“I am going to conduct a training program for employees of one of the business house of Nagpur. I want to distribute a training kit at the end of the training session. Can you please tell me as to what all materials should be included in the training kit?” (Quoted as received)
This request was posted in a forum of trainers on Yahoogroups by the Founder – Director of a ‘training institution’ … Isn’t that so inspiring?
At its website this training outfit has listed dozens of training programs as “solutions” offered in their portfolio.
- What level of credibility would they have in the organizations where they have conducted training?
- Will their programs make any kind of impact?
It is not difficult to imagine that this Founder – Director would wonder later on why they weren’t given a repeat assignment?
In India such incidents are commonplace – the forums where I have subscribed would regularly feature requests from TRAINERS:
- ”I have been asked to conduct Communication Skills training – can you suggest the program outline?
- ”Please give me a PowerPoint and Workbook for a Selling Skills training.”
- ”I am doing a Negotiation Skills training – I need activities to conduct during the program.”
Usually it’s a request, but I have also seen suggestions and firm demands without any courtesy. And the request comes without defining the audience or industry. Maybe I am wrong, but they surely believe that one-size-fits-all.
How can such an individual be expected to conduct an effective training program?
Like in the case of many sectors in India training too is happening in an unregulated environment:
- There are no certifications needed to be a trainer: It’s not that there aren’t courses – a number of institutions offer certification courses, but getting certified is not mandatory.
- The courses offered for training aren’t verified and there are no guidelines for the design and delivery of courses.
- The effectiveness of courses and the trainer’s ability to deliver the content are rarely verified.
Usually, the request of the kind mentioned at the top comes from a young person appointed as trainer (having has no formal experience in training) or someone who has been asked to conduct training as an additional assignment. But I have seen requests from senior professionals and even teachers.
The training domain is filled with practitioner’s with little or no experience – to add to it the training role is usually the last resort for employees who are not performing to expectations in the role they were appointed (like a Sales or Service Executive who is not able to cope or has missed targets regularly).
A lot that’s happening under the heading ‘Training” has no right to be classified thus; so many who are posing to be “Trainers” do not deserve that exalted status.
There is need to define the role of trainers and the conduct of courses in this country. Who wishes to join this crusade?
As a Consultant I have often been stumped by this question thrown at me by Business Managers and HR Managers.
They are convinced that the resources hired by them have the requisite knowledge/skills needed to excel at the workplace. The reasoning is as follows: the employees are products of leading colleges or have been recruited from another organisation where they have had rich experience.
Deduction: They have received the inputs needed to do the job well.
So they hire these people, put them through a sketchy induction process and send them to the war-front. I agree that there are a few organisations that take every new employee through a comprehensive training/induction program to get them battle-ready, but they form a small percentage of the pie.
The Managers of the employees in the first category often wonder why the new recruits aren’t performing as expected? The crib being: We thought they knew how to do the job! This isn’t rocket science and any sensible person should be able to do it.
Another commonly heard reason for not training – We don’t have budget. These same organisations would invest in a lot of other things that do not yield expected results, but pay scant regard to a mission critical activity like training.
There is a third reason given – People don’t stay for long; so why should we train people to excel elsewhere? The counter query to that one would be:
- What if training can make them performance better while they are with you?
- What if you don’t train them and they stay on much longer than expected?
I had mentioned during a recent interview that the best organisations invest 3-5% of the payroll on training. Why would they do that?
After all they get the best resources available in the market and they have the best selling products/services too. Doesn’t it sound counterintuitive that they should be “spending” so much on up-skilling their employees?
There is a lot of change happening in the market:
Business Environment / Customer Preferences / Technology / Methods
People develop rough edges as they go along – their knowledge, skills and attitudes need to be fine-tuned and buffed for them to shine once again.
The best organisations know this and are reaping the benefit of their investment into this important activity.
If the best employees need training, do I have to stress on the need to train average or poor performing employees?
So Business Manager / H.R. Manager, what are you waiting for? If you want to reach /remain at the top …. Do train!
We have often heard it said that human capital is an organisation’s most valuable asset.
Yesterday Prof. Masud Arjmand, who teaches at Kellogg School of Management (North Western University, USA), explained how and why with a thought provoking lecture. The professor posed a series of questions that had to be answered first by the participants and then led the group towards the most effective response through further questioning – this method prompted participation; its better than making people sit quiet while you talk on and on.
Prof. Arjmand’s talk focused on the role of talent in Corporate Performance.
The session was kicked off with this quote from a Jim Collins (author of “Good to Great” and “Built to last”) book – “Hire the best people and get out of their way!”
The first question to the audience was – Who trumps whom? People or Organisation?
Employees would love to believe that they can beat their employers by working below par or by walking out and organisations think they can wring out their employees dry and pay below par or that they can even stop the talent from flourishing by not providing an enabling environment. But each side is cutting its own feet by doing the above – people and organisations win only when there is a happy alchemy of favourable inputs and support from one side being matched by optimum performance from the other.
PERFORMANCE = PEOPLE + ENVIRONMENT
He then asked the audience whether they wished to work in the company that had the “Best People and Average Environment” or “Average People and Best Environment” and then told them that the latter is the better option because it gave everyone an opportunity to shine and space to improve.
The example he gave was of Toyota Motors who did not have any shining stars but had an open culture and a supportive management that permitted everyone to express their ideas and to perform well. That made the company one of the giants in the automobile sector.
Prof Masud showed a graphic which had two profiles – the first person (A) was a high performer in a rapidly growing sector and another (B) who was working hard to keep a company afloat in a dying sector. He asked who would get chosen for the CEO position if we were to chose? And everyone went for Option-A, the Star. Then Prof. Masud said that the 2nd candidate had more experience in dealing with complexities and would have worked on various things in order to stay afloat – so B would make a better candidate than A who was probably getting business without trying too hard.
But he agreed that in the real world A gets chosen more often, because people rarely looked at effort and were easily swayed by results.
Then he came around to posing the question on Self vs. Organisation – people usually attribute success to own efforts and failure to lack of support from the manager or organisation. A sensible person would look at the situation with greater objectivity and not fall into the Fundamental Attribution Error he said.
Then it was time to deal with the key premise – Talent!
He spoke about the Nature and Nurture theory and explained using Tiger Woods as an example. Woods broke into the scene way after he started playing Golf – it was only when he hit the winning streak that the world noticed him – but he had started playing the game from the age of 5 and methodically developed mastery over the game.
Prof Masud said that we are born with Aptitude to do something well and that flowers into Talent when practiced diligently and consistently. He spoke also about the need for a Coach: Yes, even Tiger Woods has one! We need to practice the right things to be the Best and the Coach helps to iron out the wrinkles even in the best.
Talent can be developed said the professor – Managers, the rough diamonds who join your team are testing grounds for your coaching skills. Can you develop them into shining talents? It is wrong to search for talent just during the recruitment process and then ignore them totally when they on board – its aptitude that we should look for while recruiting and then turn it into talent through tasking, coaching and supporting. The work begins only when they join.
But even the best recruitment process in the world cannot differentiate between good and bad with 100% accuracy. Prof Masud shared an interesting case of a very successful CEO of a Fortune 500 company who had come to him, for a job at Accenture, while still a junior-level Manager. But he had refused the man the job!
Although the Prof had regrets for a while about not choosing that person he says neither side was affected in the long-term. Accenture remains a big name in consulting and the candidate made it big elsewhere. His message was that you may not always get the best – it is statistically impossible for everyone to have the best – but the opportunity exists to make the best of what we already have. That is the challenge confronting all Managers.
Another important insight shared by Prof Masud is that we can’t be two people at home and work; what we are at work is what we usually are at home and vice versa; or else we would be a prime breeding-ground for stress. How we treat others must match how we wish to be treated, he added.
With the collapse of families and authority structures in the social realm workplaces too have become less hierarchical and more independent. So people trying to be pushy and dictatorial would find themselves sidelined or shunned and fighting a losing battle.
Then he shared some tips for Personal Growth to the Managers of tomorrow:
- Self expression
- Authentic relationship
- Sense of purpose
- Autonomy, Trust and Respect
- Purposeful dialogue
- Suspension of status and authority
Prof Masud Arjmand closed his lecture with two messages for all managers:
- TALENT is the “fuel” that runs the “machine” called ORGANISATION to deliver “PERFORMANCE”, or results!
- “Manage Context, not people!”
A friend and regular reader, Paul, read the article I had presented just this morning and said – “Jayadev, wouldn’t feedback be an important tool to overcome resistance”. He is right! My article spoke about the need for Sales Managers to consider a change in their attitude and behavior to make reportees more receptive to their ideas.
I kept thinking about what Paul had said and decided to address it right away, because that’s one of the tricks to overcome resistance. Face it and deal with it right away!
Quite often the talk among Sales Executives is directed at the person who rules their professional life – the Boss! And when things aren’t going fine some of the statements uttered would be on the following lines:
“If he is so good at selling, why doesn’t he go there and sell by himself?”
“He just has to sit in the cabin and give targets, we have to run around and do the hard bits.”
“This guy does not know the situation in the market today; he is trying to convince me to use his ancient methods”.
Sales Managers never have this addressed directly to them unless it’s a team-member who has decided to call it quits – the information reaches the Manager indirectly, usually from a peer who happens to be in good terms with one of his tam-members; or maybe from a team-member who decided to do his Boss a favour.
Managers shouldn’t leave such issues unattended because it not only drives down morale, but it can also impact Sales and increase customer dissatisfaction. So the rot has to be removed before it goes deep into the system.
The first thing the Manager must do, as suggested earlier, is to face it head-on. Ask the person what is the concern? Try to get to the specifics. If the team-member is not ready to talk you can provide him/her breathing space but get them to commit to a timeline to come clean on the matter. Tell them it is mission critical and hence can’t be delayed.
People avoid responding for a variety of reasons – anger, frustration, fear, embarrassment, worry, a feeling that it’s of no use, past experience tells them it’s a waste talking to the Manager, and team-member feels that it can be dealt with on his/her own.
The Manager has to get the person talking on the subject and he has to be considerate enough to give the person a fair hearing – if the person thinks that the methods suggested by the manager have been of no use the manager needs to be ready with facts to show that things are improving or be ready with an alternate approach after analyzing why the first suggestion did not work. Here the need is for the Coachee to understand that because an idea failed the Coach is not ineffective – things take time and may not always go as per plan. It’s for the Coach to take his team-member into confidence and help the person rework the plan in a non-confrontational way.
Usually Coachees distance themselves from Coaches who are not present in the arena – someone who is seated in an office, far removed from the action would obviously not understand market realities. So it’s is important for the Coaches (there is enough evidence of this in Sports) to be present where the team is performing; but it is equally important that he or she does not directly get involved, the role is to observe the team-member in action to provide coaching inputs later.
Evidence and facts are essential for any conversation between Coach and Coachee – guesses and hypotheticals can only make things worse.
It is critical that one focuses on just a few tasks at a time and they mutually arrive at timelines for implementation and assessment. If a huge number of changes are to be implemented at one go nothing would get done. It just can’t be rushed.
If the issue is emotional and attitudinal it is important for the Manager to remind the team-member of the key tasks that are to be completed – the idea is to get them focused on things that matter; express in clear terms the need for performance and limit reviews to just discussing data and facts. If some support is needed to overcome worries and stress the Manager can co-opt a support team into action to help the person tide over the issue or even get an intermediary to work on this; however things rarely deteriorate to the level of needing a mediator for resolutions.
Always use performance and results as the guiding principle and support and guidance the enablers. Of course, there is need for setting aside bias or notions and recognise achievements – celebrate victories, big and small and build confidence in the team – member.
Strictures and punishment should be the last resort – give the person opportunities to perform and during the assessment period the Manager needs to be present as a supportive and positive influence.
Managers need to use the benefits of feedback and coaching to bring the best out of the team … you need to see performers all around!
Doing the customary brisk 4-5 km walk every evening I try to learn from things I sense – people passing by on foot, silent and brooding when single or garrulous when in company; the folks who go by in cars, honking incessantly as if to announce to the world that they have arrived, unmindful of the irritation caused – each event a message, a lesson!
Then there are the silent sentinels who have stood witness to such spectacles much longer than I have and will surely outlive this tragicomic biped creation.
The trees – mute, tall, green and abundant! They deliver the message of peaceful coexistence – how they adapt to the surroundings, how utility of water, nutrients and sunshine is optimized and most importantly the bounty they share with others in return for what they have gained – by way of flowers, fruits, leaves, those invisible tones of oxygen they generate to make this Earth a hospitable place for all the other creatures and the cool shade they provide – you would agreed that this list is inadequate and can go on some more.
- How long is the list of benefits we offer to friends, family, co-workers and the community?
- How long is the list of major lessons you have gained in this life? Ever thought of recording them?
As we learn and grow and (hopefully) learn some more and grow further (in stature and wisdom) it’s important to realize that learning (for growth) comes from acquiring, using, retaining and sharing knowledge.
Let me list down a few ways we can augment our own skills and knowledge … to benefit ourselves and the world around us.
1. Keep a diary
Make it a habit to note all the major lessons learnt – record your success and failure and what caused them. Keep note of all the training you have received and what you gained by implementing the lessons learnt.
Create a history and lessons learnt for all the projects you have been a part of, make a profile and critical information dossier of all the clients you have dealt with. You and the organisation would benefit from it.
2. Find a Mentor
Find a senior at work or an experienced personal from your circle of acquaintances – someone you are comfortable with. Ask the person if he is willing to mentor you. There are times when you hit a roadblock in personal and professional life – sharing the situation with an experienced and wise person can help in finding a way ahead. Sometimes just sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone impartial and not related to the problem will help to break new ground.
Dealing with a colleague or a senior and finding ways to tackle office politics can all come in the ambit of the discussions with this individual. Some organisations have a regular practice of mentoring new recruits – but such support is as important to experienced hands as they are to new employees.
3. Get Coaching
I have said this earlier, we are oblivious to our own lapses or errors – either we make allowances for them or we simply aren’t aware – we may even ignore them. But if someone in the know of things can observe you at work a lot of those blind spot can be brought to light and corrected. At no age or at no position are you above being coached – the highest executives, the best players and the most proficient in every field get coached.
If you wish to reach greater heights in your chosen line of activity, get coached – and you can coach others too!
4. Get Updated
Join a course on new technology or other innovations in your line of business – if you are an MBA you can pick up some additional qualification of usage of Net or Social Media for marketing.
Even attending 1 or 2 day long seminars by senior professionals in your business can help to give new insights and change the way you think. I attended a seminar on Marketing and another on Negotiation Skills – had written regarding both at my blog – those interactions with Ivy League School professors gave me a lot of useful inputs.
It helps to pick and choose: don’t take anything that comes your way, but pick and choose after deciding what’s best for your growth as a professional.
5. Conduct a class / Present a paper
Wise folks have said “You teach best that which you wish to learn the most.”
Teaching a group of youngsters is not a joke – they are inquisitive, unafraid and unfettered in thinking. They would challenge you and get your brain to work hard in search of the right answers. So teaching students at a college will be a great way to learn something new or to get refreshed in your own subject area.
If you are dealing with an special subject as a part of your job – you may be a criminal lawyer dealing with cyber crime or you may be a marketer using mobile telephony as the platform to spread the message – write a paper on the work you have done. It’s a great way to be seen as an expert in that domain.
6. Write a blog
Look who’s talking!
Honestly! When you write on the subject you would have to think, structure those thoughts into logical structures, present them with uncomplicated words and illustrate the message with anecdotes and support material. You may even do some research to add more substance to the article you are presenting. Just make sure that credit is given to the source if any borrowed material is presented.
This ideating, writing, research and structuring process helps you – the brain gets activated, loose connections are rewired and revitalized and your own body of knowledge grows; and that of those who read it.
Let me repeat an oft-stated and hopefully not trite truism – Knowledge grows when shared!
Get started …. Learn, Do, Seek, Write, Teach ….. Grow!
Scenario – 1: Young talent joins an organisation fresh from college – what does the Manager do? The wide–eyed and enthusiastic recruit is dumped in the hands of an unwilling old hand who happens to be around that moment – the Manager walks away gleefully, rid of his burden. The veteran has been instructed to give the new man an overview of company, products and process. If he is not otherwise occupied he may take the man out for a few sales calls. In the evening the not-so-exuberant young man trudges home laden with brochures and process manuals. If he is lucky this routine may continue for 2 or 3 days; but it’s most likely that business that month is below par and the recruit finds his honeymoon cut short. He is given a target and sent out to the big wide world. Practically from Day-1 he is expected to perform miracles.
Scenarios – 2: An experienced hand joins after a successful stint in another company – this time the Manager deigns to spend time with him; thanks to his experience and track record the Manager feels obliged to share some of his valuable time with the new recruit. But the story after that remains the same. In this instance the new hand is expected to run for results as soon as the briefing is completed, after all he has been a performer and is probably trained by his previous organisations to deal with clients. The countdown to perform definitely starts from Day-1.
- It is good to have expectation for your resources, but let them be realistic.
- Reciting the product and process information to the new recruit is not training.
- Taking a recruit to the market and permitting him to witness couple of sales calls is not Sales Experience.
- Success in another organisation, or with another product, does not automatically translate to success in the new role.
- Loading a recruit with a target and starting the performance clock before providing adequate inputs can be extremely discouraging.
What should the Manager do?
- Take time to blood new talent – give more training, not less.
- Permit the new hands to make calls without the pressure of targets – let them learn the skills first and then ask them to perform.
- Manage the initial phase closely – be lenient in the first month and tighten the screws over a period of time. Think long – term!
- Encourage experienced hands by recognizing their previous success; give them time to settle down – what worked there may not work here. Seek their inputs where appropriate.
- Manager’s involvement is critical in the initial phase – by way of training, coaching, support and recognition.
- Recognise and celebrate early success of the raw recruits.
- Have a program to bring all new recruits up to speed before you state your expectations –no output is possible without giving the right inputs.
It is critical that new hands, raw or experienced, get inducted into the system through a structured program which pushes them to expected levels of performance over a period of time – stretch too soon and they may snap. Organisations need to initiate the right practices to nurture and grow new talent or careers will flounder even before they are formed … don’t nip a flower in the bud, give it time to blossom!
A few friends who, like me, are in the Coaching and Training domain said that they had recently won a 9-month contract to coach over 100 Executive Trainees of a mid-sized IT company.
The contract has training and coaching components and it is going to keep them busy for a while. After offering congratulations and wishing them success in the project I asked 2 questions:
- Why aren’t the Managers directly involved in coaching the new recruits? Purely from a business perspective that would sound like a stupid question because as an L & D Consultant you wish to do that (and make some money) instead of telling the client to do the job internally. But logically it makes sense for the Manager to get involved directly.
- The second question is a corollary of the first: Why didn’t the company opt for a Train – the – Coach model? Here the company uses the external agency to equip the Managers with Coaching Skills and then conduct the activity on their own after being trained and coached by the consultants.
Ask any Manager and he will aver “I Coach my team-members all the time”; and he genuinely believe its being done. The truth is that most of them do not know what Coaching is, unless they have been through a structured Coaching program. They think that the daily grilling and informal review that they do without fail is COACHING!
Haven’t you wondered why the best sportspersons in the world need Coaching – what do Guardiola or Ferguson or Lendl know that Messi, Rooney and Djokovic don’t know?
It is said that the smarter people need more training. Why?
Two reasons – they encounter tougher business situations because they work harder and at the highest level; hence they are on the lookout for new learning all the time. The other reason being that success actually begets failure and complacence. People get set in their ways and stop experimenting – they most successful companies in the world are the one’s least willing to change. After all they are successful and doing well just the way they are – why change?
Similarly successful people often get caught in this vicious stranglehold of success and need to be reminded regularly as to what should be retained and what eliminated, from their actions and routines in order to achieve greater success.
And Coaches do this important job.
Coaching may not be the answer for every performance related issue but it is an important and useful means to improve the way people work and push them to deliver better results.
One reason why Managers don’t Coach is that they have not been coached – it is not a part of the organisation’s culture for Managers to play the role of a coach – so each successive layer repeats this self-fulfilling prophesy. Why should I provide a facility that I have not received?
Another reason why Managers don’t invest time for this important activity is that they are not confident. There is fear that they may not have the answers for the questions thrown at them by alert team-members. So Managers need to burn the midnight oil to equip themselves before playing this role.
Practice makes perfect, hence they need to be prepared to make some mistakes and improve as they spend more time as Coaches. Coaching needs sustained effort like any other business activity and the returns can be stupendous.
Get set, Coach!
Yesterday I listed some reasons for how training can end up not achieving the desired impact! Let me now tell you how training can be a roaring success when Management steps in and supports it vocally and openly.
A few years back I was conducting a 3-day workshop at Reliance Communications. The program was into the 2nd day and had been going fairly well because it was experiential in nature and had numerous activities, discussions and presentations involving the participants – the trainer was only facilitating the experience; it wasn’t the typical PPT, Trainer Drone, Zzzzz! … kind of program.
And then the Head – H.R. for that vertical (consisting of over 12,000 employees) walked in – Dr. Rakesh Mehta was an M.B.B.S. doctor turned H.R. Manager, with over 30 years of professional experience. He sat down in the back row and listened intently for a while and when I reached the end of a module he requested for some time – I moved over and let him take charge. There was none of the usual management Gyan from him – he plunged directly into the story of the Golden Buddha, which has also featured in one of the Chicken Soup books! At the end of the story he said:
“All of us are talented, we are all born to succeed; but as we grow up our inhibitions, fears and the environment we are brought up in often suppresses our talents and covers it under layers of mud, like the Buddha statue; for a lucky few someone like Mr. Menon comes along, removes the layers of mud and makes the real Golden Buddha in us shine once again.”
The energy in the room grew manifold after that – people participated with more enthusiam. He had used the power of story-telling and symbolism so well and the message had been driven home. He was wise enough not to waste time with a typical Senior Management speech – which people rarely enjoy or accept.
I don’t have to say here that I was floored by his speech. It made me realise that we can raise people to great heights with the power of positive reinforcement.
When Management focuses on Learning & Development and put it across in the right perspective in all communication the next level managers too will be enthused to implement it correctly. And when the management starts participating in the process and engage people in conversation at every opportunity the programs will achieve the desired goals.
Training is not about compliance, it’s about achieving Corporate Goals and finding the Gold that lay hidden in the organisation’s Human Capital.
Here are some thoughts that run behind Sales Training purchase decisions:
- CEO: We need to get the guys charged up for the challenges ahead
- H.R. Head: Every team-member needs to be given 3 days of training during the year
- Sales Manager: Organise the training without disturbing the campaign
- Sales Supervisor: I think the guys can do with a 2-day break from routine
After Training is announced:
- Sales Rep: Two days without any worry about target
For Top Management training is a part of reward and motivation. For HR Managers it is about compliance and Employee Satisfaction. Hardcore Sales Managers usually consider Sales Training a disturbance, a necessary evil – an activity that halts smooth flow of business.
No! I am not painting everyone with the same brush, nor am I damning Leaders and Function Heads. But you can’t deny that often this is how training is bought.
I have had Sales Executives walking into the program mumbling – “Time-pass for 2-days”; that they go back thanking me for the inputs is another matter. And then there are Sales Heads who sit for a while at the back of the room during the program and at the break they hastily take me aside to say in a hushed tone – “Lot of good stuff, Mr. Menon. Wish I could sit through the whole program. But don’t run it at such a serious level. We just want the guys to relax.” Meaning, he wants the content diluted – and I had designed the program after 3 sittings with his deputy and the Training coordinator. He was trying to build the good cop image with the Sales Team.
Sales Training should not be decided or run as mentioned above. I am sure all result-oriented and business focused organisations get the training run by their internal team or hired experts based on clear objectives.
So what should be some of the key drivers for buying training?
- Can the program provide pre and post measures to assess improvement?
- Can the program be tailored to meet our specific business situation?
- Are there tools in the program that aid the use of new techniques?
- Will the recommended program yield adequate returns?
- Is there a post – training support mechanism?
- Can we get some of our resources trained to run the program?
For training to be effective and for the lessons learnt to be translated into behaviour at the workplace there is need for support and commitment from the step level managers and top management. We will discuss that in greater detail in future installments!
Don’t treat Sales Training, or any training for that matter, as a check-the-box activity; treat it like an investment made to achieve big business returns.