The Parable of the Part-time Trainer (Part 1)

The Parable of the Part-time Trainer  – Part 1

From time to time, all of us have probably been asked to be a “part-time trainer”, we’ve been asked to present something to a group – in front of classmates, in front of co-workers, in front of new trainees, in front of a jury.  The following parable illustrates how presentations can go – both how presentations can go in the moment and the impact of these types of presentations later down the road.  Next week, I’ll spend some time analyzing the good, the bad and the ugly about the events in this all-too-common story of a part-time trainer.

Note: This parable provides hyperlinks to sample materials that you may find of interest in order to get a more complete understanding of the story

Lin is the Director of Human Resources for a non-profit organization whose mission is “to ensure every child has access to education in order to make their lives, their communities and the world a better place.” The organization employs 298 staff working in 24 centers of learning, located in four different states and the District of Columbia.

During this year’s annual management retreat, Lin was asked to facilitate a 2-hour presentation to unveil and train any staff with direct reports (28 managers) on using a new, standard annual performance review system for employees. As Lin put together her lesson plan for this presentation, she struggled to fit everything she needed to present into the 2 hours she was allocated.  At the same time Lin was attempting to make the session engaging for the managers (the session was immediately after lunch).

Lin began the session by dividing the managers into groups of 7 and explaining the instructions of her ice breaking activity: The Human Knot. This activity took a little longer than Lin had planned for, but the managers seemed to find it fun right after lunch. As soon as the small groups got themselves untangled from their human knots, Lin began the actual content of the lesson. She had prepared a PowerPoint slide deck to illustrate the points she wanted to make and provided handouts of each document that was to be used in the employee review system. Lin took about 60 minutes to talk about each section of each form. She allowed for 20 minutes of questions and answers at the end of her session.

The group seemed quiet, but they did ask some questions at the end. Lin wasn’t sure how she did, but she was pleased to see scores of 4s and 5s (on a 5-point scale) on the training evaluation forms. She was also heartened by the comments such as “great job” and “this looks like a very useful performance management tool”. The only negative comments (“room was too cold”) were out of her control anyways.

Marques was a site manager, supervising 12 employees, at one of the four Washington, DC-based education sites of Lin’s organization. He found this new format to be a lot of work, but after six months he concluded that it was well-worth the time and effort. The performance development tools had helped give structure and guidance to the way in which he offered feedback and created annual performance reviews. When Marques met up with the other Washington DC-based site managers for a happy hour, he was surprised, and a bit frustrated, to learn none of them were using the new system. One colleague said he had tried to use it when he had first returned from the management retreat, but it was a lot of work and he had too many fires to put out.   

Three weeks after the happy hour, Lin was touring the various DC-based educational sites. During her meeting with Marques, he commented on how he was enjoying using the new annual review tools and system, but he knew that there were other managers who chose not to use it. 

Following this conversation, Lin began to check on how many managers had actually begun to use the system. She found that seven months after the management retreat, only four of the 28 managers were using it.

The training got such good reviews and early on it seemed like there had been a lot of buzz and excitement about the tools provided. Lin was completely deflated. What happened?!

To be continued…

Have some thoughts on what went wrong?  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comment area below.  Part 2, next week, will analyze this situation in more detail.

4 thoughts on “The Parable of the Part-time Trainer (Part 1)

  1. I would say there were two things Lin could have done to perhaps change the outcomes.

    First, from what it sounds like in her training it was just lecture. Boring! And not useful. If it were me in that situation I would have exploded. There is no way I could sit through a lecture over an hour without saying anything. Where are the small break out groups???? Where is the dialogue between learner and facilitator?

    If she had included some activities that involved the learning in actually using the tool it would have sunk in a bit and actually have kept the learners engaged. For instance, possibly several scenarios.

    Also it sounds as if there was followup to the actual class. There was no post learning which is so important if this new tool was to be used by the managers.

    • Thanks Rebecca – seems like you’ve already done all the work for me in writing Part 2 of this story! Quick question – you seem awfully hard on the idea of lecture – are you saying there is no place for lecture in training?

  2. Like I said, personally I have a hard time sitting through a lecture, but that does not mean they have no place in a training. And I dont necessarily like the word “lecture”. That is what you get when you are in trouble. A lecture. I think there are times when a facilitator needs some time to give content to a class by talking. As long as it is not 30 minutes of lecture followed by 20 minutes of questions. Why not take questions during the 30 minutes? Why not break it up with activities?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s