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Five Practices to be a Rockstar Trainer – Towards Creating Successful Learning Experiences

Five Practices to be a Rockstar Trainer – Towards Creating Successful Learning Experiences

The problem that many organizations face today is not a shortage of people in the market, it is a shortage of skills.  Research in Corporate Learning tells us that organizations suffer from a “skills supply chain” challenge. Not only do more than 70% of organizations cite “capability gaps” as one of their top five challenges, but many companies also tell us that it takes 3-5 years to take a seasoned professional and make them fully productive (Bersin Feb’14).

Shift Happens

So if you are a trainer, you are in quite an empowered position. A position of responsibility. And one of creating change – in peoples’ skill sets, their world views, the trajectories of their work and lives. Good managers and mentors need to be good trainers as well. But for the sake of this post, let’s stick to trainers and the practices that can make trainers empowered to deliver successful trainings – trainings that can expand the learning minds.  By the end of this post, I believe that you will agree with me that these practices can be applied to other positions of responsibility as well. For this post, I invited Nilisha Mohapatra to share her learnings from her experience as a trainer and as a trainer of trainers.

Each one of us at some point has interacted with a trainer and learned with them, mostly in a professional setting.  Trainers can be for a wide range of skills – from technical skills like agile methodologies, six sigma, process improvement, to soft skills such as communication, leadership and confidence. Trainers abide by content and experience, and whatever be the training, the objective is ultimately the same – to add value to an individual’s experience and expand her horizon.  Being a trainer myself, there are a few important things I have learnt over time that have helped me become more effective as a trainer, creating sharp impact. No matter what the training session is about, it is the uniqueness of the trainer’s methodology and approach that makes the difference between a Boring Brain-numbing session and a Useful Brain-expanding session. And to allow that edge to come into play, there are five things that I keep in mind always. Here they are:

You are a Facilitator. The trainer approach is somewhat passé now. A facilitator by definition is someone who creates a space for the group to come alive in, for collective learning to happen through group processes. A facilitator may or may not be subject matter experts. Even if they are, the practice is never inclined towards lecture-driven learning. It is more about creating an experience. Facilitators trust the group’s collective wisdom and take part in shaping skills through sharing of power and balancing group dynamics. I quite enjoy this approach as this allows me to blend with the group, breaking hierarchies. I view trainings/workshops as a developmental processes where my objective is to enable the participants with a new lens/skill. This process of enabling I believe is one of mutual participation, as opposed to a traditional directive. Hence, I am at a workshop to facilitate learning. Not give it.

If you feel you are listening enough, know that there is more to listen to. Listening happens at multiple levels. More so at the non-verbal levels. Many a times I’ve found a huge difference between what participants share vs what they really think. Try finding signals that can bridge the gap to create genuine and unique learning experiences. Resistant body language, sheer silence, questions, argumentative or defensive tones, extremely high or low energies are some indicators I always look out for.

The more you accept, the more change you can create. It is tough to take a neutral stand always as facilitators.  Being non-judgmental is a challenging skill to nurture, and requires a lot of unlearning. The key to being non-judgmental lies in acceptance.  Validating each person and just accepting their points of view, doubts, resistances, success, makes them feel heard. And then they move towards change of behaviour and skills by acknowledging the new direction suggested in the training. It is a buy-in process. I have had struggles with this. Each time I have not practiced acceptance, the learning has been incomplete or ineffective. Asking curious questions to understand, allowing a variety of opinions into the space, and solid breathing are ways to practice this. As I have accepted, I have changed. And as I have changed, so has the group. Visualize your mind as an open bowl, which keeps filling with what you experience, and never over flows. Be the light and not the critic to let the learning happen.

Change is a tumultuous process. Even in the easiest or safest of environments. Haven’t we all experienced change and been overwhelmed by it? So how can we expect a group of people to just take on something new in a jiffy, without any resistance? Shunning old ways is a mammoth task. A new skill needs practice, on top of all the other skills. A new programme needs testing. A new behaviour needs strengthening. All this needs time and is met with road blocks. Reminding myself of this process of learning has helped me be a more supportive facilitator instead of a demanding tyrant!

Everything that happens in the workshop is a process of feedback. The old saying of what goes around comes around plays out beautifully in a workshop. Always. Whenever I have given in more energy and life to the training, the participants have come alive, sharing more of their energy. When I have shared stories of my own learning and skill building process, that has helped me establish credibility and helped the participants understand the process of learning. If my tone, ideation, validation has been flat, I have only been met with blank faces. This is the potent feedback process that plays out in training, and it helps to be aware of it.

As I understand today, these practices are primarily about training myself first, before I try to engage someone else in a learning process. Isn’t that where the magic starts? In my experience, as and when I have put these practices to use, the more I have been able to unravel about human potential development. This has become my Pandora’s Box for workshops.  And people in leadership positions who have chosen these practices are some of the most charismatic and influential leaders I have known.

We would love to know what your thoughts and experiences are on enabling learning in workshops and in your teams. We look forward to hearing and learning from you.

Nilisha is trained as a Mentor Trainer, delivering complex training to Indian volunteers learning to become mentors to disadvantaged children. She has a Masters in Applied Psychology and has transformed herself into a creative and inspiring trainer who both taught acceptance and behaviour change as well as living the principles in her training. This is Nilisha (@NilishaM)’s sixth guest post for Happy In The Now and you can read all her blogs at fantasycluster.wordpress.com

Five Ways to Build and Sustain Organizational Culture

Five Ways to Build and Sustain Organizational Culture

That mysterious thing called organizational culture – everyone loves discussing this topic. A company is doing well – credit goes to the culture. A company is not doing so well – blame goes to the culture. And it is perhaps true. Culture is critically important to business success, according to 84 percent of the more than 2,200 global participants in the last Booz & Company Survey (Infographic). But what is more surprising is that 96 percent said some form of culture change is needed within their organization with 51 percent believing that their organization is in need of a major culture overhaul. If organization culture is so widely accepted as a critical factor for a company’s success, and people believe the culture needs to change, why is this not happening? I think the problem lies in treating the whole culture thing as a mystery (that is here, there and everywhere, can be sensed but cannot be grasped – you get the drift) or as something that lies in the HR department’s purview (along with other mysterious things like employee engagement, succession planning, etc.).

Wiki defines Organizational culture as “the behavior of humans within an organization and the meaning that people attach to those behaviors. Culture includes the organization’s vision values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits.”

I would interpret this as the “how” in the company. How do we work on a daily basis – how do we interact with each other and with the external world, how do we react or respond to situations, how are our actions guided. I recommend you read “What Is Organizational Culture? And Why Should We Care? by Michael Watkins” – the post and the comments to see how many different interpretations there are of culture (no wonder it is a mystery).

For all my readers out there who want to delve into this mystery a little more and add to the already high discussion levels on this topic and perhaps bring about culture changes in their own organizations, this post is about building and sustaining company culture from my experiences in two stages of my career – as a team leader in mid-size and large companies and as a small business owner in the third year of leading my company.

Company Culture Builder #1 – Have a clear Vision, Mission and Values statement: This is where you define the culture of the company. It is critical that every employee knows and understands the vision of the organization and the values that it stands for. It needs to be simple enough or made simple enough that everyone in the company can understand them and get aligned to them. The idea here is to get people really involved and committed to the culture – logic and reason have their place, but in initiatives like this the emotions of people have to be tapped – and a clear mission, vision and values statement serves as a great way to bring everyone on the same page.

Company Culture Builder #2 – Hire people who embody these Values: No matter how talented a person is, if you don’t think that the person would be a cultural fit in the organization, resist the temptation and don’t make an offer. The people you hire are your ambassadors for culture, they will be the examples for the next set of hires. As they say, one bad apple spoils the basket – not only do you need to ensure that you hire, promote and reward people not just for skills or performance but for attitude and behaviour that aligns with the culture that you want to foster but also help people who are not aligned to be aligned or move them quickly out of the organization. When valued behaviours are not demonstrated, no matter where he/she is in the hierarchy, there should be consequences that show that such behaviour is no longer acceptable in the organization. This is important to establish accountability.

Company Culture Builder #3 – Understand Culture is not just Top-down: It is side-wise too. Yes, it does start at the top but it happens together – built through everyone’s behaviour and interactions in the team or company. Culture is everyone’s responsibility. Every person in the company should be walking the talk, walking it together, and knowing enough to course correct if some action in the day-to-day operations of the organization does not fit the culture.

Company Culture Builder #4 – Bring Culture in when solving Business Problems: I think this is the best way to bringing the theories to practice, to reducing the whole mystery about culture. When you have an irate customer or a profitability issue or a collaboration issue, that’s the time to do a root cause analysis that also assesses the problem based on what value was or was not used. Did we follow our culture? Were any of our values ignored? Based on what we stand for, what is the right thing to do now? Do we need to change anything in our culture so that this problem does not appear again? These discussions really help in reinforcing the message (and solving the business problem).

Company Culture Builder #5 – Focus less on Perks and more on building Trust and Respect: A cool office, a world-class gym, free food are all good but not at all the main factors that will make a company an employer of choice or build a culture that makes both customers and employees happy. These are short-term motivators only. Enough studies have been done to show that people want to work in an environment where they feel valued, respected and are making a significant contribution to a purpose larger than themselves (meaning). Therefore, creating a strong and healthy organizational culture is more than providing a few services that give a nice shiny surface gloss. Build trust and respect so that when one digs below the surface, one finds a strong and healthy foundation for a great culture.

Taking the digging analogy further, I want to end with these wise words from Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus with MIT Sloan School of Management, and author of many best sellers including the Corporate Culture Survival Guide :

“Culture operates at many levels and certainly how we do things around here is the surface level. I like to think of culture to be like the lily pond. On the surface you’ve got leaves and flowers and things that are very visible; a visitor would see them. That’s the ‘how we do things around here;’ but the explanation of why we do things in that way forces you to look at the root system, what’s feeding it and the history of the pond, who planted what. If you don’t dig down into the reasons for why we do things this way you’ve only looked at the culture at a very superficial level and you haven’t really understood it.”

How would you define company culture? What do you think are the key factors to build and sustain a great company culture? I would love to hear back and learn from you.