From the Vault: Creating Training Miracles

Written by the late Kevin Lohan and the late Dr. Alastair Rylatt.
This article originally appeared in the May 1996 edition of the AITD’s Training and Development magazine.

For some trainers, asking questions which are designed to secure commitment is a nerve-racking experience, particularly when the trainer is seen as holding a position less senior. It is essential that trainers see their role as much more than just a presenter, instructional designer or administrator.

Today’s trainers must see themselves as learning consultants and change agents who are virtually interested in getting above-average results for the client by asking quality questions and promoting expansive inquiry. Creating training miracles starts by promoting healthy and creative exploration of multiple options. Only then can the best strategy be engaged.

Questions that can help focus clients on outputs include the following:

  • In 12 months time, if the training was perfectly successful, what would be happening? If I was to visit you then what would I see, hear or feel that would be different to now?
  • Which milestones will you need to complete for a perfect outcome to occur?
  • What are the key competencies that need to be addressed for your goal to be achieved?
  • What resources will you need? What resources will you supply?
  • Which non-training issues will need to be resolved before a successful outcome is achieved?
  • How do you see your role (client) and our role (trainer) in making this training a success?
  • How will you measure success?

Alternatively, if a client already has a training solution in mind, the trainer may need to have the person spell out his or her needs more specifically.

Gaining Managerial Support

Having managerial support is central to securing results. The degree of endorsement will vary from one organisation to another or from one project to another. However, as a blanket assertions, it is important to get management’s endorsement as it will raise the priority that training will receive in the workplace.

When asking for support it is important to clearly state what you desire. It is imperative to ask for visible and relevant contributions to the training process. Five popular strategies used by decision-makers to demonstrate their commitment include:

  • helping articulate the desired performance and competency levels which need developing;
  • attending the training as an observer, presenter or participant;
  • ensuring that key people and stakeholder’s participate;
  • following up workplace and/or learner application of the training; and
  • assigning mentors, coaches and back-up resources to the learning being undertaken.

There will be times when non-managerial support may be required initially, particularly if ‘grass root’ support is being sought from employees, customers, suppliers and trade unions. In some cases, having senior management support up front may create an image that training is being ‘done to’ people rather than being ‘done for’ them.

What is most important is that people feel that they ‘own’ the process rather than that they are just purely participating in it. Seeking and obtaining people’s permission is an integral part of the support process.

Knowing Clear Business Outcomes

Leading organisations recognise that managing change and business complexity requires highly skilled and motivated people. The importance of understanding this equation cannot be under-estimated.

People are an organisation’s most expensive and flexible resource and training must play a vital role in stimulating the capability and potential of this resource. With this in mind, it is essential that trainers take the lead in embracing change as an exciting opportunity rather than taking a more draining and difficult road of resistance.

When the commitment is made to let go of the struggle, all of a sudden, change can become a friend to learning rather than an enemy.

Closely associated with the acceptance of the inevitability of change and the opportunities associated with it, trainers need to learn the skill of linking training to the business needs.

As the pace of change increases, so will the opportunity to claim that learning is the best and most effective way of helping people cope with the added pressures and ambiguities of modern life. In fact, the demand for high quality and best-practice learning is the only remaining constant within the equation of turbulent and dynamic change.

With this great opportunity to sell the merits of learning comes a new and different responsibility, that is to ensure that the training initiatives are well considered, well researched and competency based.

Gone are the days when training dollars are given away without justification. Today’s decision-makers are increasingly asking trainers to provide evidence of success before resources are allocated or reinvested. As a consequence, people must constantly review and assess whether the desired results have been achieved.

Finding the most important business reasons for training takes time and effort. Some of the best ways of extracting evidence come from business and operational plans, industry and government reports, field discussions with staff and key customers, competitive information, best-practice case studies and results from previous studies of training needs.

Important Business Outcomes

The common and high profile business outcomes which can gain support for training include:

  • cost competitiveness – keeping costs down, keeping numbers of staff down and eliminating unnecessary work, that is managing more with less;
  • helping people cope better with change;
  • improved delegation – increased staff empowerment and involvement, greater trust and improved risk management;
  • enhanced competitiveness – improved customer satisfaction, producing industry best practices and superior products and services;
  • organisational effectiveness – building workforce flexibility, efficiency and teamwork;
  • providing training which is breaking new ground in products and services;
  • better total quality;
  • global and regional competiveness – improving market performance within the different domains;
  • helping to achieve identified business targets;
  • compliance with government and industry standards; and
  • ensuring the organisation is meeting political and environmental expectations.

In addition to these general business reasons, each workplace will have its own unique needs for training. For example, in recent weeks, some of our client base have implemented learning initiatives to:

  • helping employees to draft goals for both work and non-work;
  • prepare government employees for an impending restructure; and
  • skill lawyers in a transition to ‘self-managing teams’.

In addition to identifying the business outcomes for training it is imperative that appropriate and on-going evaluation be undertaken. This helps to ensure that the desired competencies are gained and that the anticipated business and people benefits are reaped from the training.

Icebreakers and Energisers

Icebreakers are activities which are used to ‘break the ice’. They enable you to establish the kind of climate you would like in the training room. They can, for example, best used to establish a supportive, positive, cooperative climate within the group or, conversely, may be designed to create a climate of openness and disclosure in order to facilitate interpersonal risk-taking.

Icebreakers are often confused with energisers. Whereas icebreakers are used to break the ice at the beginning of a program as it is progressing. You may wish, for example, to make it more lively, more active, to have more speaking, to have less speaking or to slow down the pace. Whatever their intended application, one guiding rule should apply to both energisers and icebreakers – there should always be a purpose to it, rather than doing it just for its own sake.

Icebreakers and energisers, if chosen well, can complement the content of your training session excellently. The following guidelines will assist in the selection of appropriate icebreakers and energisers:

  • Think about the group’s expectations, background and culture when determining the level of risk in the activity and the involvement that will be required.
  • Take care to place the icebreaker or energiser at an appropriate time in the program. Take care not to overuse or prematurely use them and make their duration proportionate to the duration of the program.
  • Do not insist that participants share confidential or personal information and always leave a way out for those who do not wish to participate. Also, be sure to keep discussion confidential and make it clear that this will be the case.
  • Icebreakers and energisers can help to develop group cohesion. Make sure you have a clear purpose and that you are using them for that purpose and not just for their own sake. Choose activities that are congruent with your overall goals.
  • Ensure that individuals do not dominate discussion during the early phase of a program. If necessary, interject tactfully and get back on track.
  • Use icebreakers as a means of establishing rapport between yourself and the rest of the group as well. Your level of participation should demonstrate the degree of risk taking that you value and want from others.
  • Clarify your expectations of group behaviour during the course by modelling them and reinforcing them during the icebreaker.
  • Choose activities that incorporate movement and action to energise the group.
  • Select activities that you are comfortable with; if you are not comfortable it will be noticed by the group and then they themselves may become uncomfortable.
  • Choose activities that will work for the size of the group that you will be working with. Some activities lose their intensity with large groups and, likewise, some activities have less impact with small groups.
  • Look for and document a range of icebreakers that incorporate different challenges such as logical and critical thinking, physical or mental exercises, highly structured or spontaneous activity and highly interactive activity. Keep your list handy for instant use.
  • Don’t rely on a limited range of activities. Expand your repertoire for your own development and growth.
  • Be careful of naming it to the group as an ‘icebreaker’. It may be better to say “We are going to do an activity”.
  • Consider the timing of the activity. Different experiences can create the state you need for the beginning of a program, the close of a program, at breaks, at day’s end and during transitions from one subject to another.

Developing Advanced Training Skills

The following practical tips are provided to help you develop your skills in advanced training. Use the list as a discussion starter for your development and for that of others:

  • Visualise where you want to be in five years’ time and develop a plan of action to get there. Write down a measurable 12 month plan for training and development and self-nurturing behaviour. Update your progress on a monthly basis.
  • Find a new range of mentors and advisors who have a track record in enhancing the skills you need.
  • Regularly attend training conferences or seminars that enhance your competency.
  • Seek out and role-model international best practices in training.
  • Locate and meet industry, national and international competency standards in training provision and skills enhancement.
  • Join and actively participate in training professional groups, associations and networks. Leave groups, associations and networks which are not enhancing your skills. Be prepared to explore interstate or international options for dialogue.
  • Accept that stretching your comfort zone of training is a natural part of learning. Practise, rehearse and perfect new frontiers and existing skills. Ensure that you celebrate personal growth and success. Start with low risk and, as your confidence grows, move to higher risk activities.
  • Studiously collect and review feedback on your strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Undertake team participation, project work and special courses that enable you to connect and learn from other fields, disciplines and endeavours. For example, a person may learn about one on one coaching skills by talking to counsellors.
  • Research and enhance your understanding of how to learn. Become a person who is committed to being well versed on learning how to learn. Be prepared to do activities that encourage you to learn in different ways. When enhancing your skills, build on success by developing your expertise.
  • Become part of the high technology and information revolution, get access to a high quality CD-ROM personal computer with a modem. Join networks on Internet and electronic mail and explore distance learning options. Use these communication channels to access the latest information and advice.
  • Visit other training centres. Build strategic alliances that share resources and expertise.
  • Gauge your skills on the job market to realise your market value and gain feedback on your development needs.
  • Write an article, a book or produce a video on training ideas
  • Maintain a learning journal of your discoveries. Keep a summary of your achievements and the skills that you have developed.
  • Undertake formal accredited and competency-based training programs at a university or equivalent institution. Select the mode and topic of study that suits your lifestyle and professional development needs.
  • Start a newsletter or network for exchange of ideas on an area of interest.
  • Conduct community-based training programs. Do this to build your skills and to trail your more innovative programs.
  • Visit exhibitions at trade shows on training and related fields.
  • Every six months, spend a good half day in the library to get yourself up to date on latest trends that you may have missed in the hustle and bustle of modern life. Read the popular media as well as recent journals and articles.
  • Video and audio tape yourself in action. Note your strengths and areas for improvement.
  • See yourself as a learning consultant and resource person rather than just a pure training provider or presenter.
  • Employ people with the expertise that you wish to develop and learn from them. Request a coaching relationship from the training provider.
  • Develop your skills in speed reading and other memory enhancement techniques such as mind-mapping and mnemonics.
  • Give yourself full permission to explore and build on new ideas.

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