Archive for September, 2010

Giving and receiving

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

What’s the best story you have ever heard? Some of my favourites are ones that have been used by trainers or leaders to illustrate a point. Stories have been around a very long time, but in today’s multimedia worlds they are perhaps overlooked a little. They are, however,  able to bring a session to life or make learning more memorable.

I was reminded of their power recently when training some trainers. Having encouraged them to think about using them, several were used in different ways, and all very effectively. The most powerful were where the tellers had combined a relevant story with effective voice intonation and body language.

And whilst there may be less storytelling taking place due to modern technologies, one such technology – the internet – has made it a lot easier to source and access good stories. One such website is Stories for Trainers. Why not have a look and see if you could use some of them?

Not only has the internet enabled us to find things more easily, it has also enabled us to give more effectively.  As you may be aware if you have visited our website, one of our business aims is to help local people who may not have had the facility to access coaching or other development activities.  We believe that one of the foundations of a sustainable and effective community is for its members to support and assist each other. Recently I found a website that has enabled me to build on that a little.

Charity Days is a register of trainers who volunteer to deliver training for registered charities free of charge.  Jane (the person who runs it) receives requests from charities and then circulates the requests to the trainers, who can then volunteer if it is an area of their expertise. The charity then considers the offers and decides which is the best fit for their requirements.  If you are a trainer you may want to think about getting involved?


Figure and Ground

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

We learn new things all the time. Sometimes when we least expect it, and sometimes a while after the event. I have recently been delivering a programme to a group of trainers – and have had great fun during the process – and there was one such moment for me during the Programme.

During one of the sessions, I noticed a person put one of those yellow ‘sticky notes’ on the outside of the glass panel in the door. I assumed that it was a message for a member of the group, thought that we could get it at the next break and mentally moved on.

About 30 minutes later one of the group was going to the front of the room and in doing so was passing the door. He made a minimal detour by opening the door, removing the sticky note, quickly reading it and giving it to me – as it was a message for me. I took it, and again mentally moved on very quickly intending to contact the ‘sender’ at a more appropriate time. Time moved on, I actioned the ‘sticky note’ and the whole episode was gone. Well, so I thought.

A couple of days later a break time discussion was taking place about a model that we had been discussing – ‘Figure and Ground’. In case you are not familiar with the model, I will take a few lines to explain it. As a trainer, manager, customer service agent – whatever – when we are concentrating on something, we need it to be the ‘Figure’ and everything else to be the ‘Ground’. In other words, the ‘Figure’ part is what we are focussed on. So, for example, if you are reading an interesting paper or an enjoyable book you want to focus on that and that alone. If a wasp was to start flying around near you or a spider to start walking across the paper, it is likely that the insect can become ‘Figure’ – and the consequences of this is that the book or paper becomes the ‘Ground’. You then need to remove the insect, or move away from it, for your paper or book to return to being the ‘Figure’.  Hopefully that makes sense?

One of the delegates then made reference to the sticky note saying how that had become ‘Figure’ for them. I was so surprised – that was just so far from my world and not a consideration I had made!  And then a couple of days later the same person explained that when they have a note posted on a door during training (or notification of a message in any other way) they always remove it straight away and let the group know what was on the message – so as to remove any possibility of it being ‘Figure’. This made total sense.

I was fascinated. This had never crossed my mind. I then started to think back to the last time I had had a sticky note left on the door while I was training – or a note pushed under the door, or any other way of getting attention. And I can’t think of any occasions. Perhaps they have happened and I just haven’t remembered them as they are of little significance to me? Or perhaps I have worked with organisations where this isn’t part of the culture (in my last one we had a notice board away from the classrooms for notices for delegates to be written on or stuck on – perhaps that’s why we had the board!)? And what makes them ‘Figure’ for some people and not for others? I am still fascinated.

What are your thoughts?

What I am sure of is that the next time someone leaves a sticky note on the door of a room and I’m leading the group, I will remember this episode. And I will get it straight away!


Story of a life

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

When I was doing my ‘A’ levels many years ago here in England, there was a guy in my English Literature group who had just transferred from a school in New York. I can’t remember his name. There was always an air of mystery as to how and why he had arrived at our school. He was regarded as being very street-wise and was a key member of the in-crowd.  I didn’t mix with him too much, but did walk with him towards our homes on a few occasions – generally after we had an English lesson at the end of the day.

I have two key recollections of him. The first was when we were walking past some horses and before I could tell him not to walk behind them, he did and got booted to the floor. He may have been street-wise, but was not animal-wise. The second was that he introduced me to the words and music of Harry Chapin. He was a big fan, a very big fan.  I am now a big fan and have been for many years, and I have him to thank for introducing me.   

Harry Chapin

Within the training context I have used Harry’s music and words on many occasions over the years. They can be really impactive for delegates in some key learning areas, and the affective nature of the experience can leave a lasting impression – as long as it is debriefed with skill and care. The two songs that I have used most regularly are “Flowers are Red” and “Why do Little Girls?” They are great for exploring diversity issues.

I used one this week that I have never used before. It’s “Mr Tanner” and it tells the story of Martin Tanner, who loves to sing. Singing wasn’t his profession – he ran a cleaning shop – but singing made his life whole. And apparently he was pretty good at it. He knew he had a few flaws, but all his friends said he could take it further. I suppose in today’s world, he would have been encouraged to audition for The X Factor or similar. Mr Tanner listened to the friends, and decided to give it a go, and so hired a hall and gave a concert. The critics lambasted him. As a result he never sang again. “Music was his life”, Harry tells us, and in the space of a couple of hours at the concert, this had been lost and his life continued incomplete.

I used it to illustrate the impact a trainer – or manager – can have when giving feedback and encouraging people to take risks.  With false encouragement and (or) poor quality feedback that is imbalanced, there can be a huge negative impact for those we should be helping to develop. That’s not to say we shouldn’t encourage people to develop, just that we should do it with care and empathy.

And I’m pleased to say it went really well with the group of trainers I was working with – very impactive, created some great discussion and left a lasting impression.

As for Harry Chapin, I got to one of his concerts. An altogether different affair.  It was back in 1981, and I just wish I had known more of his songs before I went. After the show he signed programmes and was happy to go to the bar with people – all driven by his desire to sell as much merchandise as possible to help the World Health Organisation. He did about 100 concerts a year purely for raising money for charity.

Very sadly, three months later he died in a car crash in New York – which geographically takes us back to where I started from in this post.  As Harry used to sing to end his concerts, “All my life’s a circle …”


What conditions enable you to learn most effectively?

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

When coaching and training your staff, do you treat them as adults or children? This may sound like a daft question, but too many managers continue to treat their staff based on the principles of child learning as opposed to adult learning. In fact, you can relate the principles below not just to how you develop your people, but also to the ethos of how you manage your team on a day to day basis.

The term Pedagogy (meaning child-leading) has been around for many centuries. The term Andragogy (man-leading) has been around for only a couple of centuries.

It was developed significantly by Malcolm Knowles in the last Century. He created a number of assumptions with regard to Andragogy, or Principles of Adult Learning.

The foundations of his work were as a result of reflecting on his childhood experiences of learning from his parents. His father was a vet who took him round on his visits from an early age.  Knowles recognised the nature of the conversations they had, how his father asked for his opinion and how his opinion was then valued. He also reflected on the tender and loving approach of his mother, and how this in turn led to him becoming a more caring individual. He developed from these foundations and eventually published a list of the conditions that he suggested should be present for adults to learn as effectively as possible. These conditions are summarised below:

1)      Where it is accepted that learning is a continuous process.

2)      Where adults are encouraged to relate what they are learning to what they already know.

3)      Where it is accepted that a learning process will involve feelings as well as thought processes.

4)      Adults generally learn best by doing.

5)      Training must always be realistic and relevant in order to encourage motivation.

6)      An informal environment is generally most effective.

7)      Learning flourishes best where the atmosphere is non-judgemental.

8)      Variety generally stimulates learning.

9)      A manager, coach or trainer can train, however, the delegates also have a responsibility to learn.

If you don’t already adopt these principles, if you did you could have a significant impact on the learning and motivation of your team. And that will lead to business improvements and better results. Wouldn’t you like some of that?


Two of the best trainer models?

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

I am running a Train the Trainer Programme in a week’s time and am very excited about it. It is a while since I have done one, and for me, in working life terms, life doesn’t get much better than training trainers. Hence the excitement!

Part of my planning has been updating or preparing new handouts for certain models and topics, and this has reminded me of some of the excellent models and theories available to assist trainers in their work and own personal development.

I have just completed handouts on two of John Heron’s models – 6 Category Intervention Analysis (6CIA) and Dimensions of Facilitator Style (DFS). As I completed them, I was left wondering whether these are perhaps the best models available for a trainer to use to assess whether they are a ‘complete’ trainer?

Heron first developed the 6CIA model. It was designed to assist people involved in 1-2-1 helping relationships, such as a doctor working with a patient. As the name suggests, it categorises the helper’s Interventions into 6 Categories (Prescriptive, Informative, Confronting, Cathartic, Catalytic and Supportive). By using this model, trainers can ascertain whether they are using all the Categories, and whether they are using the most appropriate Category at the most appropriate time. I have seen it help a person understand a potential ‘blind spot’ they have by it illustrating to them how they were only using 5 of the Categories.

DFS also has 6 groupings, but here they are referred to as Dimensions (as opposed to Categories). These dimensions are Planning, Meaning, Confronting, Feeling, Structuring and Valuing. Heron developed this model to assist facilitators working with Groups (as opposed to 1-2-1s), and these Dimensions cover all aspects of how a facilitator and a group works together.

This model is sometimes also referred to as 18DFS. This is because not only does it have the six Dimensions, it also has three Modes – Hierarchical, Co-operative and Autonomous. Heron used the Modes to describe the exercise of power in the running of the group by the facilitator – moving from Hierarchical, where all the power is with the trainer, through to Autonomous where the group has the freedom to finds its own way. As each Mode can be combined with each Dimension, this gives eighteen possible combinations.

I find that one of the best ways of explaining this model is to imagine, as a trainer, you have a ‘mixer’, as a producer would use when recording music. On the producer’s mixer they have 6 controls managing the loudness or softness of each instrument making up the track, which they can change as they see fit – thus enabling them to create the perfect sound. As a trainer, change the instruments to Dimensions, and the loudness / softness control to the Modes. You then use your mixer to set the Dimensions and Modes at their appropriate level for the needs of the group, amending them as you see fit.

If you want more details of these models, you’ll find them on the ‘Discussions’ area of the Breathe Facebook Page. If you would like Microsoft Word versions (which contain additional information that I cannot reproduce on Facebook), please drop me an email and I’ll happily send them to you.

Are these the two best trainer models, or would you suggest any better ones? I’d be very interested to hear your views.


Double Dutch tips

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

The final instalment of my Netherlands Trilogy starts at the Bistro Zilverzoen, in Elberg – and involves haggling with a waitress over a tip. After leaving the glares of Walibi World we went to find a nice restaurant for a birthday meal to celebrate my daughter’s birthday.  We came upon this restaurant by chance – but it was great.

It appeared very popular with the locals of the very picturesque and historic little town of Elberg, and it was nicely decorated. It felt homely. It transpired that it had a good menu and the fresh food was well prepared and enjoyable. The friendliness and helpfulness of the waitresses added to the ambience. For example, due to our command of the Dutch language amounting to a grand total of “Danka je vel” (thank you), one translated the entire menu into English for us. We also wanted a starter for three of us that was only available for 2 or 4 people – so they gave us a third portion free of charge. It was a lovely meal.

And so when it came to paying, I wanted to recognise this by giving a suitable tip. I worked out what 15% of the bill was and decided to add that on. Unfortunately, the credit card machine was all in Dutch, and so I asked the waitress to add the tip on to the machine. To my great surprise, she said that she couldn’t possibly add that amount on as it was far too much for the service that she had provided. She suggested an amount equivalent to about 3%. I protested! She wouldn’t budge. I suggested that we should barter, and I came down to 12%. I suggested that she move to 6%, to which she reluctantly agreed. I then used a few lines from the bartering scene from the Life of Brian – which were, I think, lost on her, but I enjoyed it. She eventually agreed to add 7%. I left a further 7% in cash.

The exchanges were all very pleasant and in good humour, but a waitress saying that the tip was too much was not something I had experienced before. Has it happened to you?

Peta, my wife, was particularly despondent at the interaction as she has been saying for the past 20 years that I’m not generous enough with my tips. Perhaps in future I should ask waiting staff how much they think I should tip them, and why (a little like a self-assessment appraisal!) prior to me making a final decision?

What was very pleasing about it was to see someone putting some thought into the value of the service they deliver. Some organisations have corporate objectives or visions related to customer satisfaction or providing the best service, when actually their objective is to make as much money as possible. Greed appears to be a significant aspect of our culture in Britain. This condition is  unfortunately as prevalent in L & D consultancy as much as it is – if not more so – in any other sector.

Here was a restaurant obviously wanting to make a profit, but to make a fair profit.  Very refreshing. Both society and business budgets would be healthier for such a mind set.

How do we get this to catch on?