The Parable of the Part-time Trainer (Part 2)

About a year and a half ago, Lin met several other local human resources professionals at a conference. They all hit it off and decided to meet monthly at a coffee shop in order to engage in peer coaching.  Lin had been puzzling over the lackluster results of her annual performance review initiative for days and was looking forward to this month’s get together.

 When it was Lin’s turn to be on the receiving end of the peer coaching, she recounted her experience, from planning the training, the way in which the training was delivered, the feedback and positive evaluations she received and ultimately the lack of implementation.  Then she waited for the questions and insights from her colleagues.

Peer Coach 1:

What was the purpose of the Human Knot activity? It sounds like you had limited time to present, and you invested a disproportionate amount of time on that activity.  Was there any connection between the activity and the annual review system you were introducing?

Lin:

The session was right after lunch, so I needed to make sure we were active.  It was an icebreaker.  And honestly, the participants really seemed to enjoy it.  What do you mean about a connection between the activity and the content of my session? 

Peer Coach 1:

I think an opening activity can be both an icebreaker and a way to get people thinking about your content.  Could you have taken some time to ask a few de-brief questions about the activity?  Questions that could perhaps compare the annual review process to sometimes feeling like the current system was a tangle of forms and processes and systems. 

Peer Coach 2:

That’s a great point about connecting the opening activity to the content.  Otherwise it’s fun, but it’s a big time sucker.  And some participants may feel there’s no need to come on time if they feel there’s a fun but pointless activity at the start of your sessions.

Lin:

Definitely food for thought the next time I plan a session.  And as I think about it, that opening activity ran long, which set everything behind.  In hindsight, I should have cut the activity even though not everyone had untangled themselves yet.

Peer Coach 3:

It sounds like your actual presentation was pretty conventional.  PowerPoint.  Lecture.  Showing off the system and the forms people would need to use.  As a presenter, how could you be sure your managers were “getting it”?

Lin:

The room was quiet, it seemed that they were paying attention.  And the evaluation forms at the end had a number of comments about how useful this system seemed to be.

Peer Coach 3:

Was there any evidence or behavior you could point to that would give you definitive proof that your managers knew how to use this system before they left the room?

Lin:

You mean did anyone fill out the forms?  No.  I didn’t have time to explain the forms and have people practice them. 

Peer Coach 3:

When you lecture, you have no idea if people are paying attention to you or if they’re making a grocery list in their minds.  Your time may have been better used by providing a brief orientation to the system, then allowing your managers time to practice using the forms and asking them what questions they have or what challenges they envisioned implementing the system.  This also would have solved your after-lunch-low-energy concern – it’s tough to fall asleep when you’re being asked to engage in the learning.  Keep in mind that while poor training evaluation scores may mean that people didn’t learn anything, when you get high scores like 4s and 5s on an evaluation, there is no guarantee that learning actually took place.

Peer Coach 2:

You know, this is all good advice about the training itself.  But actual changes in behavior need follow-up as well.  It sounds like you had a couple of high achievers who took it upon themselves to implement the system as you had hoped.  But most people need some follow-up support from their managers.  And if this is a mandatory change for everyone to conform to, your managers need to be held accountable by their own managers for implementation.

Peer Coach 1:

I think an important thing to keep in mind is that good training design – including less lecture and more involvement – is important.  And equally important is follow-up to ensure that the learning isn’t an isolated event but rather one part of a larger, ongoing process.

Lin:

Wow, this was kind of a brutal assessment of my performance.  In the end, I guess it’s a fair assessment seeing as how few managers adopted the system.  Thanks for your thoughts.

What do you think of the peer coaches’ counsel?  Were they right on?  Did they miss something?  Is there anything you would have shared differently had you been at the coffee & coaching session?  Let me know your thoughts in the comment section!

5 thoughts on “The Parable of the Part-time Trainer (Part 2)

  1. I really liked Peer Coach’s 1 comment about tying in the meaning behind the ice breaker with the teaching process: Tell the participants the new teaching technique is like the “human knot” because until we really understand it, something new seems like a tangle of paperwork and processes. I also liked the fact that the managers discovered they needed to take more responsibility in their “follow up.”

    I thought everyone was very kind with their constructive comments, but if I was the teacher being critiqued, I probably wouldn’t have considered that one of my better days. Having said that, knowing me, after a couple days of licking my sore ego, I would go back to the drawing board and work on improving my teaching techniques.

  2. I think they’re making good points. Here’s my question – how can you address some of these if you’re hired from the outside to go to an organization to do a training, but you don’t have any say in follow-up support afterwards? Other than profusely recommending that the organization consider including that in the planning even if not in your scope of work. Thanks!

    • Now THIS is an excellent question. Follow-up is tough enough when you’re working on an internal project. I think when you’re coming in from the outside, it’s important to help the client understand that if all they want is “training” (as in a one-time event), they may not realize the results they actually seek. Training generally doesn’t “stick” if the topic being covered is not reinforced outside of the classroom. If the client is looking for specific impact/results, then the design of the intervention (“intervention” is different than “training event”) will require a) goal setting between trainees and their supervisors even before the event takes place, b) good, engaging training design in the event, and c) follow-up between the supervisor and the trainee after the event. And this all needs to be included in the initial scope of work to which the client agrees.

      As a trainer, you can help nudge this process along by creating pre-work for trainees to complete (with their supervisor if possible) prior to the event, and then specific project or action plans that call for conversation between the supervisor and the trainee following the event. You may also wish to include a 6-month follow up survey that you could send to both the trainee and the trainee’s supervisor to gauge whether or not changes in behavior and performance have taken place.

      While these are all “tricks” that you can build into the design, it may all be for naught if the client doesn’t/won’t buy in to the fact that a one-time training event alone will not lead to significantly different performance for most staff.

  3. A great blog post. We’ve got a new trainer at work, and I’m going to send this to her to illustrate — far better than I could — the principles of our work. Thanks!

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