Archive for August, 2011

The art of measurement

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

I have recently questioned the number of networking events that I have the opportunity to attend – and more specifically the benefit of many of them. There are some beneficial ones that I attend – where I learn and develop – and there are others that appear to be run for the benefit of the few organisers, and are marketing events thinly veiled as networking events. Unfortunately, in my view, too many of them are leaning towards the latter.

Consequently, at the suggestion of another self-employed colleague, she and I loosely organised – ‘set up’ sounds too grandiose a term – a ‘Walk and Talk’ event. The intention was that there would be 6 or 7 mile walks in areas of outstanding beauty where we could chat, theorise, contemplate, problem solve, reflect, and seek the counsel of other like-minded individuals. I am pleased to say that these have really taken off now – as we walk, smaller groups of 2 or 3 will chat for a while, and then, perhaps where a gate is opened or a stile is negotiated, the groups will seamlessly change and other discussions will develop. If the surface is suitable, sometimes a model is drawn and discussed (sandy, slightly damp conditions appear most suited to this aspect!). They happen about every six weeks, there are different people every time, and we have fun, develop ideas and keep fit as we go!

On the last walk, I was listening to two fellow walkers discussing coaching. One of the threads of their conversation led to them discussing a definition of coaching, which was “… the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another’. The provider explained that the quote is by Myles Downey and that he likes it because it implies an intuitive art to the process, as well as the mechanical deployment of skills and techniques. He added that the most important word to him within the definition is ‘art’.

This set me thinking. As some of you are aware, I don’t generally have a lot of time for qualifications relating to the acquisition of people skills. There is too much measurement of outputs, and insufficient valuing of outcomes. As a prospective employer, I really don’t care whether you have a trainer’s qualification or not – what I care about is whether you can demonstrate that you have used sound learning and development principles to bring about or contribute to improved and quantifiable organisational performance.

Coaching is the same. So you’ve got a qualification. That’s positive in that it demonstrates a commitment to learning and a desire to improve oneself, but it may not tell me whether you have assisted in improving a person’s performance through your coaching skills. And so do they really help a customer who is seeking a
competent coach?

If coaching is an art, can a qualification measure what is an art? Mozart, Lennon, Dali, Rodin, Rowling – did they have qualifications relevant to their arts?

Perhaps there is a place for qualifications at a basic level within an art, but surely there comes a point where the skills are beyond the realms of being broken down into competencies?

Benjamin Bloom presented us with his Taxonomy of learning within the Cognitive Domain many years ago. As you may well be aware, a taxonomy is an ‘ordered list’, and Bloom identified 6 stages we have to pass through in developing our knowledge of a subject or field of expertise. These levels are Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.

A coaching qualification can, I accept, measure a person’s ability to the Application level, but can it measure it beyond this level? The top quality coaches who I have had the pleasure and fortune to witness exhibiting their skills are beyond this level. They use their feelings, their sixth sense, their intuition – that’s why they are the best. They are true artists.

As for the Walk and Talk, I was so involved in these personal reflections, I was only walking and contemplating at that time. But that’s fine – and that’s what makes it so good. Everyone has the space to do what they want, when they want to do it and how they want to do it.

And, even better, people bring their walking boots rather than their business cards.


Blind leading the Sighted

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

As some of you are aware, I undertake training assignments through Charity Days. I, together with a couple of hundred other trainers, am registered with Charity Days and we offer our services to charities free of charge. Charities contact Charity Days, explain their needs, the trainers are contacted and those who are able to offer assistance do so. The charity then decides who to work with, and training happens.

There are obvious benefits for the charities, but the benefits are two-fold. I really enjoy meeting and working with people who have such a dedication to their chosen charities, I find it fascinating to observe and work with new organisations, and – perhaps best of all – I learn.

Over the past few weeks I have been delivering some Train the Trainer sessions for Guide Dogs for the Blind Association – so that staff and volunteers can equip their volunteer speakers to be as effective as possible. I have been to Worcester, Forfar and Leeds so far, and have one more booking in Manchester.

I have run sessions with several dogs in the classroom, and at Forfar the classroom had a window on to both a training arena and lovely dog kennelling (the dogs’ desire for mealtime was a minor auditory distraction!).

My practical learning, however, related to training blind and visually impaired people – I can’t recall having delivered training to seriously visually impaired people before. Having a few such people in the groups, it enabled Heather – my very dedicated and well-travelled Guide Dogs co-trainer – to seek their personal views on how to make training as accessible and engaging as possible for blind and visually impaired people. I found their help invaluable, and I was able to practice and implement some of their suggestions as the days have progressed.

Heather very kindly documented the contributors’ thoughts, and I have reproduced their tips here in case they may be of assistance to you now or in the future.

· Layout of the room should be described fully early on, and clear verbal instructions given during housekeeping rather than using pointing.

· The room should then not be changed throughout session unless absolutely necessary, and clear details should be given if this does occur.

· When there is a break, or people leave the room, ask that all attendees push their chairs in to reduce obstacles.

· When giving directions or explaining the layout of a room, image or training model, use a clock face to describe where items are – i.e. door at 8 o’clock or 3 o’clock. This is much clearer than using left or right, or other directions.

· If the visually impaired (VI) participant is to stand to give a talk or presentation, ensure they have a table or other solid surface to lean on so that they can retain their bearings.

· All attendees should introduce themselves in order of seating around room, so that VI participants can identify others more readily when discussions take place.

· The trainer / facilitator should ensure they know the names of participants and use them whenever addressing the person concerned.

· If using visual aids such as slides and flip charts, all text should be read out and any images described.

· VI participants will learn by listening and memory. Keep messages simple and clear, and allow time for new information to be taken in.

· It is generally better to have tables or desks as these enable VI participants to use note takers if required.

· Exercises should not be visual, and if a mental problem solving exercise is used, it should take into consideration the amount of information to be absorbed.

· Do not use colours to distinguish.

· Lighting should remain consistent in all areas of the room.

· If part of the session relates to demonstrating to sighted people the issues around being visually impaired, it is advisable not to use blindfolds. It is recommended that simulated spectacles are used so that attendees can gain an understanding of the barriers VI participants face as only a very small percentage of VI people are totally blind.