Soft skills blog articles

Losing my mind on a deserted island: My challenges of working virtually

No, I don’t think I am really losing my mind, but some days I feel like it.  As Head of Sales for Target Training I work virtually each day.  This means that I am working at clients’ offices, on a train or at home in my office.  I am constantly emailing, messaging, phoning and videoconferencing with my colleagues.  There are weeks where I don’t see any of my colleagues in person. I love the flexibility and autonomy of working virtually.  There are a lot of advantages and it fits my lifestyle.  This way of working is becoming the norm for many professionals and with it come challenges.  The key is to make sure you address the challenges before they start to affect your, and your team’s productivity.

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I was in a client meeting a few weeks back discussing a virtual teams training project with a department leader.  We were looking into his team’s struggles in an effort to customize our training approach.  During our talk, he used the phrase ‘…with everyone working on their own little deserted island..’  when he was discussing his virtual team spread over 5 countries.  It struck me as a great analogy and got me thinking about my team.

So, I took a few minutes and wrote down the biggest challenges I personally face when working virtually.  I recommend doing the same as the exercise helped me raise awareness of what is happening and what I can do to improve things.  I had quite a long list after 10 minutes, but here are the three main struggles I thought I’d share:

1. Trust

Trusting the people that you work with is essential.  Without trust; conflict, misunderstanding and communication breakdowns occur.  In my opinion, trust is something that comes from two people investing in their working relationship.  This can be purely professional or a mix of personal and professional.  Trust can mean different things to different people, but I think most people would agree that it is easier to build when you see someone face to face on a regular basis.  You don’t always have that luxury when working in dispersed teams.  Building trust takes more effort and work.  What can you do to build trust in your virtual teams?

2. Email etiquette

Love them or hate them, emails aren’t going anywhere no matter what you might have heard or read. Emails can be a great way to quickly distribute information all over the world to a number of people.  They can also easily offend, frustrate and demotivate colleagues due to the smallest word, phrase or omission of something.  When you don’t have the ability to see someone face to face when communicating, you need to make sure your message and tone reflect what you are trying to say.  Even then, the reader may interpret things differently based what is happening on their ‘deserted island’ that particular day.  What should you do?  Use the phone when in doubt and establish some email rules for your virtual teams. 

3. Unnecessary virtual meetings/calls

There are different opinions out there on whether to have weekly catch up meetings scheduled or not, regardless of urgent discussion points. In my opinion, the fewer the calls the better.  My schedule changes quickly and needs to flexible to accommodate client demands.  So, when I see a weekly call on my calendar I look at it as a barrier to productivity, unless it is about something to move a project forward.  What can your team do instead of the weekly teleconferences?

 

As a kid, I used to fantasize about being on my own deserted island and doing what I wanted, the way I wanted, every day. That is my current reality, minus the beach. Working virtually is reality for most us and taking a few steps to improve our communication and relationships goes a long way. Give a few of the tips included in the links above a try and see how it goes!

 

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Linking and building to successfully influence others

In today’s business world of cross-functional initiatives, matrix structures and virtual teams the ability to influence others is becoming even more essential if you want to succeed. And no matter what your influencing style is, to effectively influence somebody you need to connect with them. If you’re trying to influence somebody it means that you have differing opinions and ideas. One of the simplest ways to influence somebody is by “linking and building”: Find and focus on the agreement … and then build on this. Most people are open to sharing and discussing their opinions and ideas – and most of us are aware that our ideas are not the only ones valid. What we want is to be taken seriously and feel listened to.  This is where “linking” comes in – if you link your ideas to their ideas it clearly shows you have listened to and understood their thoughts and feelings.  And when you build on somebody’s ideas it means you are validating their contributions.  This builds rapport and relationships WHICH then makes the process of influencing so much easier...
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 5 things to keep in mind

1. Is the link already there?Do you just need to draw their attention to it? Or will you need to build the link step by step? If so you need to find some common ground – this could be a shared goal, a previous experience or perhaps the two of you are seeing the same current challenges?  Open questions like “Where do you think we need to go?” or “What are your thoughts?” work well here …

2. When you find your “link”, be explicit about what you like / share about their views, opinion, drives etc. For example. “It’s clear to me that we both want to make sure any changes we make don’t cost people more time” or “What I really like about your approach is that you’re considering the end-user first. I feel the same way”

3. Focus on positives and use positive language. Most people are very rarely completely wrong, just as you are very rarely completely right.  Understanding this means that it is always possible to approach something by looking for the “right” ideas e.g. “What I like about your suggestion is …” thereby creating a positive spiral and rapport – as opposed to focusing on what you don’t like e.g. “ I can’t imagine this working” thereby creating a downwards negative spiral (source – George Prince – The Practice of Creativity).

4. There are going to be differences. If there weren’t you wouldn’t be trying to influence each other! But make an effort to delay focusing on differences until some bridges have been built. When you turn to them, link back to the shared elements you’ve found and be explicit about your reasons. “It seems that we agree on the causes of the problem and we have different ideas about what needs doing. Why do you think this is?” Don’t assume the everything is obvious!

5. And finally as you progress do continually clarify. Use language like “So what you’re saying is …” and “Let me just check I’m understanding you … “. This shows your understanding of their views, ideas and thoughts AND actually ensures you do actually understand. Build your bridge on concrete foundations.

Linking and building is just one of many practical techniques from our influencing seminars that can help you successfully influence others. And it starts with getting all parties to face in the same direction. Please contact if you’d like to know more.

 

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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

Presenting in a foreign language

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I’ve been involved in business English training since I left university, and over the years I’ve helped hundreds of executives, managers and experts improve their presentations in English. I’ve worked with confident presenters, nervous presenters, boring presenters and inspiring presenters. Some of them have struggled with their presentations skills, others with their content and many with their English skills. All of these people came to mind when I was preparing a presentation in German. It was a sure case of the shoe being on the other foot for once and I was quickly reminded that knowing what to do and doing it aren’t the same!

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The challenges

The presentation I needed to make was  part of a kick-off event for an exciting new Blended Learning project with Global English at one of our clients. I was going to be one of three presenters, speaking to a group of around fifty German HR specialists and managers. As this was a high profile flag ship project, the kick-off needed to build interest and motivation. Doing it in German didn’t worry me too much – but I knew it was going to be functional rather than elegant. Having learnt most of my German by “doing” rather than “studying”, I sacrifice accuracy for communication. (My German trainer tells me my German is CEFR B2. I think she’s just being nice – my grammar ist nicht gut.)
So the first thing I did was sit down to consider the advice I’d give a client faced with the same situation in reverse:

  • Identify my key messages before I do anything else – and make sure I can phrase and rephrase these
  • Keep it relevant by using examples and stories
  • Don’t try to learn the presentation word for word – it will make me nervous and inflexible
  • But do think through and practice my introduction in advance – by getting off on the right foot I knew I’d relax
  • Never rely on prompt cards – they’ll just get in my way and stop me building rapport with audience – and for the same reasons don’t read from my slides
  • And most importantly – don’t get hung up on the language – they are there to hear what I’m saying – not how I’m saying it

The presentation

After some preparation and practice I drove to Bonn to make the presentation. I felt that my message was clear and the audience seemed interested and convinced. There’d been some nodding heads, some laughter in the right places, and a few questions. Job well done, I thought.

The feedback

Reflecting and debriefing is always important if you want to get better, and there were a couple of people in the audience who I knew and respected. With this in mind, I asked them how they felt I had done, and what I could do better next time. Their answer was clear and consistent – “Sometimes you spoke a bit too fast” and “It was hard to hear you in some places”. Ouch! I thought about the feedback – and then replayed my presentation in my mind.

Upon further reflection, I realised that when I began to struggle with my German I unconsciously began to speak a little quieter. Although I knew what I wanted to say I wasn’t sure about how I was saying it – and without realizing it I turned the power down. I also realised that when I began to struggle with my German I unintentionally spoke faster to hide my mistakes.

Because I’d forgotten to remind myself about a common problem that many people face when presenting in a foreign language – nerves mean they forget the 4Ps.

The 4Ps

  • Power – speaking audibly and clearly
  • Pitch – using the stress and tone of your voice to emphasize key points
  • Pace – matching the speed at which you speak to the message and the audience
  • Pause – playing with silence and breaks to draw attention to build suspense, interest, draw attention to key points and signal thematic changes

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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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What is active listening, how do I develop it and should I be making little noises?

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Listening skills are an integral part of many of our training solutions, e.g.  Influencing, Managing Conflict and Facilitating meetings all include practical components on listening skills. However, we had a rare request from a pharmaceutical client seeking training focusing solely on active listening for their senior managers.  The new board member strongly believed that improving her manager’s listening skills would have a major impact on the quality of relationships and the effectiveness of her team. And she was right … the seminar started and almost immediately, one manager asked me, “Active listening – that’s just when you make little noises, right?”


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What is active listening?

Our tactful answer was “not quite”.  Active listening (as the name suggests) is when you actively and fully concentrate on what is being said, rather than just passively hearing the words.  Communication theory breaks what is being said into two elements – the content and the context. Content is the what – the data, the facts, the information etc. Context refers to everything else that is going on when somebody speaks with you – the relationship, the background, the situation, the emotions etc.  Active listening involves paying close attention to the content being shared AND the contextual components between the listener (the receiver) and the speaker (the sender). Skilled active listeners can hear the what PLUS interest, emotion, concern, energy and other contextual factors from the speaker’s perspective. And they can hear what isn’t being said.

Why invest energy and effort in building your active listening skills?

The benefits of active listening are many.  To start with you’ll hear more … much more. You can enrich your understanding through gathering information and understanding the emotions. You will ask better questions through noticing the speaker’s possible intent, and not only their words. It helps you avoid or diffuse conflicts. Better listening means that solutions and discussion are stronger. Active listening is a building block for open, trusting and accountable relationships.

7 practical tips for active listening

Pay attention

I mean REALLY pay attention to what is being said. Put aside distracting thoughts, try to block out environmental factors (side conversations, people watching etc) and listen holistically.

Know your obstacles to listening

Everyone is guilty of having “inner conversations” when listening – and whether it be judging, dreaming, solving or rehearsing what you want to say these common obstacles get in the way of active listening. Check out this blog post for more information or download the .pdf version here.

Develop countermeasures for your obstacles

Self talk to interrupt your distraction and refocus and internal paraphrasing can help. Basically, this sounds like you telling yourself “Stop it and focus on them not you

Listen for context

Approach a meeting with listening tasks such as learning the interests of others in the room and listening for the valued being created in the conversation.

Dialogue approach

Listen with a mind to understand what is being said and not judge what is being said.

Listen with your eyes

Listen to what they are saying, how they are saying it, “listen” to their body language and “listen” to their eyes.

Provide feedback

It is incredibly difficult not to filter, assume or judge when we listen. As an active listener your role is just to listen. Reflecting, restating and asking questions are essential – just make sure you are doing this to check you are understanding the content and context and not to discuss, negotiate, argue, influence, correct etc.

So should I be making little noises when I actively listen, or not ?

Of course we also send messages when we listen IF we listen actively and affectively. In western cultures we expect some feedback from our listeners that indicates interest, from non-verbal messages such as nodding, smiles, eye contact and posture to small verbal comments like “uh huh” or “ “I see”. Do keep in mind thought that not every culture listens in the same way – and likewise not every individual listens in the same way.  A lack of “ums” and “aahs” doesn’t always mean somebody is not listening.

To wrap up

Active listening helps you to create an environment that supports deeper, more honest and authentic communication. Whether you are managing people, negotiating, discussing, influencing, problem solving, why wouldn’t you invest the energy and effort in becoming a better listener?

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DEEP accountability conversations – How to hold your colleagues accountable

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According to Shelly Setzer of the Table Group, peer-to-peer accountability is “probably the toughest behavior to master on a team”. And as cross functional, matrix and virtual teams are becoming the norm, holding each other accountable to team goals and commitments is becoming even more challenging.. As a team member, you aren’t “the boss”, which means you don’t have the levers of reward and coercion and in some cases, your team may just be one among many for your team members. So how exactly do you approach conversations with colleagues who aren’t doing what they said they would do, without the benefit of formal power ? This is where the DEEP model comes in. The DEEP model is designed to help you have a clear approach to tough accountability conversations. It helps you and your team focus on solutions when accountability problems arise. These kinds of conversations are rarely easy, but with DEEP you can approach them with confidence.



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Requirements for the DEEP approach

You need clear commitments with the team (not tacit, unconfirmed agreements). Your colleagues need to trust your intentions and believe you have their and the projects interest at heart.  You need to foster a climate of creative conflict so everyone can be heard and see themselves reflected in team decisions. AND most of all, you need the courage to have what is often a tough conversation. Tough conversations are … tough. There are no tricks or techniques that make them less so, but here are 3 fundamentals to consider:

  • Turn up – Be present in the conversation, shut out unhelpful self-talk, keep control of yourself and focus on the conversation and the outcome.
  • Stay there – Show you are committed to the conversation. Don’t cut it short when things get awkward.
  • Speak out – say what you think and feel and take responsibility for your words.

The DEEP model, step by step

Step 1 – Describe the situation – What happened as I see it

This is a review of the commitment and shortfall without judgment.  Stick with “I” statements rather than “you” statements and try to describe the process that led to the commitment. If you can’t bring up the shortfall without becoming too emotional and judging your conversation partner, then ask yourself 2 questions:

  • Is the timing right?
  • Am I the right person to have this accountability conversation?

Step 2 – Explain the consequences – The result of what happened

The consequences of the shortfall you mention here should be concrete and observable. What actually happened because they didn’t meet their commitment is far more important than what could happen. Finding consequences your partner already cares about adds impact.

Step 3 -Explore options – What we can do about it

Generate at least three options when considering what to do. The “at least three” is very important – is helps you to avoid binary thinking and unnecessarily taking a position.  Brainstorming options together is critical.  The together points you both in the same direction, reaffirms the “team” and ensures you are on the same page before assessing your options, Make it a distinct step with a marker e.g. “Ok, together let’s now brainstorm what we can do” – this moves your conversation forward.

Step 4 – Problem solve together – What we will do about it

Decide and commit to new behaviors. It can be important to find ways you too can commit to the correction of the shortfall and the development of your relationship. Accountability for behaviors is tough so why should only one person carry the weight? Finding ways to help each other will not only help you to implement a solution, it will also help you to increase your level of trust.

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These posts might be of interest to you:

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Train the trainer: Interactive presentations

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Internal training is often done via presentations and companies often use an internal “expert” to deliver training to other members of staff. Slide after slide appears on the screen and by the end, there’s a handout with the most important points and perhaps a summary. The upside of this type of training is that the information is first hand from the expert. One of the downsides is that the trainer often doesn’t have experience in training. He/she doesn’t understand how to make learning stick, or that only 10% of learning happens through structured training. (Read more about the  70-20-10 model.) Here are a few ideas to make your presentation based training interactive. 




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Who are you and why are you here?

A trainer always explains the objectives of the training session. The objectives need to be relevant to the audience – you need buy-in for learning to take place. Everything that happens in the training should link back to the objective. The participants have objectives too – but they might be different to yours and you need to align the two sets. This is often done through a warmer activity – who are you and why are you here? A warmer activity can be done as a group, in small groups or in pairs. At the end of the activity, everyone has shared their personal objectives (ideally they are visible for everyone to read). The trainer then paraphrases the personal objectives and links it in to the objectives of the session. If there are objectives that can’t be aligned, the trainer points them out: “Sorry, we won’t be covering that in detail today”, or “There might be time to do that at the end of the session.”

Get people up and moving

If participants don’t know each other very well, a few icebreakers are necessary. A game called ‘find someone who’ can be adapted easily to any audience and topic. Beyond that, you can bring discussion cards, or tasks that participants have to do between slides. Especially when people’s interests are fading, stop the presentation and get them up and moving around the room. Ask them to brainstorm in groups, to summarize in pairs, to troubleshoot, or ask them to pick a position in the room based on how strongly they feel about a company/work-related statement. Ask them to present some of the key learning points of the presentation back to you half-way through and use it as an opportunity to align participant knowledge.

Involve your audience

Closely related to the above, even when the training material is dry, full of facts and technical jargon, your training can be interactive. You can engage participants in almost a thousand different ways. Ask them for their experience or opinions, ask them to read out the information on the slides, or prepare a quiz or a competition (with a token prize). Open a debate, do a shout out round of questions or get them to walkabout the room to examine information on the topic at different stations. (Here are 25 ideas on making training active.)

Ask for commitment

When the participants leave the training room, what are they expected to do? They learned something but how will they transfer that to their job – that’s a good question to prepare yourself for. Before the training session finishes, take enough time to ask participants about their ideas, and also to give advice on making the learning stick. You may also consider a Personal Learning Plan.

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Here are just a few posts for you to explore if you want to learn more on this topic. We also offer a range of  Train the Trainer and Workshop Facilitation seminars.

 

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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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Stepping into management: the learning and development journey

70-20-10 target training

One of the drawback of being a trainer is that now and again you fail to realise that what is obvious for you is new to others. In a recent young managers program the “eureka” moment came when, following a young manager’s “Maybe I’m not cut out for this job”  statement, I shared the Conscious Competence model”.  The model, developed by Noel Burch, has been around since the 1970s – and it’s a great way to prepare for and reflect on your development as a manager (or development in any other role).  I assumed my participants knew the model already but they had never heard of it. This is a quick recap.





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Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence

Ignorance is bliss, and you don’t even realize that you are performing poorly. As a new, young manager perhaps you don’t even realize you are making elementary mistakes. Instead of delegating you are dumping tasks on people and walk away convinced you are empowering them to find their own solutions. Perhaps your tasking is incomplete, or maybe you don’t have clear goals because you didn’t consider this your role.  Are you delaying giving feedback because you don’t want to upset anybody and it will sort itself out anyway – or perhaps the way you give feedback is so clumsy you demotivate somebody.  The list goes on and on. You assume you know what y0u’re doing –  it’s more or less the same as before but with the better desk and more benefits. You’re not aware that you don’t have the necessary skill. Perhaps you don’t even realize that the skill is relevant.  In the first stage, your confidence exceeds your management skills. Before you can move to the next step you need to know and accept that certain skills are relevant to the role of manager, and that mastering this skill will make you more effective.

Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence

Someone helped you understand that you need to develop a new skill. Or, you have been sent on a management training programme and your eyes have been opened. Or perhaps confronted by poor results you’ve actually  taken a step back and reflected on what’s been going on and the role you’ve played. You are aware of your lack of skills. You are consciously incompetent. This is a difficult phase as you are now aware of your weaknesses, or in today’s insipid jargon your “developmental areas”.

Nobody is born a manager, although some people may well have innate skills, making the transition to manager easier. Learning by feedback, learning by suffering, learning by doing and learning by failing – these things brought you to the second stage. Training can play a role as can learning from your peers and exposing yourself to opportunities to learn. By staying positive and embracing the small successes your confidence in your own management abilities grows.

 

Stage 3 – Conscious Competence

At this stage you have learnt some reliable management techniques and processes, but they have to be consciously implemented.  It’s a bit like painting by numbers. You know how to facilitate a meeting well, but you still want to take time to reflect on the steps beforehand.  You can make a great presentation and get your message across … and you know what you need to do in advance to get the success you need. You can provide feedback in an appropriate manner – but not without thinking it through beforehand. At this stage, your ability to be flexible and proactive in unexpected situations is limited – but you can do it. The task-oriented aspects of managing are becoming fine-tuned but it is still learning by doing, trial and error, or copying managerial role models. You are testing your limits.

Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence

Quite simply you have become what you wanted to be –  a skilled manager. The task and relationship aspects of managing are now “part of you”.  You know how to achieve the task, develop individuals and build a team – and can do it without too much thinking. Non-routine situations are challenging, yet do not faze you. You are like Beckenbauer in football, or Federer in tennis. You always appear to have enough time and space to make good decisions. But even masters can lose matches and need to learn and practise.

To summarize

The model can be universally applied as a model for learning. It suggests that you are initially unaware of how little you know – you simply don’t know what you don’t know. As you recognize your incompetence, you acquire a skill consciously, then learn to use that skill. Over time, the skill becomes a part of you. You can utilize it consciously thought through. When that happens you have acquired unconscious competence.

  • It will help you understand that stepping into a management role is a learning journey -and not an instant enlightenment.
  • It reinforces that rank does not automatically give you authority.
  • It reassures you that you can succeed as a manager. You just need space and time to find your feet.
  • Understanding this dynamic and learning basic management techniques will quickly help you overcome the early frustrations.

And finally you can manage your emotion as you develop.  You are going through a well-known learning process.  Nobody is born a manager!

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Read more about the model (this article suggests a fifth stage and has a matrix to clarify the four stages). And finally, a few blog posts you might be interested in:

 

After the meeting ends – more practical ideas from great chair persons and facilitators we’ve worked with

In last week’s post What to do before the meeting begins – 4 added-value ideas from great chair persons and facilitators we’ve worked with we shared 4 great techniques we’ve picked up from experienced chairpersons and facilitators during meeting facilitation seminars. This post keeps sharing the sharing. As trainers, we get to listen to and learn from our clients – and then you get to benefit from not only our knowledge and experience, but their’ s too!  So here are 5 easy-to-implement ideas to make you an even better chair or facilitator AND make your meetings that much more effective.

Making the time to debrief the process

Taking the time after the meeting to talk about how the meeting went means you can continually improve not just your skills, but the effectiveness and efficiency of your meetings too. Debriefing is all about identifying behaviours to maintain and things to do differently during the following meetings – and top performing teams take the time to reflect.  You could integrate it into your agenda  or agree upon reflection intervals.  My own experience is that immediacy  is better.  When asked to think about the last e.g. 6 meetings, people too often tend to either focus on the last 1 or 2 events, or speak in broad and vague generalizations that are more difficult to act upon.

Sending out minutes – each time, every time, always, no excuses, better late than never

Whether they be formal or informal, an executive summary or agenda-based, action-oriented minutes or verbatim [http://www.targettraining.eu/effective-note-and-minute-taking]  it’s a good idea to write them and send them out!  Great chair persons understand and commit to always having minutes.  They don’t approach them with a “we have proof” mentality – but rather with a “building” and “commitment” mentality. And they also give people an opportunity to review and add to the minutes.  But they have them.

Planning in “I should have said” time

People are wonderfully different – and this means that not everyone is going to contribute equally in your meetings.  It could simply be shyness, or perhaps an issue of interpersonal dynamics or politics.  More often than not it could be that an idea or opinion wasn’t fully formed and the person chose to think it through before speaking (especially if they have what the MBTI refers to as an “Introvert” preference). It’s too easy (and destructive) to take a “If you don’t say it in the meeting you lost your chance”. Plan time after the meeting is over so participants who need time to reflect can have a chance to share their insights. This also helps to build trust.

Taking the time for tête-à-têtes

Connected to the above, planning in time after the meeting for a tête-à-tête (literally a head to head discussion) also gives you an opportunity to

  • make apologies (or gives somebody an opportunity to make them)
  • reflect on behaviours
  • ask for a recommitment to ground rules
  • clarify confusion
  • resolve conflicts
  • ask for and receive feedback,
  • check resources
  • gauge true level of commitment to tasks

… plus a hundred other things which are best done on a one-to-one basis.  It’s not politicking – it’s about building authentic relationships.

Planning in check-ins to review commitments and accountability

If people have had the chance to share their opinions and ideas and robustly discuss options in your meting then you can expect real commitment to the agreed action.  And if people have committed then you can hold them accountable. Great chair persons explicitly review the commitments at the end of the meeting AND they follow up later on.  When they follow up they have an “inquisitive” and “supportive” approach. They understand that things may have changed since the meeting, that priorities may have shifted and that resources may have been over-estimated or diverted.  But they follow up.

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Plenty more meetings where that came from… And for even more information on how to make your meetings and your performance during meetings more successful, please contact us. We love to talk!


 

Before the meeting begins – 4 added-value ideas from great chair persons and facilitators we’ve worked with

One of the best things about being a trainer is that you get to meet a lot of people from diverse backgrounds.  As trainers we get to listen to and learn from our clients – and we then get to share ideas, experiences and best practices with other clients. Below are some of the great ideas that top chairpersons and facilitators have identified over the last years during meeting facilitation seminars.


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Do you know who needs to be in the meeting and what they’ll be bringing to the table?

Before the meeting starts make a list of the decision makers, subject matter experts and opinion leaders. Then take a few minutes to isolate and identify their interests in the outcome of the meeting. Why? By doing this you’ll…

  • Know who to address about which topic when. This is especially useful if you have meeting participants who are quieter or introspective.
  • Know who to ask specific technical questions.
  • Be better able to focus the flow of information and discussion on the decision makers’ interests

Do you invest time before the meeting to talk with the participants?

This idea is too often quickly mislabelled as “politics”, but all of the truly impressive chairpersons I’ve been lucky enough to work with have stood by the idea. Great chairpersons and facilitators make the time to talk with individuals who will participate in the meeting about the meeting before the meeting begins. They do this to uncover interests, hear concerns and objections, and win support. They are then better able to connect interests, help others save face and steer discussions down constructive avenues.

I specifically remember a young project manager passionately convincing her fellow IT engineers of the merits of this behaviour and that “talking about the meeting before the meeting makes the meeting work -and that’s why we always finish our meetings earlier than planned!

Do you build your own ground rules – and review them at the start of every meeting?

Many organizations have established “meeting ground rules”. These may be unspoken, hidden away on the Intranet or printed on colourful posters and put in the meeting rooms. The advice is often solid and sensible.

But all the best chairpersons I’ve worked with have consistently supported the idea that ground rules work best when the team itself decides on their own ground rules and define acceptable meeting behaviour (for example phones on silent, poll opinions, always have an agenda, etc…).  This is especially important when working in virtual teams. When challenged by their peers that this was a waste of time answers included …

  • “The team takes the time to focus on the process and not the results. And my experience is that it’s the process that causes the frustrations 9 out of 10 times”
  • “Because everyone and every team  is different and the company rules can’t know this”
  •  “If they are our rules, and we made them, then everybody shares the responsibility for making our meetings work well”
  • “It means I don’t need to be the bad guy – because we all agreed and committed to the process up front”

Top chair persons and facilitators also tend to review them very quickly at the start of every meeting. One extroverted investment fund manager I worked with sang them and, to keep things fresh, changed the tune at least every quarter. You won’t be surprised to hear that his peers had mixed reactions to this idea (“It is not a serious idea Fabio, we are a bank!”) – but apparently his team loved it, and meeting attendance was high.

Are you building trust through building relationships and enabling “rough discussions”?

Great chairpersons and facilitators take the time before the meeting to get to know team members personally – and understand the dynamics between the participants.  This helps the chairperson;

  • understand people’ motivations and priorities (“what do they really care about?”)
  • adapt the dynamics and approach to respect he different personalities (e.g. not everybody wants to brainstorm as a group
  • adapt their own communication style e.g find the best metaphors and stories to illustrate key points,

But more importantly, as one German manager said “Rough discussions are important so we don’t keep having the same discussions again and again”.  This ties in with Patrick Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a team idea that great chairpersons believe the more they know about the participants, the better they can facilitate open discussions. They’ll know when to push and when to stop, when to mine conflict in the meeting (force buried disagreements to light in order to work through them) and when to deal with issues in smaller groups. Building trust is a long-term investment, but as many meetings are chaired by the teams manager anyway it is an investment that pays off.

 

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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.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

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.


3 thought-provoking business books from 2016 that you may have missed

As 2016 comes to an end (it’s gone so fast, hasn’t it?) we’d like to share 3 thought-provoking management books we’ve enjoyed and been challenged by.  From everyone at Target Training we wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas, and a great “slide into the New year” as they say here in Germany.

 

 

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Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Cal Newport

Do you ever feel that you can’t get any work done because of the countless emails, calls, updates and web-meetings? Do you feel that you spend all day “communicating” without getting things done properly? Then this hugely topical book is for you.

In Deep Work Cal Newport argues that one of the key skills for productivity and success in such a “connected age” is the ability to focus  on demanding tasks. He then brings this to life with science, stories, anecdotes and examples. Finally he then shares 4 “rules” for building habits and transforming your approach-

  1. Work deeply
  2. Embrace boredom
  3. Quit social media (see below)
  4. Drain the shallows

Check out the author’s excellent and generous blog to get a quick overview of the ideas.  Then put your smart phone in a drawer, turn off the TV, pour yourself a glass of wine and make the time to read it.

 

 

Managing in the Gray: Five Timeless Questions for Resolving Your Toughest Problems at Work

Joseph L. Bardacco

In contrast to the previous “21st century” recommendation, the core themes of this book are timeless and universally applicable regardless of your situation. Every manager needs to accept and work with ambiguity.  Do you support your manager when you know the decision is terrible – and your team know it too?  Do you promote a driven and successful team leader who has regularly rubs people up the wrong way?

This book offers five deceptively simple questions to help you navigate through “gray areas”.

The questions are …

  • What are the net, net consequences?
  • What are my core obligations?
  • What will work in the world as it is?
  • Who are we?
  • What can I live with?

These 5 questions provide an ethical compass. To quote the author “When you face a gray area problem at work, you should work through it as a manager and resolve it as a human being.”

Certainly worth your time, and it also provides an excellent framework for teams, talent programs and management training programs.

How To Have A Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioural Science to Transform Your Working Life

Caroline Webb

And finally, our third suggestion is perfect for December. As the year comes to an end. many of us will be reflecting on what we’ve achieved (or not), how we’ve achieved it, and what we should be doing more or less of.  In How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb shares findings from behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience and then shows how you can build on big “scientific” ideas to transform the quality of your everyday life.  The book is divided into seven areas

  • Priorities
  • Productivity
  • Relationships
  • Thinking
  • Influence
  • Resilience
  • Energy

And concludes with a transfer-oriented “Making it stick”.

Speaking openly, it can be a heavy read. There’s a lot of research and findings shared, BUT there’s a clear focus on your working life too.  Don’t let the “self-help” moniker put you off reading this – the stories and examples avoid slipping into fantasy or “business book bullshit”.

The author’s excellent blog is also well worth your time.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Finally, I know we’ve shared our 3, but its Christmas so check out “HBR’s 10 Must Reads 2017: The Definitive Management Ideas of the Year from Harvard Business Review”.  The summary of “Collaborative Overload” by Cross, Rebele and Grant connects back with Cal Newport’s Deep Work and is hugely relevant to anyone working in virtual teams. Plus check out the  excellent summary of Erin Meyer’s “Getting to Si, Ja, oui, Hai and Da” if you need to negotiate across cultures.

 

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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.

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TED talks on motivation and leadership

This week’s post was meant to be about customer service skills. Once I had my initial ideas on virtual paper, I started searching online resources. Very quickly and inevitably I ended up on TED.com and almost an hour later, I was still watching videos, no longer anything to do with customer service. My post was about what customer service professionals can do to stay motivated, with an array of some not so nice customers contacting them. It was inspired by one of my not so very motivated participants. He said: I don’t care if they’re nice or not. I don’t care if they think I’m nice or not. I still get paid for taking the call. Being motivated to do a good job has very little to do with having ‘nice’ customers – ultimately. That was one of the points of my post. Perhaps I will finish the post, it was an interesting training session. This post is instead about everyday leadership, feeling good and staying motivated.
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What makes us feel good about our work

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely starts his TED talk ‘What makes us feel good about our work‘ with a mountain climbing example. “…If you read books of people who climb mountains, difficult mountains, do you think that those books are full of moments of joy and happiness? No, they are full of misery. In fact, it’s all about frostbite and having difficulty walking, and difficulty breathing — cold, challenging circumstances. And if people were just trying to be happy, the moment they would get to the top, they would say, “This was a terrible mistake. I’ll never do it again.”

Everyday leadership

This very personal TED talk from Drew Dudley is easily transferable to a business context. ‘Everyday leadership‘ starts with a clear message. “…I’ve come to realize that we have made leadership into something bigger than us; something beyond us. We’ve made it about changing the world. We’ve taken this title of “leader” and treat it as something that one day we’re going to deserve. But to give it to ourselves right now means a level of arrogance or cockiness that we’re not comfortable with. And I worry sometimes that we spend so much time celebrating amazing things that hardly anybody can do, that we’ve convinced ourselves those are the only things worth celebrating. We start to devalue the things we can do every day. We take moments where we truly are a leader and we don’t let ourselves take credit for it, or feel good about it.”

The happy secret to better work

Shawn Achor’s very funny talk ‘The happy secret to better work‘ is definitely worth watching. “… One of the first things we teach people in economics, statistics, business and psychology courses is how, in a statistically valid way, do we eliminate the weirdos. How do we eliminate the outliers so we can find the line of best fit? Which is fantastic if I’m trying to find out how many Advil the average person should be taking — two. But if I’m interested in your potential, or for happiness or productivity or energy or creativity, we’re creating the cult of the average with science. If I asked a question like, “How fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?” scientists change the answer to “How fast does the average child learn how to read in that classroom?” and we tailor the class towards the average. If you fall below the average, then psychologists get thrilled, because that means you’re depressed or have a disorder, or hopefully both.”

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Not bored of videos yet? This playlist contains 7 talks on loving what you do. Also recommended, here are a few customer service posts from our blog. Our new and very much improved Boost your Business English blog is online.

The negotiator’s dilemma

innovation target training

The most fundamental aspects of negotiation strategy are Creating and Claiming Value. In a negotiation, all parties involved must decide to be competitive, cooperative, or a combination of both. David Lax and James Sebenius called it the Negotiator’s dilemma: Lax and Sebenius argue that negotiation necessarily includes both cooperative and competitive elements, and that these elements exist in tension with each other. Negotiators face a dilemma in deciding whether to pursue a cooperative or a competitive strategy.The best outcome for one person is not necessarily the best outcome for the other person. If all parties involved pursue their best option, they will often end up getting the worst outcome. Here they are, explained.




The big (free) eBook of negotiations language


“Like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiation is a fact of life.” With those words, the world was introduced to, what is now arguably the most famous book about negotiations in the world: “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Creating Value: Making the pie bigger

All negotiators face two basic questions: “How can we make the pie bigger?” and “How can I make sure that I get the biggest possible piece?” The pie is enlarged (value is created) through the cooperative process of  interest-based bargaining. Good negotiators find ways to increase their mutual gain. They see themselves as problem solvers. When everyone involved in the negotiation profits, it’s a win/win negotiation. Inventing options for mutual gain is the essence of the win/win philosophy.

To create this mutual gain, the negotiator:

  • Finds shared interests
  • Focuses on the big picture
  • Shares information openly
  • Develops options
  • Avoids criticism
  • Builds principle agreements
“Negotiation is always part of the equation. As I entered adulthood I found out that life is not as simple as yes or no. Everything involves negotiation, give-and-take: If we see this film this Saturday, can we see that concert next Saturday? I can prepare the presentation, but could I get it to you on Thursday not Wednesday?”
Gary Anello

Claiming Value: Dividing the pie

At some point, the knife must come out with all parties wanting the biggest possible piece of the pie. The more one claims, the less the other gets. The competitive process of claiming value is also known as win/lose. Good negotiators use competitive tactics to make sure their piece stays as large as possible. He/she:

  • Might withhold information
  • Critically evaluates the demands of the other side
  • Applies (and resists) pressure
  • Exaggerates the value of own concessions / Minimizes value of other’s concessions
  • Takes a judicial approach

As is obvious, some of the cooperative strategies that create value directly oppose the competitive strategies used to claim value. As Fischer, Ury & Patton point out, “negotiators are not friends”; confrontation is sometimes unavoidable. The best deals are reached when both processes are allowed to operate. Only the most experienced of negotiators seem equally at ease with both phases. They accept that both processes are legitimate and necessary steps in getting the best results and understand that it is vital to “separate the invention process from the decision making process”.

Language that successful negotiators use

More negotiations language is available for you in my eBook: “The Big eBook of Negotiations Language”. Below are a few examples of language that you can use in each of the two stages that I discussed in this post.

Create value

  • Can we leave the costs to one side for a moment and just try to picture an ideal result?
  • Before we go into details, can we establish the kind of result we are both looking for?
  • We have discussed one option in some detail. What other options might be available?

Claim value

  • We seem to have an agreement in principle; it is probably time to ask who is responsible for what?
  • I think we agree on the broad picture, but who is going to pay for what?
  • We now have a concept that covers both of our interests; let’s get practical.

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The walk from no to yes

William Ury, author of “Getting to Yes,” offers an elegant, simple (but not easy) way to create agreement in even the most difficult situations — from family conflict to, perhaps, the Middle East.

Our training solutions

Please contact us learn how you can improve your negotiating skills, or read more here: Effective negotiations in English

 

Dealing with change

Change management is an integral, complex and necessary part of business. Companies most likely to be successful in making changes are the ones that see change as a constant opportunity to evolve. But the word ‘change’ means and implies a lot of things to the people involved: uncertainty, different, unknown, uncomfortable, etc. The truth is that (most) people don’t like change. We are, after all, creatures of habit. Sure, we have the ability to change and adapt to new situations – we wouldn’t have come so far as a species without change – but our brains naturally resist.

 

“Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad – not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life – to keep us moving … to keep us growing … to keep us interested … Imagine life without change. It would be static … boring … dull.”

Dr. Dennis O’Grady

Go to the eBook


The Satir Change Model

The Satir Change Model is a five-stage model (see below) that describes the effects each stage of the change has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. It was developed by Virginia Satir. Although the model was initially developed for families, it is equally relevant for organisations.

changemodel2

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

We are at a familiar place. Our performance pattern is consistent. We’re comfortable here because we know know what to expect, how to react, and how to behave.

Stage 2: Resistance

A foreign element threatens the stability of our familiar structures. We’re not sure that this is where we want to be. Most of us resist it by denying its validity, avoiding the issue, or placing blame.

Stage 3: Chaos

We have entered the unknown. Our former actions and knowledge are no longer valid/effective. We don’t want to be here. Losing the Late Status Quo triggers our anxiousness and vulnerability. We have no idea what to expect, how to react, or how to behave.

Stage 4: Integration

Through a transforming idea, we’ve discovered how the foreign element can benefit us. We’re excited. With practice, our performance has improved rapidly. We’ve made new relationships and learned new behaviours.

Stage 5: New Status Quo

Our performance has stabilized at a higher level than in the Late Status Quo. We feel safe and excited. We encourage each other. We don’t feel threatened by foreign elements any more.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”

James Belasco and Ralph Stayer

Psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman writes in his book “Thinking, fast and slow” that most of us would rather be wrong than uncertain. Just consider, how many individual uncertainties could arise in any of the above stages for each of the people involved? Right, and that’s only for one change.

Communicating change

Communicating change successfully doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll achieve change successfully, because ultimately, the organizational capacity for change relies heavily on the individual’s capacity for change. In other words, some people will reach the New Status Quo much faster than others, others not at all. Some will have few problems, others a lot. But there’s no doubt about it, you need a communication plan/strategy to accompany the change.


A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not recommended because it’s quite possible that not everyone needs to know the same things about the change. Managers need to get buy-in from different stakeholders, engineers need to know this, procurement needs to know that. When communicating change, we have the opportunity to amplify certain messages. On top of that, a well thought through communication plan will enable people to better deal with the emotions of each of the 5 stages – It can invoke positive emotions/reactions and gives you the chance to help employees imagine a post-change future.

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Randy Pennington, author of “Make change work” says that there are 5 questions that employees are most interested in getting answers to when faced with change.

From what to what?

Explain the specifics of the change. What will be different in how we must think, act, and perform?

What does this change mean for what I do and how I operate?

A personal extension of the first question. Everyone involved in the change will ask themselves: What’s the impact of the change for me?

Will this make a difference?

How will the change help the business or the team, or is this change for compliance reasons?

How will success be measured?

How will you know that there has been a return on our effort and investment?

What is the support level for this change?

Is this change a mandate or do you truly believe in this change?

Repeat and reinforce

Use multiple message formats and repeat important concepts to drive and reinforce the change. At the beginning of the change process, it’s necessary to communicate to answer initial fears and concerns. As the change advances, people will have new questions, and new understandings of the intermediate and final stages will be developed. Throughout the stages of change, people have to be kept up-to-date with actual and future states, and answers given to their questions.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Dan Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Hint: that’s not the case.