Business English blog articles

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Are language tests really the best way to assess your employees business English skills?

When a department manager asks us to “test their employee’s business English” there are typically 2 reasons – they want to know if somebody is suitable for a specific job, or they are looking for evidence that somebody has improved their business English. In both cases we fully understand the need for the information – and we often find ourselves challenging the idea of a “test”. HR & L&D, line managers, business English providers, teachers and participants are all familiar with the idea of tests – we’ve all been doing them since we started school – but as a business tool they have clear limits. 
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Are language tests really the best fit for purpose when it comes to corporate English training?

At the heart of these limits is the question “does the test really reflect the purpose?”.  These limits were highlighted in a recent newspaper article “Difficulty of NHS language test ‘worsens nurse crisis’”. The article focuses on the shortage of nurses applying for work in the UK, and behind this shortage are 2 factors: firstly the inevitable (and avoidable) uncertainty created by Brexit, and secondly that qualified and university-educated nurses who are native English speakers from countries such as Australia and New Zealand are failing to pass the English language test the NHS uses. One of the nurses said:“After being schooled here in Australia my whole life, passing high school with very good scores, including English, then passing university and graduate studies with no issues in English writing – now to ‘fail’ IELTS [the English language test] is baffling.”

To be clear there is nothing wrong with the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) per se. It is one of the most robust English language tests available, and is a multi-purpose tool used for work, study and migration. The test has four elements: speaking, listening, reading and writing.  My question is “Is this really the best way to assess whether a nurse can do her job effectively in English?”

Design assessment approaches to be as close to your business reality as possible

We all want nurses who can speak, listen, read and write in the language of the country they are working in – but is a general off-the-shelf solution really the best way?  What does a nurse need to write?  Reports, notes, requests – yes …essays – no.  Yet that is what was being “tested”. One nurse with 11 years experience in mental health, intensive care, paediatrics, surgical procedures and orthopaedics commented: “The essay test was to discuss whether TV was good or bad for children. They’re looking for how you structure the essay … I wrote essays all the time when I was doing my bachelor of nursing. I didn’t think I’d have to do another one. I don’t even know why I failed.”

Jumping from nursing to our corporate clients, our InCorporate Trainers work in-house, training business English skills with managers in such diverse fields as software development, automotive manufacturing, oil and gas, logistics, purchasing etc etc . All these managers need to speak, read, write and listen and they need to do these within specific business-critical contexts such as meetings, negotiations, presentations, emails, reports etc. So how do we assess their skills? The key is in designing assessment approaches which are as close to their business reality as possible.

Using business specific can-do statements to assess what people can do in their jobs

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is a scale indicating language competency. It offers an excellent start for all business English programs. BUT the CEFR does have 2 major drawbacks when it comes to business English:

  • The CEFR is not specifically focussed on business-related communication
  • The CEFR levels are broad, impacting their suitability for assessing the progress of professionals with limited training availability

In 2010, and in response to our client’s demand for a business-related focus, we developed a robust set of can-do statements. These statements focus on  specific business skills such as meetings, networking and socializing, presenting, working on the phone and in tele- and web-conferences. Rather than assessing a software developers writing skills by asking them to write an essay on whether TV is good or bad for kids we ask them to share actual samples – emails, functional specifications, bug reports etc.  They don’t lose time from the workplace and it allows us to look at what they can already do within a work context. The Business Can-do statements then provide a basis for assessing their overall skills.

This “work sample” approach can also be used when looking to measure the impact of training. Before and after examples of emails help a manager see what they are getting for their training investment and, in cooperation with works councils, many of our InCorporate Trainers use a portfolio approach where clients keep samples of what they are learning AND how this has transferred to their workplace.  This practical and easily understandable approach is highly appreciated by busy department heads.

To wrap up, I understand that the NHS relying on a reputable off-the-shelf solution like IELTS has clear attractions. However, if you are looking at assessing at a department level then consider other options.  And if you’d like support with that then contact us.

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Meetings in English are fine but the coffee breaks are terrifying

Martin, an IT Project Manager, was getting ready for a meeting with his European counterparts to review his bank’s IT security. As ever he was very well prepared so I was a little surprised when he confessed to being nervous. However, it was not the meeting itself that was worrying him – it was the coffee and lunch breaks. His nerves were due to having to “small talk”. Small talk is an essential element of building relationships.  Yes, the meeting is all about dealing with business and discussing the items on the agenda but it’s in the breaks in between where the relationships are forged.
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Why do some people find small talk so hard?

When we run seminars on small talk and socializing in English we hear many reasons why people struggle when they have to make small talk. Some people don’t know what to say, some are afraid of saying the wrong thing, some don’t know how to start a conversation, some are scared that people will think they are boring, some people find small talk a waste of time…and the list goes on. All of these objections, and fears are magnified when we know we are going to have to do it in a foreign language.

You prepare for the meeting so prepare for the small talk!

If you are nervous or uncertain about what to say during the breaks – prepare for them. First of all identify topics that are safe and suitable for the event and the people attending.  Depending upon the culture you are speaking with “safe topics” may be different but in general you are on safe ground with the following:

  • The weather – The forecast says it’s going to rain for the next 2 days. What’s the weather like at this time of year in Cape Town?
  • The event itself – I particularly enjoyed this morning’s presentation on big data analytics. What did you think of it?
  • The venue – This is one of the best conference centres I’ve been to. What do you think of it?
  • Jobs – How long have you been working in data security?
  • Current affairs, but NOT politics – I see they’ve just started the latest trials on driverless cars. I’m not sure I’d want to travel in one. How do you feel about them?

Opening a conversations and keeping it flowing

If you are going to ask questions, when possible, ask open questions. An open question begins with a question word – what, why, where, when, how etc. and the person will have to answer with more than a simple yes/no answer. Open question elicits more information and helps the conversation to develop. Similarly if you are asked a question (closed or open), give additional information and finish with a question. This will keep the conversation flowing.

7 phrases for typical small talk situations

  • Hi, I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Helena Weber from IT support in Ludwigsburg.
  • I’m ready for a cup of coffee. Can I pour you one?
  • I believe the restaurant here is excellent. Have you eaten here before?
  • What did you do before you joined the product management team?
  • Where are you from?
  • Did you see the story on the news about…?
  • It’s a while since I last saw you. What’s new?

Don’t forget

Your counterparts may well be as nervous as you are and will welcome your initiative in starting and joining in conversation with them.  You could be taking the first steps in developing new personal and business relationships

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How great training clients maximize the impact of their training budget

A common question I am asked in client meetings is ‘What makes a “great” training provider?’ and then of course I’m asked to show that we are one. There are a lot of factors involved in being a great training provider, from having the right trainer, to providing relevant training (that is easily transferred to the workplace), and from having the right processes right down to the flexibility and adaptability of the program, based on the changing business needs of the participants. In part, our greatness is achieved because of great clients and we are very lucky to have many of those across Europe ranging in size and spanning numerous industries. Like great training providers share common characteristics, so do great training clients. Below are are three of them.

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1. Great training clients really get the importance of buy-in on multiple levels

Training, whether it be Business English, soft skill or leadership programs, is most successful when there is buy-in across the board. HR and L&D are important, but it is the buy-in from operational and line managers that makes a real difference. Managers at all levels and team leaders all have a role to play. The managers of our “great clients” share the “why?” behind the training. They look to link it to strategy and decisions, and show that they are personally expecting commitment and engagement. This buy-in keeps the participants focused and aware of why they are training on certain topics.  This management buy-in also supports the work of HR and L&D, energizing their efforts and challenging them to challenge us when it comes to questions such as training design, transfer to the workplace, and continual improvements. So, if you have multiple levels of management, HR and participant buy-in, you will definitely see results tied to your company goals and get a lot more out of your training investment.

2. Great training clients give feedback when things are great and when things could be better

When we put our heart and soul into delivering training, we love hearing that we are doing a great job. Even when the training doesn’t fully meet the client’s expectations, we want to hear about it. Our best clients understand that we value what they have to say and tell us openly, on a regular basis. The more consistent clients are with feedback, the easier it is to address any issues that may arise. Being clear about communication needs, proactively collaborating on training goals, content and methods, and sharing the background to decisions work to build robust relationships creates a lot of trust and understanding that leads to productive, long-term and fun partnerships. Win-Win is remarkably easy when both sides genuinely care about the other.

3. Great training clients are open to new ideas and approaches

It is great when a client knows what they want. It can make our job as a training provider that much easier – after all you know your staff, your corporate culture and what works well.  AND, we also value the chance to apply our years and years of experience when the situation presents itself. Our best clients know that they can trust our expertise and, after exploring the whys and hows, are willing to give it a chance.  We understand we have to earn that trust, but need a chance to do so.  So, know what you want as a customer, challenge what your suppliers may suggest at times but also be open to new ideas as you may be pleasantly surprised what your supplier can do.

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Key tips and English phrases for your next “lessons learned” meeting

Life is about continuously learning. We sometimes learn from our mistakes, and we can also learn from our successes. This was first brought to my attention early on in my career. After the successful completion of a tough project, we had a meeting with our team leader where we were questioned on both what had we done well and how could the project have gone smoother. Today, in the international automotive company where I work as an InCorporate Trainer training business English, Lessons Learned meetings are an integral part of any project.
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What happens in a “lessons learned” meeting?

Like my team leader a long time ago, the project managers I train are convinced that, after any project, it is important to reflect on what could be learned from the experience. Annette, a manager who regularly uses me for on-the-job training explained that “For us the lessons learned meeting is especially important if the project was deemed to be a success. In this way, best practices are identified and flow into subsequent projects. And feelings of complacency can be avoided. At the same time, it is important to understand what stood in the way of a project being even more successful. It doesn’t really matter how successful a project is, there is always room for improvement.”

She then went on to explain how her project team has time to consider their performance as well as that of the team as a whole, And that in new teams, or established teams with new members, this was typically tough the first few times “I do see pushback from new colleagues for various reasons, despite how obviously important these meetings may be. Some people feel there is no reason to speak about the past since we cannot go back and change things. Other times people may feel that it isn’t good to talk too much about the past but to focus on the future. My goal as the team’s leader is to show that being open about one’s mistakes allows others to learn from them! In German this is not easy but when we all do it in English we see that things are harder ”

Use we to be tough on the mistakes, but not on the individuals

Most of us don’t enjoy talking about our mistakes, and when discussing mistakes it is important to be both accurate and respectful. One way to do this is by asking questions using the collective “we” rather than assigning specific blame. After all, you are a team!

For example:

  • If we hadn’t worked overtime, we wouldn’t have finished within the deadline.
  • We should have received that information earlier.
  • If we had known that from the beginning, we would have done things much differently
  • We wouldn’t have had so many problems if we had communicated better.
  • We could have saved a lot of money if we had identified the problem earlier.

Ask the right questions to ensure future improvement

Another way of discussing mistakes is to use hypotheticals. These sentences help to make things less personal and more abstract. With this style of question, a hypothetical cause and effect in the past is identified and applied to future situations; a “What if…” style of identifying areas for potential improvement.

  • What if we made some adjustments in our future labor projections?
  • What if we ensured more timely delivery for our next project? How could we fulfill such a promise?
  • What if we were informed sooner? How would that have affected the delivery date?
  • What if we could improve our internal communication structure? How are some ways we could do this?
  • What would have been the outcome if we had identified the problem sooner?

Use success as a driver for learning

As mentioned above, we can also learn from our successes. So what questions could we and should we be asking ourselves to ensure our successes continue on to future projects? Here are some useful examples for your next “lessons learned” meeting…

  • Was our success unique to this project, or is it something we could replicate for future projects?
  • What surprises did our team handle well, and how could we build off of that to prepare for other unexpected outcomes in the future?
  • How could we re-formulate our achieved goals to really push the team to perform better?
  • What value did our individual team members bring to the project?
  • How can we increase our level of commitment and urgency?

To summarize

Implementing lessons learned meetings into your projects leads to team members growing in confidence, and an increase in performance and outcomes. Being aware of the impact language can have will help, as can facilitation skills , and building trust and a willingness to allow constructive conflicts in your team. Finally, there’s an excellent lessons learned template on Brad Egeland’s blog. Cornell University has a good overview of approaches and questions to use,  and the University of Pennsylvania offers a lessons-learned checklists to help lead discussions.

If you have any recommendations or would like to tell us about your experiences with lessons learned meetings, please feel free to do so below in the comments section.

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Surviving and understanding English corporate buzzwords and business lingo

Recently I was working with a software development manager from a major German multinational. He’d just got off a 2 hour webex meeting and was frustrated. “I thought my English was pretty good – but what exactly does We’ve worked through it soup to nuts mean?!”. I could empathize. It was the first time I’d heard this expression myself and I needed to understand the context before I guessed it meant from beginning to end. Corporate and business buzzwords, jargon and expressions can be a challenge for native speakers – and when English isn’t your first language things get so much harder.



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What do we mean by corporate buzzwords and business lingo?

The business world has always developed and used its own idiomatic phrases and vocabulary to describe all aspects of business and management. These expressions fall into 2 broad categories:

  • Some expressions are used across all business sectors, are very well known, widely used and understood. “We’re moving to an open plan office in the hope that it will improve cross-pollination” (cross-pollination is the generation of ideas by combining people from different backgrounds and with different skill sets).
  • Other expressions are specific to a certain business sector, for example marketing or auditing. This language (jargon) isn’t generally recognized outside the particular sector, e.g.  Shoptimization is the way forward (using apps to optimize in-store shopping experience).

Why do people talk like this?

This is a good question. A part of good communication is about making things easy to understand buzzwords don’t always do this.  Buzzwords are a type of jargon people use so they sound knowledgeable, up-to-date, important  … or just cool or funny. Is it effective? Decide for yourself. The video in this post is an excellent demonstration.  How many of the expressions do you recognize and understand?

Dealing with buzzwords and business lingo

I am a native speaker of English and have almost 40 years experience in the corporate world and I understood less than half of what was said in the video above. So what can non-native English speakers do when confronted by too much corporate speak?

Further online resources

Explanations for most of the expressions used in the video on available on these websites

9 common English jargon and buzzwords used in business

To close, here is is a selection of corporate jargon and buzzwords from the video … together with a simple explanation:

  • Let’s get our ducks in a row. = Let’s get organized
  • Can you put a deck together? = Can you prepare a visual presentation? (sales and marketing)
  • Loop me in on that! = Keep me informed of what’s happening.
  • He’s a disrupter. = He’s a person who changes the way things are done.
  • I’m going to have to marinade on that. = I need time to think about it.
  • Can you unpack that? = Can you give me more detail?
  • That’s not even in our wheelhouse. = That’s not in our minds.
  • That’s the silver bullet approach. = That’s the perfect solution.
  • Can we talk about that offline? = Can we talk about that away from the main group?

To summarize, don’t forget that even native English speakers struggle with business jargon and idiomatic expressions. If you follow the tips and make use of the links I’ve mentioned you will find it a little easier.

 

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Here’s a selection of posts if you want to read more:

 

 

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How we built the Business English can-do statements: An interview with Chris Slattery

How good is your business English? B1? C2? These terms didn’t mean much to most of us ten years ago or so, but today the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is an international standard for describing language ability. It is used around the world to describe learners’ language skills. The 20 years of research the Council of Europe put into designing and rolling out the CEFR  was undoubtedly worthwhile: we now have a robust basis for a common understanding of what language levels mean. However, the CEFR is not business English specific – it was was designed for general education purposes. It doesn’t directly connect to day-to-day business communication scenarios. It doesn’t directly meet the language training needs facing businesses and corporations today, nor does it directly address common business communication scenarios.

In 2010, Target Training worked with the worlds largest courier company, Deutsche Post DHL, and another language training provider (Marcus Evans Linguarama) to close this gap. The outcome was a detailed set of can-do statements usable by employees, their managers and training providers alike. Chris Slattery lead the project at Target Training, and I asked him a few questions about this project.

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What made you want to get involved in this project?

Chris: We had been working closely with the Corporate Language School at DP DHL for over 5 years, and they were keen to begin measuring their training investment. A major part of this was being able to measure learning progress. They had tried to use an off-the-shelf solution but it wasn’t working, and the CEFR was too abstract to use in a business environment. We’d been working closely together trying to make things work – and when it was clear that the tools just weren’t strong enough they asked us if we could build a business specific tool which was founded in the CEFR levels. We asked that if we were going to be the “developer” another provider be involved as a “tester” to ensure the end product was robust and practical. This is how Lingurama became involved, and this 3-way collaboration strengthened the project.

The CEFR isn’t designed to recognize gaps in performance at work. Our Business English can-do statements mean that managers can identify where they would like to see an improvement in performance, and we then know how to get them there.

Chris Slattery

How did you decide what a successful solution would look like?

Chris: Quite simply, success was a tool that managers and participants could easily use when analyzing needs, setting goals and evaluating progress. We needed something that reflected the specific business skills managers are looking to improve. This meant we had to adapt what was in the CEFR and re-couch it in terms that were relevant for the business world. For example to move from academic and linguistic terms to practical business communication needs.

Can you give an example of a scenario?

Chris: Sure. Take someone who has had English at school and then worked in the States as an au pair for two years. They speak good English with a Boston accent. When they joined DP DHL they had the opportunity to join our InCorporate Trainer program. Whenever somebody new joins the training Target Training needs to assess their English skills.  This lady got placed at CEFR B2, which shows a good degree of competency … but she had never worked in a company before joining DP DHL -and now she needed to go and deliver a presentation in English. How well was she going to be able to do that?

Her general CEFR level is B2, but in her ability to give effective status presentations in English, she might be as low as A2. This discrepancy is huge. The CEFR isn’t designed to recognize gaps in performance at work. The Business English can-do statements mean that these managers can identify where they would like to see an improvement in performance, and we then know how to get them there.

We needed something that reflected the specific business skills managers are looking to improve. This meant we had to adapt what was in the CEFR and re-couch it in terms that were relevant for the business world. For example to move from academic and linguistic terms to practical business communication needs.

Chris Slattery

The full CEFR document is 273 pages long. Where did you start?

Chris: We started by studying the CEFR document in real depth, and understanding how it was built and why certain can-do statements are phrased in specific ways.  At the same time we also agreed with the client which business fields made the most impact on their day-today communication – skills like “presentations”, “networking”, “negotiating” etc . We then reread the CEFR handbook and identified which can-do statements could be directly transferable to business communication scenarios. Then we broke these business fields down into language skills, and used the can-dos in the CEFR document which best fitted these language skills. Our golden rule was that the can-dos had to be within the context of specific business skills AND easily understood by a department manager with no knowledge of language training.

Can you give me an example?

Chris:  Sure. These two statements contributed to one of the can-dos related to participating in meetings at a B1 level:

  1. Sociolinguistic appropriateness at CEFR B: Is aware of the salient politeness conventions and acts appropriately.
  2. Grammar at CEFR B1: Uses reasonably accurately a repertoire of frequently used “routines” and patterns (usually associated with more predictable situations).

Our Business English can-do statement for B1 Meetings: I can directly ask a participant to clarify what they have just said and obtain more detailed information in an appropriate manner.

How long did the whole process take?

Chris:  It took five months to write, test, rewrite, test and rewrite again. We then needed to repeat the process with a German language version too. At the end we blind-tested it with the client, and were delighted with their feedback.  The roll-out took a few months. Today, internally, it’s still an ongoing project. As new trainers join the company, they need to learn how to use the tool to its full potential.

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The Business English Can-Do Statements toolbox also has a short FAQ and 4 ideas on how you can use them. If you’d like to know more, please contact us, or read more about the CEFR framework on our website.

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The importance of staff training

We’re a training company. We meet with corporate clients and we ask them questions to find out their situation. They ask us questions too. If they like us, we send in an offer with a training concept. The answers to the questions (from both sides) are often similar. Our clients need training because it will help them succeed. Which makes the company succeed. Here are some of those questions, this time answered by two of Target’s key people, Chris Slattery (Managing Director) and Scott Levey (Operations Manager). 

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How important is training when it comes to staff?

SL: Training is as important to us as it is to every company. (Ironically though, trainers in the industry just don’t get enough training themselves, and there tends to be very little done on an incidental basis.) By nature, trainers in this industry often work independently and at best get development opportunities by accident. Our policy is to attract and hire the best trainers and, through training, help them to stay sharp. When we hire, we look specifically for evidence of continual improvement so we know we are working with people who are open to development and learning.

CS: The phrase ‘never buy hair restorer from a bald salesman’ springs to mind. We are obliged to take training seriously for any number of reasons but, most importantly, when training makes our staff stronger, we move up a notch as a company. Our challenge is to make sure that we promote internal training to ensure that the company as a whole benefits from external measures taken by individuals.

What makes training effective?

SL: Skill or job based, the training has to be relevant. The training from which we have had the most positive feedback has been our in-house “Boot Camp”.  This is where we explore the skills an InCorporate Trainer needs in order to be successful when delivering in-house training. New trainers generally have low expectations coming onto the course (‘training for training’s sake’ being a classic attitude) but the feedback has been consistently strong and participants report that they have been pushed, been developed and gained confidence during the week.  Not only that, their line managers have reported a clear difference, as have the end client.

CS: And be ready to be actively involved in supporting whatever training you go for.  Your support, or lack of, makes so much difference.

Is intercultural training still relevant?

CS: Intercultural training introduces the concept of dilemmas which every society is confronted with.

For example:

  1. Do we/they see events as individual and isolated or do we approach them within the context of a larger picture?
  2. How do we/they balance the rights of the individual against the interests of a wider society?

How a society deals with these dilemmas is the essence of that society’s culture. I would suggest that the intercultural aspect is everything… and nothing. “Nothing” in the sense that the theoretical study of regional differences (e.g. be sure to wear white socks on a first date in Ballybunnion), while possibly of some passing interest, is not necessarily conducive to effective communication. “Everything” in the sense that communication – which is our business – is founded on shared understanding. Beyond a rudimentary level of language proficiency, working out what is meant becomes more important than the words that are used and what is actually said.

Why is language training still so important in the business world today?

SL: Communication is extremely important in all areas, and people just don’t think about it often enough on an day to day level. We don’t always listen well; we are not always understood in the way we want to be understood and in a way that gets results. And this is in our native language. International business communication in a language you don’t really know is difficult – you know what you need but you don’t know how to say it exactly. Successful communication revolves around people setting aside time to reflect on how they communicate and how they can make it more effective. Language training is a tool that supports this. So people can do a great job in English.

How do you organize your training budget effectively?

SL: We talk to staff about their current skills and their needs for the future. This is an ongoing conversation. It’s also vital that our managers carve out time to think about their own needs; skills; and the future situation of the client and the team they manage. And we know that it is not always feasible to solve a current problem by throwing training at it: training often takes too long to solve an immediate concern.

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Handling difficult and disruptive people in meetings

 “I am really enjoying my new role as Lean Audit Manager! The only issue is, meetings can sometimes be very challenging as I don’t always get the support and cooperation of everyone attending.” Claudia, a very experienced and highly qualified engineer who had recently been appointed as lean audit manager, said this to me a few weeks ago. Naturally, some team members can feel uncomfortable when their processes and working methods are scrutinized and analyzed. It is not unusual for this discomfort to surface in meetings as difficult and disruptive behaviour.  The end result is that meetings can become unfocussed, unruly and unsatisfactory.  The same is true for any meeting – sometimes some people behave badly.

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Countering disruptive behaviour

First of all remember this is your meeting, you have set the agenda and it is up to you make it work. Having said that, let’s look at some typical types of disruptive behaviour, what we can do to manage it and some useful English phrases.

Someone is monopolizing the discussion

Some people love the sound of their own voice and will talk at length on any and every point and deny other people the opportunity to be heard.

  • Stop them, thank them for their contribution and move on to the next point or next speaker: “That’s really very interesting Thorsten but we really need to hear from Angela / move on to the next item.”
  • Draw their attention to the agenda and agreed timeframes:  “We have already spent more time on this topic than agreed and we need to progress to the next point or we will run out of time.”
  • Set a time limit:  “OK Andrea you have 30 seconds to finish your point.”

Someone is promoting a personal agenda

Some people seem oblivious to the actual agenda and seem intent on pursuing their own. If this behaviour is not quickly checked the meeting is in real danger of completely losing its focus. Keyis to step in early, stop them from talking and get back to the agenda.

  • “Eric, what you’re saying has nothing to do with our current agenda. I want to bring Petra in to give us the update we are waiting for.”
  • “Thank you for that insight – it has been noted in the minutes but now we must return to the matter at hand.”
  • “John, I realize this is something you feel strongly about but it has no relevance in today’s meeting.”

People are having side conversations

 You will often find people who are intent on making comments, or having a conversation with their neighbour. Apart from being bad manners it is also very distracting. There are a number of techniques to handle this situation. For one, you can stop the meeting discussion, be quiet and look at the people talking. Very often they will feel uncomfortable and fall silent very quickly.

  • Invite them to share their conversation with the rest of the group: “I don’t think everybody can hear you. Could you speak up, so we can all get the benefit of what you have to say?”
  • Simply ask them to stop: “Could you please save your discussion for after the meeting and rejoin the group discussion? Thank you.”
  • Focus them on the goal/outcome: “We will make much better progress if we could all focus on the matter at hand.”

Don’t assign blame

If individuals are behaving badly resist the temptation to single them out. This can lead to a hardening of attitudes. Instead highlight the unacceptable behaviour and its negative impact. Think about your own style as well as the needs and preferences of those attending your meeting. This will help you to find the most appropriate and most effective way of handling difficult behaviors in your meetings.

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10 common American sport idioms

Sports are an important part of many cultures, and that is especially true in the United States. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on tickets and merchandise and millions of fans attend events all over country. But, surprisingly, the most commonly seen evidence may be in the way people speak. American sports phrases have made their way into everyday English as sport idioms are often used in daily communication between friends as well as in the business world. As a non-native English speaker, you don’t have to have detailed knowledge of each American sport to use sport idioms. Proactively using them can be tricky at times, but passively understanding them is very important when doing business with Americans if you want to understand and speak their language.’


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ballpark

From baseball, meaning ‘an approximate number’ in business speak.  “Can you get us a ballpark figure on 4th quarter earnings?”

a curveball

Also from baseball, meaning ‘an unexpected action or event that is difficult to deal with’.  “They threw us a curveball during negotiations by doubling their asking price.”

to drop the ball

From American football, meaning ‘to make an error or miss an opportunity’.  “Bob dropped the ball by not preparing for the important meeting.”

a full-court press

From basketball, meaning ‘an all-out effort to apply pressure’.  “We need to do a full-court press on our supplier to ensure delivery by the end of the month.”

to hit a home run

From baseball, meaning ‘to be very successful’.  “Tom hit a home run when he closed the big deal with Microsoft.”

Monday morning quarterback

From American football, meaning ‘a person who criticizes something after it has finished with the benefit of hindsight’.  “I wish Mary would stop playing Monday morning quarterback and give us input before our projects are finished.” 

to play ball (with)

From baseball, meaning ‘to cooperate or act fairly with’.  “Let’s hope headquarters agree to play ball with our new ideas on decentralization.”

to be saved by the bell

From boxing, meaning ‘to be saved from something bad by a timely interruption’.  “We hadn’t finished the presentation in time, but were saved by the bell when the client pushed back our meeting at the last minute to next week.”

to throw in the towel

From boxing, meaning ‘to quit or admit defeat’.  “After spending three hours trying to recover my deleted file, I threw in the towel and started over from the beginning.”

(someone’s) wheelhouse

From baseball, meaning ‘(someone’s) area of expertise, where they are most comfortable’.  “Susan studied to be a lawyer before joining the company, so legal negotiations are in her wheelhouse.”

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Giving office tours in English

listen target training

You’ve got visitors coming over to your factory and you need to show them around. Maybe you’ve done that a thousand times, but never in English. Maybe you’ve never done it at all. When you’re planning the tour, think about what makes a tour really good. You’ll need to think about how you’re going to communicate with your visitors, what information you’ll need to give them, how to entertain them, and consider what questions they will have. But also, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to remember the facts, the history and any stories you choose. Here are some questions to consider and useful phrases to help you along the way.

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Key questions to answer

Your audience

  • Who is coming?
  • Why are they coming?
  • What do they already know about your company/factory?
  • How good is their English?

Housekeeping

  • Where does your tour fit in their schedule?
  • How long is the tour?
  • What security issues are there?
  • What health and safety measures do they have to be aware of?

The facts

  • What do you need to know about the company/plant/department?
  • How well do you know your way around?
  • What are the top three things you must show them?
  • What can you show them to bring what you do to life?

Questions

  • What questions will the audience probably ask?
  • What would you like them to ask?

Key language

Language wise there can be quite a lot to remember – so keep in mind that seeing things speaks 100 words! You can practice what you’re going to say, but a tour is not like a presentation. There should be interaction between you and the audience. The more you talk to them and ask them questions, the better the rapport will be. This puts everyone at ease and you’ll be able to remember what you need to tell them and answer their questions more easily.

Welcome

  • Hello and welcome to XXX.
  • I’m XXX and I’m going to be taking you on a tour of our plant/factory today.

Housekeeping

  • The tour is going to take about an hour.
  • Please understand that it is strictly forbidden to take photos on this plant /smoke / remove your safety helmet.
  • Please stay on the path.
  • Here’s a map so you can see where we are.
  • The group is quite big, so please stay together.
  • We’ll finish off the tour right by the canteen at 12:00 so we can go straight to lunch.

Questions

  • Please just ask questions whenever you have one.
  • There’s opportunity to ask questions at the end of the tour.

Outlining your plan

  • This morning I want to show you…
  • I’m going to take you on a tour of …
  • I’d like to show you how we manufacture XXX

Starting your tour

  • Our very first stop is the XXX. This is where….
  • How about we begin by walking over to XXX…?

Pointing things out

  • On the left / right you can see..
  • The ……… is directly in front of / behind us.
  • Over here is where we store the parts.
  • Just around the corner is the quality assurance department.

Giving some background information

  • The original building was knocked down in 1983. This building was constructed two years later.
  • When the plant opened, there were only three buildings. Today we have 14.
  • This building was added in 1999.

Moving people from one place to the next

  • Please follow me and we’ll head to the…
  • OK, let’s take the elevator up to the 10th floor.
  • Has everyone had a chance to see everything here? Let’s cross over to the painting area.
  • If we go over to the machine at the back, you can see how they measure the quantities.

Answering questions

  • That’s a great question. Thanks.
  • Thanks for bringing that up.
  • Is there anything else you’d like to know?

Closing the tour

  • Thanks for your time.
  • I hope you got to know more about the way we work here.
  • Here’s my card. If you have any more questions later, just get in touch.

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What our clients learned the easy way

target training

Long gone are the days when Business English training consisted of weekly lessons with a native English speaker, discussing what you did over the weekend. (Hooray!) In 2017 A.D, companies are paying more and more attention to the effectiveness of their Business English training programs. HR departments look for a training solution that delivers business results, based on the needs of the employees. A solution that ties in with the organization’s strategic goals. We are proud to have almost 25 years experience in this field. From concept to implementation to measuring results, we’ve learned a thousand lessons along the way, and so have our clients. In an effort to help you find the right solution for your department or company, we asked our clients what they realized three months after investing in results-oriented training that they hadn’t realized before. With some added links and examples from me, here are the three things we heard most often:




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Set concrete training goals

The most successful training happens when the participants have specific goals. A good needs analysis as well as input from managers help set these. Look for tangible business results, this will help you set your short- and long term goals. And, the more specific the goal, the better. For example: ‘Improving emails in English’ is a good start but ‘Handling billing requests from Indian colleagues via email’ is better.

The effectiveness of on-the-job training

People learn 70% by doing, and only 10% through structured training. Allowing the training to be job-focused, and on an “as and when needed” basis produces learning that sticks. A training solution that integrates on-the-job support is highly effective. And, on-the-job training is extremely flexible. For example: It can be used for email coaching, telephone conference/meeting shadowing and feedback, presentation practice and feedback, etc. It allows the trainer to learn first-hand how participants use English at work.

The importance of OTJ – a brief interjection: On-the-job support makes the training useful because it directly targets the training needs of the participant. Our on-the-job training and shadowing solutions are at the heart of the Target Training cycle and a core element of our InCorporate Trainer programs.

Forget about language levels and test scores

These results can’t be translated into how someone has transferred their knowledge to the workplace. If performance in English has improved, the training is successful. Measuring knowledge and language (CEF) levels can be useful as an indicator but it isn’t very practical, nor is it always realistic in a corporate training program. For example: It can take 700 hours of training or more for an A1 (beginner) to reach a B1 (intermediate) level. This type of time investment isn’t possible for most working professionals, nor is it (always) in alignment with the organizational goals.

Final interjection: A chain of evidence is created with Kirkpatrick evaluation model, showing how much training contributes directly towards business goals..

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You can always ask us your questions how to implement a successful business English training program. We’re quite good at it, ask anyone… Or start here:

 

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Quick tips on editing your own work

In an ideal situation, one of your colleagues, an internal editor, or proofreader (or InCorporate Trainer) will help you perfect your written masterpiece before you unleash it onto the world. But let’s say you’re left to edit your own work and said work is a lengthy document, or one with sensitive information in places. For one reason or another, your document needs to a final check. I don’t mean a spellcheck. But definitely do one of those as well.




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Edit your work after you’ve finished writing

Writing and editing belong to two separate phases of the writing process. When the editing work begins, you are no longer the author. An editor is not emotionally attached to the words. He/she will mercilessly cut out the most poetic of phrases and well thought out sentences if they interfere with the readability (for example).

  • Cut long sentences in two
  • Replace negatives with positives
  • Use simple language
  • Reduce prepositions
  • Don’t use words you don’t need

More editing tips behind this link. Or if you’re editing an English document, here’s a good post with examples of wimpy words and feeble phrases, and much more.

Take a break first

If you begin the editing process immediately after you finish writing, it can be difficult to catch errors, especially the very small ones. Have a coffee, take a walk around the block or, better yet, leave your writing for a day or two and then come back to it with a fresh perspective.

Edit your work in a different format

You might be surprised how helpful it can be to transfer your work to another format for proofreading. Some possible ideas: print your work on paper, view it on your tablet, project it on the wall or temporarily change the font of your entire document.

Start big

Rather than worrying about spelling, commas and full stops at the beginning of editing, start with a broad overview. Do you need to add or cut a section? Did you forget to include important information? After reading your work, did you realize that you need to re-write something? If yes, do it at this first stage of your edit. Otherwise, you might end up proofreading material that you cut later. Does your document still need:

  • Paragraph headers
  • A summary or a conclusion
  • Links to sources/resources
  • Graphics

Slice and dice

When you’re satisfied with the format and overall structure of your document, it still needs further fine-tuning. This is the time to reduce the number of words in your document and search for shorter, more concise ways to communicate what your audience needs to know. Look out for:

Read your document aloud

You could say “the fact of the matter is that editing is essential”, or you could say “editing is essential”. Readers have little patience for verbose writing. In addition to helping you spot errors with spelling and pronunciation, reading aloud will help you get a feel for the rhythm and tone of your document. Do you get tongue-tied trying to read one sentence? Re-write it so it flows more smoothly. Look out for:

Tell yourself, “It’s finished.”

Leonardo Da Vinci said that a work of art is never finished, merely abandoned. Even if you don’t consider your document a work of art, you will probably never be 100% satisfied. However, after you’ve edited your document as much as possible, call it a day and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

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We offer a variety of writing skills seminars:

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The business of apologizing

During my time working for a global IT helpdesk, I received more than fifty calls on an average day. We were the first point of contact for the client’s 110.000+ employees, who called us with questions about just about anything to do with IT. Our customers were experts in their field. Our SLAs (Service Level Agreements) were demanding – as customer service experts, we were expected to have an average CSAT score of 4.7 out of 5. It’s not a success story.

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Not for lack of trying, to be clear. Everyone was happy to help, when the customers were friendly, or the problems easy to fix. Some of us, including me, didn’t mind the more challenging customers or problems. A lot of our customers phoned us in moments of frustration, with good reason. They were in the middle of something “important” and now the software wasn’t working, or the computer, or the printer, or whatever. Schedules were interrupted, money was being lost, bad impressions were being made on their clients, and so on. As customer service experts, we understood the three dimensions of service – there’s always something going on in the background. So whatever frustrations came at us, we knew that they weren’t personal.

At the same time, they didn’t help when it came to the all-important relationship building. (Who wants to do that with someone who’s always shouting down the phone?) Most of us quickly learned that frustrated people tend to want to vent and that somehow, venting is easy to a voice on the phone. We worked hard, but our CSAT was down due to a large number of factors, not all related to our ability to be nice to customers. Many other things influence customer satisfaction: long waiting times (another SLA), lack of expertise, etc. As customer service experts, we were expected to apologize, if our customers had experienced delays or when they were otherwise unhappy with something. Some of my colleagues balked at the idea. Apologize? What for, I didn’t do anything wrong. They actually refused.

I’m sorry, that’s not an apology

It’s also a difficult topic to raise in customer service training. I’ve learned that people are very passionate about the “to apologize or not to apologize” question. According to the dictionary an apology is a regretful acknowledgement of failure. Many people however, think that an apology is the same as admitting a mistake, or taking the blame. Like some of my colleagues did.  Some of them couldn’t apologize, almost like the ability to apologize was missing from their DNA. Others felt they would betray their values by handing out an apology for something that wasn’t caused by their wrong-doing. The problems didn’t end there. A few of my colleagues were handing out apologies like they were the solution to everything. Back on the helpdesk, these were some of the phrases that shouldn’t have been circling:

  • It’s my job to apologize to you
  • Yeah, sorry about that
  • I guess I should say sorry about the delay
  • I’m not going to apologize for that, I’m just trying to do my job here

Emotional vs. Neutral cultures

And, consider for a moment the intercultural aspect of complaints. A complaining Brit (who says “I’m afraid I have a problem” with only a slight raise in pitch) will not sound like something is wrong, not to an Italian helpdesk agent. British people guard their emotions, language is polite, whenever possible. The Seven Dimensions of Culture tells us that the United Kingdom (as is Germany) is a neutral culture. In neutral cultures, reason influences action far more than feelings. Italy is an emotional culture, where people tend to want to find ways to express their emotions.

Apologists vs. Non-apologists

It’s simply so: some people find it extremely difficult to apologize. Approximately 50% of my helpdesk colleagues were non-apologists. Asking a non-apologist to apologize for something they did ‘wrong’ is asking a lot. Asking a non-apologist to apologize for something that they had no influence over is asking too much.  As soon as we talk about the business of apologizing, someone in the training room will say exactly what some of my colleagues said: Me? Apologize? What for? I didn’t do anything wrong. A non-apologist. They’re everywhere.

The elements of effective apologies

According to a recent paper, called “An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies”* the best-received apologies contains all six of the following elements (the researchers found that the most important, by far, was acknowledgement of responsibility):

  1. Expression of regret
  2. Explanation of what went wrong
  3. Acknowledgement of responsibility
  4. Declaration of repentance
  5. Offer of repair
  6. Request for forgiveness

In memory of my colleagues

This post is dedicated to all the apologists and non-apologists that I had the pleasure of working with. And here, to finish on a high note, are the few of the apologists’ apologies that also circled (and also deserve to be immortalized on the web). (Click here for more phrases to use in an apology.)

  • Sir, I cannot express in words how sorry I am about that.
  • On behalf of everyone on my team, I want to offer you an apology.
  • It’s absolutely our fault and for that I apologize. This should never have happened.

And our customers…

Almost all our customers were friendly professionals who appreciated our dedication, even when we couldn’t come up with the solution immediately. In no way do I want to imply otherwise. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t have made this post very interesting.

* The paper, called “An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies,” was published in the May 2016 issue of Negotiation and Conflict Management Research. (You can read the abstract online.) The academics — lead author Roy Lewicki, professor emeritus of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business; Robert Lount, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State; and Beth Polin, assistant professor of management at Eastern Kentucky University — presented fictional apologies to 755 people.

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Read more about the 3 dimensions of service and how you can use them in your business communication. In the video, Dr. Fons Trompenaars answers the question “How do intercultural skills connect to communication skills?” Please contact us for more information.


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Practical advice on implementing the 70-20-10 model

The 70-20-10 model has been around for a few years already. It reflects the increasing awareness that people learn not just through “traditional” training. Research shows that we actually acquire most of the knowledge, skills and behaviours we need to perform our jobs through actual experience and working alongside others. The 70-20-10 model has its origins in the work of McCall, Eichinger and Lombardo from the Centre for Creative Leadership.

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Their book, “The Career Architect” (1996), is based on empirical research and concluded that successful managers learned in 3 different ways:

  • 70 percent of learning comes from real life on-the-job experiences, performing tasks and problem solving
  • 20 percent of learning comes from feedback, working with and observing role models
  • 10 percent from “traditional” training

Initially focussing on management and leadership development, this conclusion has since been extended to other types of professional learning and development. Today the 70-20-10 model is being used by Learning & Development departments in a wide-range of multinationals operating across a broad range of businesses. (e.g. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Nike, Dell, Goldman Sachs, Maersk, L’Oréal, and Caterpillar)

Why implement the 70-20-10 model

Whether you are a learning & development specialist, a line manager, a trainer or training provider, or an employee, you should take time to reconsider and refocus your efforts. By doing this you can:

  • shift the focus and expectations towards more efficient and effective types of learning and development
  • ensure that time and money invested in learning and development makes a greater impact
  • support your business by keeping people in the workplace while they are learning

The model has an attractive simplicity, although the exact ratios are contended. As a trainer and manager of a training company I think it’s important to see the model as a philosophy and not a rigid recipe.  The key is understanding and accepting that the majority of learning actually happens outside of the classroom, and that any learning and development program should take this into account and proactively support this.  It doesn’t mean that traditional training is no longer relevant in the 21st century, but rather that this traditional training is just a part of learning and development strategies.

“Almost without exception, in my experience, organisations that have adopted 70-20-10 have achieved greater impact on performance at organisational and individual level at lower cost than was being achieved beforehand.”

Charles Jennings

How to implement the 70-20-10 model

The 70-20-10 model has proven to positively impact organisations in enhancing learning and development programs. Based on what we’ve seen our clients do, and what we’ve tried ourselves, here are some concrete and practical ways to begin implementing the 70-20-10 model in your organization.

Raise awareness and build commitment through conversation 

Everyone involved needs to be brought on board with the idea that learning and development is not just about going on a course.  My own experience as a manager is that it is relatively easy to get people to see 70-20-10 as “common sense”. These conversations are essential as the 70-20-10 model depends on L&D working closely with line managers, and on line managers communicating with their staff. Managers need to be aware of the pivotal hands-on role they play in developing their staff, and employees need to appreciate the context for new decisions.

Implementing the 70-20-10 model is not a cost-cutting exercise – replacing “training” by a loose learning-by-doing approach. It’s actually a quality driven initiative, aiming to make sure that the company is developing to meet future challenges.

Scott Levey

If, like Target Training, you’re a medium sized company, these conversations are reasonably manageable. If, like many of our clients, you’re part of a larger organization then start small. Find a business unit where managers are comfortable and confident wearing the “developing people” hat. Speaking with our clients, many of whom are multinationals, the general consensus has been that introducing the 70-20-10 model step by step has proved to be the most effective approach. By connecting with managers who have a genuine interest in developing their teams and the employees within them, the model organically spreads to other areas.

Enable experiential learning

This is key when we consider that 70% of learning comes from “doing”. Giving employees the opportunity to learn through challenging yet achievable experiences is one the most powerful and practical tools in a manager’s toolbox. Experiential learning can come through new roles and equally occur within existing roles. Three approaches we’ve seen clients benefit from are:

  • extending the scope of responsibility and control
  • enabling and increasing decision-making power
  • expecting staff to build new relationships (e.g. other business units, senior managers, virtual teams , suppliers, partners, clients…)

 

Be prepared to accept a compromise between optimal efficiency and developmental opportunities

You can expect to see specific requests upwards, where an employee is keen to get involved in a challenging project specifically to build their skills. Naturally they won’t be as effective or efficient as somebody who can already perform this role – so look at it as a learning and development initiative rather than just a question of resources.

Engage with internal and external trainers and training providers early on

Discuss how to connect the dots between on-the-job, social and formal learning. The goal is to identify critical skills and behaviours and then look at building and reinforcing these using all options.

Coaching and mentoring

These are great ways of integrating social learning into a traditional program. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, and both draw on a similar skill set I’d argue there are differences. For me mentoring is deliberately connecting an experienced person (the mentor) with a less experienced one (the mentee). The mentor could be a colleague, a manager, or the line manager. The mentor then tutors, shares experiences, models, counsels and offers feedback.  Coaching does not necessarily imply directly related experience, tends to be less directive, and is aimed at improving performance in specific areas.  Regardless of how you define them, both approaches have a lot to offer.

When it comes to traditional training the key is early and explicit management involvement

The single most powerful step a manager can take is to clearly explain to their staff  why the training is relevant to the business and that there are clear expectations. This simple step drives motivation, participation and transfer. This transfer is crucial and I’d suggest that any traditional formal training has to integrate a transfer plan. In this simple document the employees are challenged to consider how they will actually transfer the learning into their workplace, when they’ll do this, who else needs to be involved and how will they know when they have achieved this.

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What makes a great trainer?

We recently had the opportunity to ask a selection of managers what they think are the qualities of a great trainer. At the end of the session, they were pretty much in agreement. Their collated answers are summarized below.

Variety and flexibility

Have a wide range of activities to use flexibly in different training situations. These activities should accommodate different learning styles. The trainer also needs to vary the training approaches and the interaction patterns in the training room. They need to know how to make sure participants get the most from the training.
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Creative and innovative

The more personalized and interactive the activities are, the more immediately transferable the results will be. A great trainer will feel the reward of delivering something that really adds value for the participants. Great trainers are passionate about what they do. They will want to experiment with new ideas and activities, each time reflecting on its success and development.

Know the audience

It’s not always possible to know every participant in advance. But a great trainer will have done the research. They’ll know about, for example, what the client does, what their challenges are, and how they expect the training will help them reach their goals.

Embrace change

With new training trends, new technologies, and the ongoing cycle of change in business, the trainer’s ability to adapt will make him/her/the training more effective. Great trainers drive change. They introduce new techniques and elements to the training – a blended learning or virtual learning element for example.

Focus on results

Great trainers work with the end in mind. Every activity should consider the goals of the participants and learning progress is measured. The trainer looks for immediate results (reaction to the session) and long-term results (behaviour on the job).

Approachable

Having a genuine, active interest in people is just one of the qualities of a great trainer. The trainer’s ability in building relationships is a major part in ensuring an effective outcome for all stakeholders.

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We offer a number of train the trainer programs in English and German. Not all the information is currently on our website. Here’s a good place to start.

Managing high performers – the Miles Davis way

What does Miles Davis have to do with managing high performers in business? Good question. Miles Davis is rightfully acclaimed as an icon of jazz, but he didn’t make music alone.  Throughout his career as a bandleader, Miles worked with other iconic figures of jazz to create music that stands even today as among the highest forms of the genre. John Coltrane, Herbbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, “Philly” Joe Jones, Keith Jarrett, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and many others among the giants of jazz graduated from “Miles University”. Miles Davis, time and time again, brought together some of the most talented musicians in their own right to work with him in his musical exploration. How did he do it? This article will explore the lessons of Miles Davis in the art of leading the best to be their best. eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers



Lesson 1: Be excellent, publicly

Miles Davis was able, on many occasions, to put together bands of some of the most talented musicians of their time throughout his career. Miles’ reputation clearly preceded him. Receiving a call from Miles was seen as having achieved a high level of musicianship. But that wasn’t the only reason so many musicians with promising solo careers agreed to support Miles. They believed they would learn something based on Miles’ excellence as a musician and band leader. Miles greatness was easy to see through his performances, compositions and recordings.

How easy is it for high performers to recognize your excellence? There is a tendency among many leaders not to “toot their own horns” about their own performance and accomplishments. While a leader may not need to sing his own praises, it is important that someone does it for him. A leader’s excellence will attract others who want to achieve the same level of competence, while increasing the leader’s  credibility and ability to guide, mentor and teach.

Lesson 2: Don’t hire a trumpet player

Miles’ great combos included players with different styles and tendencies. He hired players who would complement his playing and each other’s. He didn’t need anyone who sounded like him because he had that covered.

In business, it can be difficult to avoid the temptation to hire people who mirror our backgrounds, experiences, styles and tendencies. After all those competencies served us well in our careers. It is important to remember as a leader that our success is a reflection of the past while we are hiring for the future.  The pace of change doesn’t only require different technological skills it also requires new communication and leadership skills from those current leaders needed at earlier stages of their careers. Hiring teams with complementary but different skills and areas of expertise broadens the set of problems they can solve and increases their impact on the organization.

“It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 3: Play together and produce excellence

Miles’ bands grew into cohesive units through performances, not rehearsals. Each performance created a wealth of learning opportunities for Miles and his band mates. The urgency of the moment created a focus and intensity that would be very difficult if not impossible to reproduce in a rehearsal. By focusing on playing together and learning from the experience, Miles could correct on the spot, encourage and support his band to take risks, push themselves and reach new heights of excellence.

How often do you perform with your high performers? Finding opportunities to produce excellence together will give you more chances to learn from each other.

Lesson 4: Don’t tell them what to do, tell them what not to do

Related to lesson three, play together and produce excellence, is the style of debriefing and guidance Miles offered to his band mates following their performances.  Miles didn’t put a group together hearing the music he hoped they would produce in his mind, then correcting them to come as close as possible to his vision. Miles believed in an experimental approach to developing new music. When reflecting about what took place in performances, Miles would say what his band mates shouldn’t do but he wouldn’t tell them what to do. He hired them for their expertise on their individual instruments. He wanted them to bring their ideas to the table so they could take ownership of their performances and the product of the group.

The high performers in your organization reached a level of success before becoming members of your team. When managing high performers, take advantage of their creativity and input by channelling, not directing their contributions to the organization.

“If you don’t know what to play, play nothing.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 5: Listen to save the day

Deep listening is the art of hearing not only what is said but also what isn’t said. On stage, Miles had the opportunity to lay out and listen to what his band mates were playing.  There were times when while reaching for new forms of expression, the band lost its way. By listening to what wasn’t there, Miles could enter the fray at the right moment with the phrase that would bring the other players back together again, finding a groove that was satisfying to the musicians and the audience.

Look for your opportunities, especially in conflict, to find what isn’t being said and remind the participants in the argument that they are on the same team. Listen for agreement that the parties may be missing, summarize, and encourage them to listen deeply to each other when emotions run high. “What I am hearing is…” is a great way to interject.

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”
Miles Davis

Lesson 6: Talk about life, not music

With our busy lives it may be tempting to leave work at work and leave life at home.  We can get through our workdays without sharing with others the experiences that shaped us outside of the work environment. Miles believed knowing the personal histories of his band mates was crucial to being able to know them musically. He invested time in learning about the backgrounds of his band mates and he shared his own. This sharing created an environment of trust that helped his musicians to work with each other more closely.

Be willing to be more open when you are managing high performers as it can lead to more effective, trusting relationships. A deeper bond of respect can increase loyalty to you, and commitment to your organization and its goals.

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On leadership: Here are a  few blog posts on the topic.  If you are interested to learn more about our leadership skills seminars, please contact us, or take a look at the very popular seminar “A practical toolbox for managers”.

 

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8 questions about experiential training answered

training providerslargeHave you ever tried teaching a child a new skill? Take learning to swim as an example. You could give a detailed description of the process and then expect them to remember and follow your instructions, or you could let them get on with it, learn in their own way. Learning in their own way will certainly result in some frustrations, but through this experience of trial and error they are more likely to remember for themselves the best way to get to the result.

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We think that experiencing real situations and learning from what you experience is key to all learning. And so, clearly, do a lot of big thinkers before us. Benjamin Franklin said “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. Long before him, Aristotle said “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”.

James Culver

What is experiential training?

Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience – and more specifically the process of “learning through reflecting on what you’re doing / just did”. It’s been around for a very long time.

Why is experiential training so powerful in management and soft skills solutions?

The gentlemen I mentioned above were onto something. These observations still ring true today, especially when we want people to learn behaviors to apply in the workplace. Learning by doing is great for children, but as adults in the workplace we can really add the additional aspect of reflecting on how our behaviors affect outcomes. This is the experiential advantage.

How can experiential training help you retain information and embed behaviors?

Dr. Igor Kokcharov’s did some research into this and came up with this pretty useful pyramid. If you take a look at it, you can see how learning by doing with coach led reflection and practice gives participants the best chance to retain necessary information.

 pyramidexplearning

 

Who’s using the experiential training approach?

A lot of adult learning approaches in a broad range of fields from corporate to military, and from emergency services to care work, make use of this experiential advantage. Business schools use the approach with simulation exercises, and critical incident gaming can be found in government agencies and board rooms alike. At Target Training, our experience is that experiential training can do much more. It can increase awareness of behaviors, particularly those with negative consequences. It else has the power to challenge current approaches in a developmental, non-judgmental way.  If experiential training is established, we can focus on the individual’s needs and deliver tangible change. This fits perfectly when developing soft and management skills.

What does experiential training look like in the training environment?

Put very, very simply, experiential training = do + debrief + do it again.  You might be thinking that sounds pretty boring – why go to training to do the same thing a couple of times over? Think about the result you’re looking for though. You’re going to training not to learn a bunch of theory, but to be able to go back to your workplace and do something differently. Experiential training is all about working in the real world.  Whether in a well-designed activity or on-the job, you behave the way you do. After observing you in action, the trainer/coach leads you through a consequence-based conversation, talking you through the behaviors he or she observed. They also link what they have seen with alternatives to help improve the outcome. You develop new skills and can then apply them to a new experience. You learn to recognize “triggering events” in your work environment and can choose to use the new behavior in training – and beyond.

How does it work?

Here are some of the elements which are key to successful experiential training:

Training environment

By creating a positive, encouraging environment in the training room. This help you to act as you normally do and feel comfortable with trying out new skills. The more you can share the behavior-consequence based feedback the trainer gives you, the easier it will be to identify and close any behavior gaps.

Debriefing

The debriefing stage is key. New information necessary to support new behaviors is introduced here.

Varied interaction and activities

Challenging, timed group and pair work problem solving activities to raise the stress level so participants communicate as themselves.

What can I expect from my trainer?

The trainer’s role is not to present you with lots of information. They act more as a coach and are responsible for creating a developmental, experiment-friendly environment in the training room.

What do I need to do to make experiential training a success?

Be open. To be effective, experiential soft skills training requires you to fully participate in experiences, as well as being willing to reflect and identify behavior gaps with others. None of us would feel comfortable about learning to swim through guided discussion or a PowerPoint presentation. Experiential soft skills training puts you in the deep water of communication situations. This allows you to see a need for new behaviors that will lead to better consequences on the job. You practice these behaviors through experiences in a safe, leaner-centered environment. And will then feel ready to dive back into your working environment to try out these new behaviors.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

We work with the 70-20-10 model. My colleagues and I are available to tell you more about how we can implement the right training for your needs. To help you find a training provider, please download our eBook THE DEFINITIVE CHECKLIST FOR QUALIFYING TRAINING PROVIDERS.

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Apologizing via email – phrases

Being wrong doesn’t feel like anything, and there’s nothing wrong with being wrong. It happens to everybody. Realizing you’ve made a mistake can be difficult and perhaps embarrassing – I’ve been there – but letting others know that you got it wrong is important to healthy relationships. You can do this in person, on the phone, by email, WhatsApp, a personal note or a post-it. Every medium has a different impact, every person has different preferences on how they want to receive/give an apology. In the end, just remember, apologizing is going to make you seem human, regardless of the outcome.


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When is an apology via email appropriate?

It’s not always possible or practical to meet someone in person. Apologizing on the phone can be difficult if you don’t know the other person, or if you’re just not very good at apologizing over the phone.

But, when: …

  • Time is of the essence
  • You want everyone to get the same apology at the same time
  • You have a lot to say
  • Your apology is formal
  • You want or expect very little to nothing in return

…then an email might be appropriate.

The perfect apology

I found this via Google. If your apology contains the following…:

  • give a detailed account of the situation
  • acknowledge the hurt or damage done
  • take responsibility
  • recognize your/the company’s role in the situation
  • include a statement of regret
  • ask for forgiveness
  • promise that it won’t happen again
  • provide a form of restitution (if possible)

… it’s pretty much a perfect business apology. Here are a few phrases to get you started, related to some of the above categories:

Apologize

  1. Please accept my apologies.
  2. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to..
  3. (I’m) sorry. I didn’t realize the impact of…
  4. Please accept our deepest apologies for…
  5. Please accept my sincere apologies for…
  6. Please accept this as my formal apology for…
  7. Please allow me to apologize for…
  8. I would like to express my deep regrets for…
  9. I would like to apologize on behalf of our company.
  10. Please accept my apology for…
  11. I apologize for my failure to…
  12. I’m particularly sorry for…

Acknowledge/recognize

  1. We appreciate that this caused you inconvenience…
  2. I understand that our actions meant…
  3. I can imagine that you felt like…
  4. We see that our actions impacted you unnecessarily…
  5. As a result of our decision, our relationship was affected…

Explain

  1. In our efforts to optimize our distribution process, we overlooked…
  2. The defect/problem was caused by…
  3. The error was due to…
  4. Our internal communication failed. As a result…

Promise

  1. We’re convinced that the changes we’ve implemented will prevent this from happening again.
  2. In the future, our focus will be on…, so that this situation won’t repeat itself.
  3. We’ll be increasing our efforts when it comes to…, so that in the future…
  4. We’ve increased our efforts to ensure that…
  5. I can promise you that the highest quality standards will be met going forward.

The SPASS model

When it comes to writing the email, structuring your email can be difficult. The SPASS model is perfect for email apologies. It’s simple and easy to remember. SPASS = Situation – Problem – Action – Say Sorry. That’s it. Finally, I apologize for keeping you from what you were doing, with another very long post.

Be great!

 

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Writing status updates: Tips and phrases

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The key to any successful relationship – business or personal – is trust. Clear, transparent and timely communication helps to build this trust. I spend much of my time providing on-the-job training and support to a logistics client. That support is often in the form of helping them write emails to customers and suppliers updating them on the statuses of certain orders and deliveries. My client often needs to let their customers or suppliers ‘know where they stand,’ in the form of email status updates on orders or shipments: ‘We have a new delivery date.’ ‘We have just determined the requested item is out of stock.’ ‘There is a problem with customs clearance.’ ‘The item has been shipped!’ Whatever the message, my client is dedicated to communicating professionally and to keeping their partner’s trust. Just as with any email, you’ll have to decide whether the tone is formal, informal or neutral. But there are a few things to remember when updating people or letting them know the status of an order, a payment, a shipment, etc.

1. Always let people know why you’re writing

This is true for almost all emails. It’s less crucial if you have an ongoing email ‘conversation’ with someone.

  • I’m writing to let you know about order number….
  • I have some information for you about…
  • I wanted to update you about…
  • We’re writing regarding….
  • We’re contacting you regarding your order number …

The “I” is a personal statement. Using “we” implies you are writing as a company, but are open and friendly. You can use the phrases above in less formal situations, or if you have an existing relationship with the recipient. But if the situation is more formal, then there are better, stronger phrases to use:

  • The purpose of this email is to update you on the status of….
  • This is to inform you about the delivery of…
  • Following is the status of order…
  • Please find attached a summary of …
  • This is to inform you that the delivery of ______ has been scheduled

Adopting the 3rd person instead of the 1st person almost always makes your emails more formal.  Avoid terms like “We hereby inform you” – this feels very legalistic.




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2. Give them the news, good or bad, as simply as possible

Good news is easy:

  • I am pleased to inform you that….
  • I have some good news about your delivery of…
  • I have spoken with the forwarder and am happy to say that…

Bad news is tricky. No one wants bad news, so don’t beat about the bush.

  • Unfortunately, the shipment has been delayed until…
  • Unfortunately, the material you ordered is no longer available.
  • I/We regret to inform you that…”
  • I am afraid we are not able to…
  • Please accept my/our apologies for this misunderstanding/delay/inconvenience.
  • We’re deeply sorry that …
  • Due to the airline employees’ strike, the order is grounded in Frankfurt.
  • It has come to our attention that the deadline that was agreed to cannot be met.

Giving bad news can be very complicated. It’s important that you acknowledge that the bad news is a problem or an inconvenience. Be brief. Be respectful. Be understanding. Explain but be careful that is doesn’t seem like you’re making excuses. Offer some alternative or solution, if possible:

  • We apologise for this inconvenience. We hope the strike will be resolved by Friday and that the shipments will return to normal by the following Monday.
  • Although we cannot provide the items xyz123 you requested, we can offer the item abc456, which are comparable.

3. Develop trust by making yourself available to them

You’ve probably seen them hundreds of times but they work!

  • If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me
  • If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
  • Please contact me with any questions you might have about this.
  • Please let me know how I can assist you with any other questions.

Consistency is key

If you adopt a formal tone at the beginning, try to maintain that throughout the email. Or, if you decide it should be friendly and less formal at the beginning, stay less formal and friendly through the entire email.

 

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What does Blended Learning really mean?

Blended Learning (BL) is one of those terms that is kicked around freely in the world of training and development. The only problem is that there are so many different interpretations of what it actually means. For some people it is virtual training, for some it is e-learning, others might think it is e-learning with a mixture of classroom time, and so on. A great starting point is to think about the meaning of the word “blend”. The chances are, you have a blender in your kitchen. What do you do with your blender? Usually you pick the ingredients you want to make your smoothie, soup, marinade or whatever else you might be making. You pick those ingredients in the quantities that you like, and you hit the blend button to get the result you are looking for. That’s what blended learning is: choose your ingredients, adjust the quantities, blend, and you’ve got your result.

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Why should you consider adopting a blended approach to learning in your organization?

Research by the National Training Laboratory (World Bank) shows that the amount of new information trainees retain depends on how the information is presented. The graph below shows the retention rates for the six most common methods of teaching new information:

retention graph Logically then, one mode of delivery is not sufficient to achieve the intended results from training programs. The more you blend, the better the results. And consequently, the better your return on investment is.  Blending is therefore not really a training option,it’s a must.

What can you put in your BL toolbox?

The different ways of training (training modalities) are important to understand. Your 5 main choices are:

  • Face-to-face training (seminars, classes, workshops, peer coaching)
  • On-the-job training
  • Wikis and community learning
  • Webinars / Virtual classrooms
  • Web-based Training (WBTs)

At the most basic level, blended learning could be that you set home work after a training intervention and follow up on it, BUT you can do much better than that!  In this mobile age, there are literally hundreds of tools out there you can choose them. You’ll need to take a look at them, evaluate them, and figure out which ones are best for you and your organization. And if you’re not happy with any of them, there are easy-to-use platforms that allow you to develop your own.

How can you get that perfect blend for your training program?

Deciding which elements to use when isn’t easy, but there are tools out there. You need to decide which tools are best suited to each step along the learning journey you are designing. Try using a decision tree to help you with this.

What are the main obstacles?

The 5 main obstacles we’ve seen clients face are:

  1. When are you asking your participants to do the elements which are not face-to-face? In a lot of cases, this has to happen after work and within their own time. Your staff have to complete certain elements, but they need to be given time and space to do this. This means a higher investment of course, but you can then expect that the participants will work through these blended elements. The level of motivation will also be much higher, and that will mean that the participants are actually likely to learn more.
  2. The fear of technology. Blended Learning does not actually have to involve a technology based part, but invariably these days it will. Some people are easily able to take on new IT tools, while others find this more challenging, and ultimately scary.
  3. Getting and sustaining true virtual engagement. I speak from experience as a participant. I have joined an online course with chat functions to help interaction between the participants and tutor. For the first few modules I’ve been full of energy and assigned time for the training, but after that practical realities and operational issues have got in the way, and the training has slipped further down my to-do list (especially when there are no time constraints on the training). That’s a big shame, but it is a reality, and one that I’m not alone in facing.
  4. Disconnected content. Successful Blended Learning involves teaching and deepening the same content using different modalities and a range of tools. In several programs I’ve seen there has been little connection between the content of the face-to-face training and the virtual elements. Rather than building on knowledge, new input is being given in each setting. This may be because there is so much input, but the result will be that a lot has been covered, but little has been learnt.
  5. Unrealistic expectations. Just because a participant has attended a webinar, it does not mean that they actually know the content. You need to have seen facts several times and be able to relate them to a relevant context in order to learn them. It’s only when you need the information in reality that you will see how successful this has been. If no opportunity arises over the months following this training element, then it is likely that participants will not remember much of the session. Blended Learning can help by offering further tools to aid retention outside the training room – but application is essential!

Blended Learning is finding the right blend of training tools to suit your individual organizational needs. Finding this blend will help improve learning retention as well as providing resources that participants can refer to outside face-to-face training. On the flip side, if you’re investing in or designing a Blended Learning program for your organization, then you need to make sure that the expectations and outcomes set are realistic. For the training to be motivational, participants need to have time, space and the necessary technical equipment. If you have all that in place, then the chances are you’ll see success.