model with a slight modification could be useful for external ways of working. A possible name for this new theory of working is “Tri-2-Lead”.

The abbreviation “TRI” represents a triangular approach with three working tools or methodologies. The “2” represents the two possible versions in which this model can be applied: inside the organisation as the intrapreneur; outside of the organisation as an entrepreneur. The third element represents “Lead” for leadership, where one would practice transformational leadership. These three elements can be used in unison, regardless of whether this leadership occurs outside of or within the organisation.

Narrative hermeneutics

On the lower right-hand side of the diagram is narrative hermeneutics, which describes the ability to interpret one’s corporate objectives, brands, and sales process, which also often leave traces in a text. The narrative hermeneutic process involves translating this interpretation in the form of a relational story that articulates the meaning of the brand as a text and its multiple manifestations, such as programmes, documents, and culture. The brand is thus transformed into a sales proposition that would have a buy-in internally and would be appealing to the customer.

Transformational leadership theory

As the intrapreneur progresses by forging alliances and building support and understanding for their work, they may at some time need to take a unique leadership approach. Being transactional or directive in their leadership style might not achieve a positive effect. Intrapreneurs tend not to be in the higher echelons of the organisational hierarchy, and they may thus find themselves having to lead others who are higher up on the leadership chain. Working as an intrapreneur with a transformational leadership style means that they can lead from where they are. This style is more inclusive, more representative of others, and can help them in achieving their overall vision, mission, and goals.

The process draws on these three aspects of working always used in conjunction. There is no linear pathway in this framework. The process may begin with intrapreneurship and move clockwise; equally it may alternate between the different elements along the path to achieving one’s vision.

As a pathway to bringing the project to completion, the model is fluid. As a new working framework, the “Tri-2-Lead” model represents ways of leading large projects or bodies of public works by intrapreneurs within the organisation or by entrepreneurs outside of the organisation. My public works in the cruise industry offer a demonstration of the tools of intrapreneurship, narrative hermeneutics, and transformational leadership as a learnable skillset for leading and selling.

In each of these public works, I was not the brand president, senior vice president, or even a vice president, but I presented myself as one of the team. My role was to deliver what I was learning and to give back that learning to each sales employee to empower them. For each programme, my close collaborators and I were architects of a process of change built by other employees who played incremental roles in creating their own future within Royal Caribbean Group. Future cruise, diversity and inclusion, and the sales transformation departments were created in partnership through intrapreneurship, narrative hermeneutics, and transformational leadership. I led these programmes by enabling internal team members to perceive the value of the process for themselves and for the organisation.

The framework illustrates the methodological process, but perhaps the most important learning for me has come from the interaction within my leadership, my teams, and my organisation. I have learned that to create a new body of public works within a major global corporation requires more than just telling people what needs to be done. It requires a different skillset that can be learned to include working as an intrapreneur, translating the stories and products and services into meaningful bits of information to facilitate understanding is a critical process. This is where conversations can go wrong because the intended impact may not be so easily understood by others.

I also learned that working in a transactional leadership style (telling) would not have been conducive towards a successful outcome. In facilitating these bodies of public works, I had to work up the hierarchical structure as well as across the organisation alongside and together with others in a more transformational approach that often allowing for them to take the credit, and that was ok.

But the most important thing I can take away is that these tools are teachable as I have demonstrated with each of my right-hand employee team members as they have taken over for me when I transitioned onto other roles.

Conclusion and recommendations

I hope that this account of my works will enable others to see the value of my transformative projects in the cruise industry. I would like to highlight the ways my public works provide an insight for cruise industry leaders, scholars, and other business leaders into how such projects can be created and delivered. Notwithstanding my own biases that influence the ways I view and reflect on my practices, I share these recommendations with the aim of enhancing research and practice and of enabling others to realize the impact of their own transformative projects.

Proposal 1: Tri-2-Lead – a new working framework towards leading and facilitating public works

This model serves as a conceptual tool for understanding and for facilitating public works within an organisation. Even though this leadership framework evolved in the specific and individualized context of my own practice, it can nevertheless serve to illuminate learnable and replicable practices for my own future works and for those of others.

The Tri-2-Lead framework serves as a starting point for further research into the imbrications of intrapreneurship or entrepreneurship, narrative hermeneutics, and transformational leadership. My analysis of this amalgamated leadership model offers a new way of understanding how these distinct ways of working can be combined to support individual and organisational success. Future research in the areas of business and public works should be able to determine the feasibility and utility of this model and how it can be adopted and modified in different contexts – for example, externally (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Tri-2-Lead external framework.
Figure 3: Tri-2-Lead external framework.

Proposal 2: The narrative hermeneutics of sales

Hatch and Rubin (2006) make the case that corporate brands are social texts, and can be viewed, interpreted, assessed, and translated into meaning and understanding through hermeneutics as a methodology and practice. My own research illustrates the validity of Hatch and Rubini’s (2006) proposal that corporate brands as texts should be included in the methodology and practice of hermeneutics.

The Dialectical System of Interpretation (Demeterio, 2001) illustrates how this approach can be practiced. The word “dialectical” originates in the Greek for “conversation and debate”. Dialectical hermeneutics comprise an infinity of meanings. The goal is to find a consensus as existential meaning. Hatch and Rubin (2006, pp. 49-54) focus on brands such as Coca Cola and Marlboro as social texts. When someone views these brand symbols, they either know their meaning and understand the array behind the symbols or they do not. For those who do not understand their meaning, the symbol of the brand might as well be an ancient or foreign text that requires translation before meaning is achieved.

The sales profession is the very act of translation of brands either as social or physical texts. A salesperson’s role is to broker the connection between a particular product or service that sits behind a brand text and the consumer. This connection enables the consumer to find meaning, purpose, and identity. Individuals working in the sales profession are modern day hermeneuts and as such, facilitate and practice the art of narrative hermeneutics.

A visual demonstration of dialectical hermeneutics can be seen in Figure 4, which represents the practice of a salesperson and their main role in facilitating narrative hermeneutics. The salesperson’s main function is to translate the brand to facilitate context, understanding, and meaning for their customers. They follow the dialectical process by facilitating conversation and debate on whether to exchange goods and services behind the brands and products they are selling. I propose that sales and the function of salespersons be conceptualized through the lens of narrative hermeneutics, which offers a tool for understanding how the sales process consists of interpreting brands, products, and services through social and physical texts.

Figure 4: DSI adapted flow. Source: Adapted from Demeterio, 2001.
Figure 4: DSI adapted flow. Source: Adapted from Demeterio, 2001.

Proposal 3: Transformational leadership theory – lead from where you are

Existing research on transformational leadership theory does not clarify exactly who can practice transformational leadership. The literature on applying a transformational framework or methodology privileges individuals in higher-level leadership roles who supervise others.

My proposal stems from the evidence provided in my context statement: at each stage when I proposed my new bodies of public works, I had no direct reports, nor was I a senior leader within the company. In my first public work documented here, I was a lower-level lineemployee. I was subsequently promoted to an entry-level manager. Yet I was able to practice transformational leadership theory and change an entire industry.

When I proposed to establish the first office of diversity and inclusion, I had no direct experience of senior leadership or expertise in the diversity and inclusion field. Yet I was able to propose a new course and direction for our senior vice president of human resources and ultimately for the chairman of the corporation. When I proposed that our international sales force completely change their overall direction through sales education, science, and psychology, I was not the senior leader of the division, region, or the company. Yet I was able to steer the entire corporation to make significant investment at a time when revenue generations were impacted by a global pandemic.

I propose that transformational leadership theory can be a learned practice. It can be applied regardless of position, title, hierarchy, or whether an individual is inside or outside an organisation. Further research is needed to clarify how the concept can be applied to a wide range of various positions to ensure that educational opportunities are not lost.

This discussion illustrates the value of combining the practice of transformational leadership with intrapreneurship and narrative hermeneutics as tools to enhance one’s practice. There is no one theory, methodology, or phenomenon that will ensure success. Limiting one’s repertoire to a single tool, limits one’s opportunity to achieve a vision. Expanding one’s tools is a way of amplifying the opportunities to prosper and grow.

Global Director at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd | + posts

Grant Van Ulbrich is Global Director, Sales Improvement, EMEA, APAC, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

A native from the state of Kansas, Van Ulbrich followed in the steps of his grandfather, father, uncles and brother in serving in the US Navy. His designation was an Air Traffic Controller during the “Southern Watch” campaign of the Persian Gulf War. Post military service, Van Ulbrich championed sales leadership roles in the multi-family apartment community throughout the San Francisco Bay Area before following his true passion for the sea in the cruise industry.

With over 15 years’ selling and sailing across oceans, Grant Van Ulbrich has served in leadership roles in sales, operations, revenue and even launched the cruise industry’s first office of Diversity and Inclusion for the Royal Caribbean Cruises family brands. He is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales, and a current candidate of the MSc Leading Sales Transformation programme with Consalia and Middlesex University.