What Great Trainers Do

The Ultimate Guide to Delivering Engaging and Effective Learning

 What Great Trainers Do

Authors: Robert Bolton, Dorothy Grover Bolton
Pub Date: December 2015
Print Edition: $45.00
Print ISBN: 9780814420065
Page Count: 304
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814420072

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Chapter 1

The Challenge of Training

It is a splendid vocation you have chosen--to smooth the way

for the march of unappreciated truths, and new and courageous lines of thought.

--Petra in Ibsen's An Enemy of the People

As educator John Holt said, "Man is by nature a learning animal. Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns." Some psychologists claim that learning is one of our most universal characteristics. Furthermore, organizations need their members to learn--to develop new skills, to adapt to changing situations, to adjust to shifting needs and opportunities. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey argue that:

There is no more perfect marriage of interests--between

the needs of an organization and the needs of its

individual members--than the ongoing growth of

people at work.

From this perspective, trainers have an enviable role: our job is to improve the effectiveness of the organization by helping individuals succeed.

Yet training often fails--and on a massive scale. Estimates vary, but one educated guess has American corporations spending about $60 billion on training annually, with not more than 10 percent of the expenditures actually resulting in transfer to the job. So the life of a corporate trainer is rarely as ideal as the opening paragraph may seem to suggest. Trainers who choose this career path to help others succeed often find they lack the skills or organizational support required to achieve their own success.

The Untrained Trainer Is Vulnerable to Failure

Anna started with XYZ Corporation six years ago as a customer service representative. Because of her strong task and interpersonal abilities, she soon became a supervisor. Anna spent more time coaching her employees than most supervisors--and with very positive results. It was a natural next step for her to conduct the brief orientation session for all new departmental employees.

When the corporate training department was seeking someone to do supervisory and management training, Anna applied and got the job. She was excited about the challenge.

Challenge it was. Anna found that she was expected to teach nine different courses, most of them one or two days long. She averaged two and a half days in the classroom each week--120 days a year.

Anna's training day began early and ended late. She started with some last-minute preparation, arrived early to be sure the room setup was right, and then greeted people individually as they entered the training room. She taught for six and a half hours, spent her lunch hour chatting with class members, and lingered to talk with a few participants after class. With more than a full day behind her, she then attended to her in-box to deal with the most urgent emails, and then dashed home to a quick dinner and more preparation. When applying for the job she had no idea her days would be so mentally and physically grueling.

The toughest part, however, was that the work was sometimes emotionally draining as well. The groups Anna taught ranged in size from about a dozen participants to thirty or more. It quickly became evident that some participants would rather be almost anywhere else than in the workshop. She knew that some had been sent to training to get "fixed." Often participant resentment was obvious, and it was aimed not only at the person who sent the participant to training, but at anyone associated with the training--especially the trainer, who was the closest target for their ire.

The participants' energy for learning in Anna's classes was low. She tried to overcome group lethargy by making her presentations more spirited. Sometimes the additional effort made a difference; sometimes it didn't. Some training sessions went better than others, but Anna found herself returning repeatedly to the same questions: Why are so many people in my classes just putting in time? Is the problem with them? With me? With the content of the courses?

One week she had to teach a group of young, bright, successful middle managers in a two-day people-management course. A needs assessment indicated that the training was a good fit, but some of the people being sent to the workshop said, "I don't need this," or "I just can't see myself using this stuff." By noon of day one, it was clear to Anna that the participants weren't going to get much out of the training and that she had a long day and a half ahead of her. Anna could feel her stress rising. She noticed the tension in her voice as she responded to some of the more challenging participants. She kept thinking, They don't like me. No one is learning anything. This is a nightmare.

After the class ended, self-doubt and discouragement continued to plague Anna for days. She decided she didn't want to continue this way; either she would find a way to be more effective at the demanding job of training, or she would transfer to another type of work where she could once again experience the type of success she'd had in each of her previous positions.

Corporate Trainers Seldom Receive Adequate Training

An old proverb says, the cobbler's children go without shoes; similarly, many corporate trainers receive little or no training in their craft. It's been estimated that each year more than a million people are given first-time responsibility for training others. For the most part these new trainers are given little, if any, preparation in even basic teaching methods. Recently, the president of a training firm said, "Approximately 80 percent of those people I contact in business [who are] responsible for creating or conducting training programs have never been taught how to teach." All too often, people who have never taught before are expected to make an almost instantaneous transition to the demanding role of trainer.

Too many trainers have to struggle with material they haven't had a chance to fully master while confronting difficult group dynamics they haven't been given the skills to address. When one is struggling with a difficult training session and not doing it particularly well, the whole debacle is happening on center stage, with twenty or more people watching a trainer agonize and try to improvise some way out of a bad situation. Of course, training isn't always this rough, but a few bad incidents in quick succession or a series of mediocre workshops can be very punishing experiences for the trainer.

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