Archive for March, 2011

Can training ever be exceptional?

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I saw a question on a forum yesterday that got me thinking. The question was, “I’m interested to know how folk define ‘exceptional training’ – what makes training outstanding, and sets it apart from an everyday training course?”

As a trainer, what have I delivered that has been exceptional? I can think of many sessions that I have been pleased with, and that have gone better than others that I have delivered. I can also think of ones that I have thought have been very powerful in the learning that has been generated for the delegates. But I don’t think any of that necessarily makes them ‘exceptional’.

Then I considered what training I had attended that had been exceptional. What came to mind was not training that had been exceptional, but exceptional learning that I had taken from sessions or courses – and the two, I think, are completely different.

For training to be exceptional (if, in fact, it can be) it will depend upon how the delegates respond to it – and not necessarily whilst they are experiencing it, but how they respond back in their workplaces and lives in the weeks, months and years to come.

For example, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Work Foundation’s Runge Effective Leadership Programme about 10 years ago. There was a session on how to create a Vision for a Company or Department. I cannot remember the name or much about the man who delivered the session. It wasn’t a particularly innovative or interactive session, and at the end of the one-week Programme it wasn’t in my ‘top three’ of the sessions I had attended. When I look back on it, however, I realise how valuable it was to me and how much I have used it since. It has been a foundation, a starting point, for many of my successes since then. But I really couldn’t class it as exceptional training.

Which supports my view that only delegates can really say whether such experiences are exceptional, and they can only really do that further down the line. Perhaps there can be ‘exceptional learning’?

So as a starting point in trying to answer the original question how about this – exceptional learning occurs when 100% of the full cost of the learning event is recovered within 12 months of the event – in other words, the person or company acquires a full return on its investment (ROI) within that time frame. I think that could then be classed as ‘exceptional’.

The first step in seeking to achieve this is for trainers to stop thinking of themselves as trainers, but to think of themselves as Performance Improvers – who can play their part in achieving such improvements by effective training methodologies. By reframing their role, their thought processes are likely to have a greater focus on how they create exceptional performance improvements – which then brings the realisation that it is as much about the part the delegates play as the trainer.

It includes getting the right people on the right events in the first place, and motivating and developing them once they get back to the workplace.

The trainer – or Performance Improver – plays their important part in such achievements, but others also have very important parts. And all must play their parts well to achieve exceptional learning.

Unless, of course, you think differently?


Vouching for the Benefits of Rapport

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Eighty-seven in one go!  That’s definitely a record. I got sixty-five in one go last year, and forty-something earlier this year, but I’m very pleased with eighty-seven! I’m talking about the ‘Active Kids Vouchers’ and ‘School Vouchers’ that the large supermarkets give out at this time of year. It’s usually one for every £10 you spend in the store. And all down to rapport and first impressions!

Rapport. The ability to build rapport is such a useful and powerful skill, but one that is often given too little value.

I can recall so many occasions at work when early in the day I passed people in the corridor and they would say “How are you?”, or “How’s things?” – and in the vast majority of instances didn’t really mean it and weren’t at all interested. Because if you reply, “I’m not too good, actually” or “Could be better, really”, they generally don’t stop and show concern or ask what they could do to help.

Some carry on walking having not even heard your response. They weren’t listening because they didn’t really want to know the answer – they were on auto-pilot.

Some hear the reply and carry on walking but verbally respond with something like “Well I hope things get better for you soon”. These people probably think to themselves, “Phew, that was a close shave – nearly had to get into a conversation there …”. They don’t, however, think about what they could do next time to ensure that they don’t get into that same situation again.    

Others feel obliged to stop, having heard the response, but aren’t really sure what to say next. Perhaps because it’s too unstructured an area for them, perhaps because of the public location, perhaps because they are busy and need to be somewhere else.

So why do they say it if they’re not interested? They should just say, “Hello”, and stop trying to make out they’re interested when they are clearly not. They have little understanding of rapport.

I used to play a game with our children when they were younger – say 12, or 13 years old. When we stayed at certain hotels and if there was some spare time, I would challenge them to see how many hotel shampoos or bars of soap they could collect. The rules were that they could not take them without permission – the only way they could get them was by asking for them. And in asking for them they could not use deceit – for example, they couldn’t claim that there weren’t any in our room when we got there. And the challenge was to see how many they could get. Often they did very well, and having counted how many they had got (and awarded any promised prize) we then discussed how they did it – and it always came down to building rapport.

My son has since used this to good effect in the “Marks and Spencer Challenge”. This is a family game that takes place annually in York just a few days before Xmas. From about October, my father creates a set of questions, the answers to which can all be found in M&S. (For example, ‘Buy 3 different bags of sweets from the 3 for £1 section, and the person with the highest total of sweets from the three bags wins 15 points’ – so quite detailed questions). Each of his 5 grandchildren then has an hour to complete the questions and tasks. There is an engraved trophy awarded to the winner each year – and my son has won it for the past two years. This is mainly because he first finds the largest group of M&S staff, then explains to them what he is doing and then seeks their assistance. They seem to love the idea and so set off in all directions to get the answers for him! His success is built on rapport.

And the 87 vouchers? I got those on Saturday at a Tesco petrol station. But I didn’t buy £870 worth of fuel, I only bought £30 worth. But I did build a little rapport. There is always something to talk about – which is the skill of rapport. Not the weather, something a little different. It might be commenting about how there are usually two staff there and you hope they are not getting worked too hard , or that all 8 cars being filled up are silver and how often does that happen, or something  about a headline in one of the newspapers. It needs to be a question, not just a statement, so that you interact. And as you leave, if you haven’t already been offered them, you ask for your vouchers. And in this case I was just handed the remainder of a booklet.

So, should you choose to accept it, this is your challenge  – how many vouchers can you get on your next visit to your supermarket, and if you get a goodly amount tell me about it. And, most importantly, what was your rapport building question?

And finally you find a grateful school to accept your vouchers!


Who’s giving training a bad name?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

I sometimes wonder how people are appointed to positions as trainers. Do some organisations see it as a position that people are moved if they might be good at it, and are then left to get on with it – without any training or support? Do businesses think training is such a waste of time that they just employ anyone in the position? Whatever the reason, there appear to be too many companies or trainers giving training a bad name.

I see requests for assistance from trainers on various forums, but I’m not sure how they expect people to be able to respond with targeted and focussed suggestions. I’m meaning where people are asking others to suggest methodologies. Here are a couple I have recently seen:

“I have a four-hour workshop to give on presentations skills. I see the same participants the following week and they have to give a five-minute using the information they’ve learned in just four hours. Any recommendations? No technology available for them except for one laptop. They do not have laptops themselves.”

“I work in a manufacturing facility and I am about to conduct management development training for supervisors/managers to teach them more about ‘HR in their jobs’.   Does anyone have any good icebreakers that will compliment this training?”

Do these same people (or organisations) say, “I’m going to buy a car, which one would you recommend?”, or “I’m going on holiday and need a coat – which do you think I should buy?” I think not. So why do it for training?

Trainers asking such questions cannot expect to receive any sort of meaningful advice or assistance. And if they do use what is offered, does the organisation realise how much money it is potentially wasting?  

Let’s say we have 12 people in our group, and each receives a salary of £100 per day. That means with salary on-costs they probably cost their organisation £120 per day. That’s £1,440 in wages for attending a day’s training. Add another £200 for the trainer’s delivery and preparation time, £100 for the administration of getting the people on to the course, £50 for room hire and £10 for photocopying costs – that gives us a total cost of £1,800 for the day. There may also be travel and meal costs, but we’ll leave it at this for the purpose of the exercise.

If we have 6.5 hours contact time, it means that each hour of delivery is costing our organisation approximately £277.00. Or £4.62 per minute.  So a half hour opening exercise comes in at £138.

And if it costs £138 it needs to be focussed – not focussed on the ideas of others who have no knowledge of the organisation, but focussed on operational effectiveness, focussed or organisational goals, focussed on delegate needs and focussed on extracting a return on the investment. Effective evaluation.

As effective trainers know, evaluation starts at the planning stage. An evaluation of the needs of the attendees and the organisation. Once a Training Needs Analysis of some sort has been undertaken, planning, validation, delivery and further evaluation follow. This evaluation can show the organisational and operational improvements that have been achieved as a result of the training. Very satisfying, and likely to lead to the increased credibility of the trainers and L&D function.

Training people effectively is costly. Training people ineffectively is even more costly as we reduce (or fail to get any) the return on the investment.

Or have I got it all wrong?


The Language of Life

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

I’m seeing a man. I met him quite by accident, but am so pleased that our paths crossed. He excites me, he makes me laugh, he is wonderful company. He has made me realise I am missing that little something in life. This is all due to his exquisite use of the English language.

Having enjoyable conversations with someone who has such a wide vocabulary has made me realise just how much we have dumbed down our language. Texts, emails and Twitters have led to us short-handing so much. There may be benefits in this, in that people get straight to the point, but are we losing the depth to our conversations?

I remember a trainer colleague from many years ago. We both trained trainers. When a delegate said something that he thought needed challenging or exploring and they seemed a little reticent to do so, he would say, “Of all the thousands of words in the English language that you could have used, you chose at that moment in time to use the word …… (whatever the word was). Why was that?”.

I always felt a little uncomfortable with this approach so didn’t use it myself. Whilst it certainly put the person on the spot and sought to encourage the person to think about the origin of the particular word, I don’t think it generally did that. The individuals appeared to become self-conscious and a little defensive, and so were not of an appropriate mental approach to objectively assess their previous contribution.

Having said that, the premise of the intervention was sound enough. We do all choose every word we say – no-one makes us say them – but sometimes we regret saying what we said so try and take it back by saying it’s not exactly what we meant to say. Well, actually, we did. We said it.

This was brought home to me when I was on a course many years ago, long before I knew the above trainer. It may have been a Training Evaluator’s Course, I’m not sure. We had the opportunity for some half hour discussions with various people – and I can’t remember why. I think the person was from Lancaster University, and he was some sort of expert in language. Whilst I cannot remember much about the ‘why we were there’, I can remember the way the discussion went.

The discussion was an opportunity for me to better understand how and why we choose the words we do. He set off answering my opening question and he just lost me – I had no idea what he was talking about. I probably looked fairly bemused, and I felt sceptical about the rest of the time we had together. I then gamefully asked him a further question. And another. After about 15 minutes, I started to pick up some threads and was able to ask some linked or follow up questions. I found the last part of the discussion very interesting.

We also had to time the half an hour – so that others could then have the same opportunity. As we got to the end of our session, I said, “Well that’s it, we’d better call it a draw”. “Why did you say, ‘call it a draw’”, he asked. Just a turn of phrase I retorted. He disagreed and explained that if I thought about why I had chosen that phrase, I would have a practical understanding of what our half hour had been about.

Later I thought about it – and I realised that for the first 15 minutes he had been ‘ahead’ as I was trying to catch up to understand what he was saying. And in the final 15 minutes I had caught up and was then able to lead the conversation effectively. Hence my choice of phrase.

This example always comes to mind when I explore with someone why they used a word or phrase, or when I am searching for a reason why I said something.

As we increase our use of texting and reduce the number of words we actively use, I wonder if we will miss the joy of listening to fine language? Or, if it continues to exist, perhaps appreciate it more? My new relationship with the man of words has made me realise how wonderful our language is when used well.