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Finishing up the garden work before the snow flies, I’m preparing things so that they are ‘better than ever’ when spring arrives. Then my thoughts turn to teaching and training material, do they need some maintenance too?

Those of  you that know me will know that I don’t like domestic preparation work. I like to paint, I don’t like to ‘prep’. I like to cook, I don’t like to chop. [And the list goes on...]

The exception is pruning.

I love pruning bushes and trees. To me, it is both therapeutic and creative.

Pruned

One of my specialties is trimming our mulberry bush so it can ‘breathe’. Mulberries have a tendency to grow prolifically and they can start to look like ‘Cousin Itt’.  I start close to the tree trunk and trim branches that did not sprout any leaves. While I may not follow any horticultural pruning guidelines, my design point is to create that airy feel you get when you are standing under an umbrella tree.

This same discipline should be applied to the maintenance of training course material. For each segment, exercise and story ask yourself, “Is it necessary?” and “Is it outdated?” Ultimately the material should pass a values test: “How does the material contribute towards the objectives?” and “Is there a negative impact if you get rid of the material?” By doing this, you may find that that ‘less is more’.

Another technique I use when pruning is to step back and really look at my tree (or bush) from all angles. I check how it looks when I am down the street, across the street and inside my house. I’m then positioned to make a decision on whether or not I’m finished pruning. (Unless of course, my husband has already taken the shears away from me.)

When maintaining your training material, you should consider all angles (i.e. all audiences). Will pruning impact any of your audiences or results? Ask others for their opinion on what needs to stay as your core material and what could/should be cut. And whatever you do: don’t go out on a limb and continue to cut without thinking of the consequences.

While tree pruning tends to be an annual activity, pruning your training material is different: you can even can prune on the go! Gauge the level of expertise from your audience if they don’t need the introductory material either ‘cut it down’ or ‘cut it out’. Think: Custom! Your audience will appreciate this approach as this may free up time to spend on material that is more important to their business.

Oh, and one last thing. Unlike pruning a bush where ONE CUT can be permanent, you can always adjust and add more content or more learning experiences. Home Stagers ‘prune’ and gradually add items back in order to accentuate the positive. You can too!

So add looking at your training material to your fall maintenance list and let me know what you’ve been able to prune…

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Flickr Creative Commons Image by Kyle Stern

Lately  ‘Mother Nature’ has shared with me some very unexpected (but welcome) situations. These situations can’t specifically be linked with teaching and training; however, through analogy they illustrate some fine teaching/training lessons.

We returned to vacation to find that the weeds had taken over. Anxious to return our property back to ‘normal’ my husband attacked the weeds in the lawn. He moved to the herb garden and asked me about the ‘weeds': “Did you plant tomatoes with the herbs OR are these just weeds?”

I examined the patch of plants: “I didn’t plant tomatoes there, but those ‘weeds’ look like tomatoes.”  We later surmised that our (home-made) compost must have provided tomato seeds.

To the left is a mid-summer picture of my basil along with my unexpected tomatoes. [Look closely for the immature tomatoes.]

Now, nearing the end of the season, I can say that I’ve harvested between 20 and 30 tomatoes from perhaps the most prolific tomato plant I’ve ever had. There is truly something to be said about companion planting!

While I considered my unexpected bounty a surprize, I had no idea I was in for a real treat: something some people NEVER experience.

Last weekend, while out for what we planned to be a brief hike in part of the Silver Creek Wetlands, I noticed something that I’d never seen before in this small creek: fish about 2 to 3 feet long.

AND THEN IT STARTED…

the fighting, the struggling and the abundance of salmon (or what we think were salmon).

[Further research has shown that the greenish 2-3 foot fish we encountered were probably Chinook Salmon and the 2-3 foot fish with a blacker tone may have been Steelhead (Trout).]

For two hours we ran up and down the stream watching the salmon. One salmon, that we think was a female, was quite an aggressor. She was docile until another salmon approached, then she jumped over, bit and chased each salmon back down the stream.

We tried to ‘coach’ the others to get by her and were delighted that a small salmon leveraged the fight the aggressive fish was having with a larger fish. That opportunistic salmon escaped up the river.

Not all the salmon were as lucky. For some, ONE step forward meant TWO steps back. While some salmon just kept persevering, others were too exhausted to continue and lay lifeless along the river bank.

We cheered on the salmon until we noticed the time and then we hightailed it home.

Anxious to share this experience with you, I thought about how ‘Mother Nature’ illustrated some lessons that can be applied to the Teaching/Training World: 

  1. Give the unexpected a chance. When facing the unexpected give it some time to ‘grow’ and mature. (Don’t ‘weed it out‘ too quickly.) You may be surprized with the results, just as I was surprized with my bounty of tomatoes.
  2. Consider surrounding (or supplementing) your material with companion material. Even if you only prepare to speak about a companion topic, testimonial or reference. Extending your training in this manner makes it more relevant, more interesting and the results may be more ‘fruitful’ (just like the tomatoes).
  3. When you don’t seem to be making any progress, (examine the situation) and persevere. If you face a barrier that is a person, I suggest you start to employ Culture Change Management techniques. (Here is a link to my post on what Trainers need to know about Culture Change.) Whereas, if you’ve made some progress and then seem to have been pushed back; find comfort in the knowledge that going forward should be easier the second time you try it. (Remember if you did it once you can do it again!)

Have you applied lessons from ‘Mother Nature’ in the classroom or on a webinar? Please share with us by leaving a comment.

Until next time… Be flexible and observant so that you may enjoy the surprizes that work and life will bring.

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I’m working with iMovie on a Video Trailer some of my salmon footage. Stay tuned…

jewelweed cluster

Jewel Weed — A Cure for Poison Ivy [Read Instructions!]

I thought it was about time to write another post on Poison Ivy as my previous posts on poison ivy seem to continually be popular AND as my experience with poison ivy has changed.

Recently I hiked part of the Bruce Trail with a friend, a member of the Mycological Society of Toronto. (Prior to her joining, I didn’t know that Mycologists interested in wild mushrooms and other fungi.) She always shares knowledge from her Mycological forays and points out rare or unusual specimens.

However, that day was different. The information she was about to relay did not deal with fungi or wild mushrooms.

She pointed to a mass of plants about 3 feet high with little yellow flowers on them and said, “There is poison ivy there.”  [I'm thinking, "Are you kidding me? Have you read my blog posts about poison ivy? It doesn't have little yellow flowers!"]

She continued, “That is jewel weed. Apparently it cures poison ivy. And it is typically located close to poison ivy–kind of a companion plant.” Now she didn’t know how to use the plant to cure poison ivy, she only knew that it would help, so clearly more research was required. [Here is an article on how to use jewel weed to cure poison ivy.]  I wondered about the ‘companionship’ of poison ivy and jewel weed as I have not observed that myself. [Here is an article supporting that the companionship of poison ivy and jewel weed is a folk tale/tradition and not a rule.]

My most recent  experience with poison ivy was in our ‘front yard’ where we also discovered how resilient it was. One of my boys decided to ‘take on’ the poison ivy that was adjacent to our drive. When I saw this I immediately became protective (i.e. overly cautious): “Shouldn’t we research this on the net? What are you doing with short sleeves on? etc.” But quickly I switched back into a ‘worker bee’ mode to help out. It looked like someone had tried some chemicals on this patch of ivy previously although there were a few pieces of ivy that remained. Did you know that poison ivy spreads via underground ‘runners’?

He/we dug and pulled up the runners and disposed of the ivy in the garbage. [Never, never burn poison ivy!] And then we washed everything in soap and water (including our hands even though we wore gloves).

Although we did somethings correctly, we made a few mistakes according to an article I found on the safe removal of poison ivy. We should NOT have:

  • pulled at the plant to remove it as this could disperse the harmful toxic resin into the air,
  • washed everything in soap and water PRIOR to disinfecting ourselves and our tools with mineral spirits or vinegar.

So how does poison ivy relate to the world of Training?

  • A little bit of research goes a long way. Are those old adages in your material old wives tales or are they true? Can you prove that? Or should you position them appropriately? [Hmm... that would be a great homework assignment for your students to research the validity of some old adages.]
  • Have you ‘covered all bases’? What else should you know and cover? Have you addressed all learning styles including the students that have a ‘what-if’ learning style? [If I were teaching about poison ivy, I'd definitely include a stern warning not to burn it.]
  • Always be prepared. Have you researched precautions? Do you understand what you should and shouldn’t do?  [Don't just blindly try to deal with the situation, like the ivy, when you don't quite understand the consequences.]

That is all for now. “Be on your toes… but keep your shoes on (especially on the trails)!”

[The hyper linked articles on poison ivy are good quick 'reads' so I would recommend them.]

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Flickr Creative Commons Image of Jewel Weed by “Muffit” (Liz West)

If you think the last thing you’d want to do is deal with the aftermath of your camping trip,

THEN you are wrong.

The last thing you want to do

is deal with the aftermath of someone else’s camping trip:

Believe me!

Having said that, as I gazed over the tent city that occupied my backyard, all I could think about was project management practices and training.  I thought, “what did I get myself into?”  I then reminded myself that hopefully I would be remembered as a good team-player and mother… But, let me explain from the beginning.

My boys went on another one of their camping trips with the 8th Newmarket Scout Troop. [Incidentally they are in the Venturer program not the younger  Scouts program.] This trip involved a 4+ hour drive  to the Bruce Peninsula National Park (further than most 2 day camps) and there was a bleak weather forecast (typical for this Venturer Group).  Mother Nature didn’t disappoint: the scenery was incredible, the rain torrential and they set ‘a first’ for their group: they went to the laundry to dry some sleeping bags and clothes.  They had a great time and returned home safely: tired, wet and dirty. My husband dashed off to catch a flight and then all the boys disappeared: wet camping equipment still in our garage.

Exams loomed for the boys and the timing to get assistance from the Group was very tight. The weather forecast was grim: rain all week. Replacing moldy tents would be several hundred dollars: What we were going to do?

Then a ray of hope: actually of sunshine. The weather radar looked like we may have a few hours of sun before the rain started again. Luckily my work schedule was flexible enough to accommodate opening up numerous tents, a shelter, ground sheets and tarps. However, I wasn’t prepared for the mud covered everything. Needless to say this was a multi-step process: open up the equipment, hose off the mud, dry the equipment, re-inspect and start all over again if necessary.  The messy work was completed when the boys arrived after school: they worked as a team and folded up all the tents, tarps and shelters.

Now what does this have to do with Training?

Many focus on preparation and delivery of teaching, training while they ignore what should happen in the aftermath of training (or any project).

1-Schedule the time (and personnel) to deal with the ‘aftermath’ of training. This goes beyond the ‘tear-down’ and storage of equipment and extends into the training material. One needs to leave all material ready to use in the future. So, remove unwanted content (like a wet sock in a tent) and fill the holes/bridge the gaps. Just like with camping: You won’t remember where the hole was when you are in a hurry to set up the next time around.

 2-Ask for and examine participant feedback:  it may surprize you. One may think that given the inclement weather the Venturers would have had a marginal time: on the contrary they had the BEST time battling the elements!  [I will examine 'the art' of feedback in detail in upcoming posts.]

3-Take the time to reflect as the deliverer. What did we do that we would do again? What should we do differently? Jotting down these ideas right after training will capture them; otherwise, you may not remember specific challenges (or victories) until you encounter them again.

4-Exploit all windows of opportunity, even if the timing is inconvenient or the task at hand is ‘not your job’. Yes, I was tired and I didn’t want to do all the work for my boys by drying out the tents for them. On the other hand, I probably saved the Group a lot of money as they would have had to replace all the tents.

So much can be gained by taking the time after a training session, or any project. Applying the lessons learned and fixing the challenges faced will have a profound positive impact on results going forward. Just ask my boys who had to deal with someone else’s dirty dishes the night they were packing to go camping. Now to get them not to leave dirty dishes in my kitchen sink…

Until next time, this is ‘Scoutess Anne’ , as the boys call me…

I’M INSPIRED!!

Everywhere I look there is something that inspires me to share my insights on teaching, training and enabling staff to execute their role more effectively.

Take for example my Rose of Sharon bush. While the blossoms are spectacular there are plenty of buds just waiting to bloom. How will they unfold? What will the bush’s branch then look like?

So I’m ready to say:  “The Sabbatical is OVER!”

I’m working on a number of entries for this blog from: on-boarding to enablement with a bit of pragmatic advice about how to gather, assess and action feedback. Most topics require additional research to present a balanced viewpoint, so I can’t just crank out the posts all at once…

In order to prioritize what I publish, please take the quick poll below. It is helpful to understand what challenges you face or what topics are of the most interest to YOU.

Thanks for your interest! Until next time…

Turkey Dinner

The days are getting shorter…

The leaves have fallen from the trees…

The air has a bit of a nip in it…

Thanksgiving Day approaches.

While some people are feeling festive, many businesses are getting quite serious as Black Friday approaches.

What will their year look like: will they make it or break it?

It’s time to get serious and “Talk Turkey” about training.

It can’t be ALL fun and games ALL of the time.

ALWAYS LINK

Ultimately, you, as a trainer, are paid to get results: either enabling a culture change or training your audience with new knowledge or a new skill. Although exercises and games can be fun and may increase your popularity with students, the sponsor of your program is paying you and THEY WANT RESULTS.

Beware that those fun exercises (especially for soft skills training or team building) may sidetrack or hijack your training.

Debriefing the exercise is PARAMOUNT. Take the time, involve your audience: What did they learn? What does that illustrate? How can they apply that knowledge back on the job?  Yes, you could save time and explain to them what the exercise illustrates… But that may not ensure they ‘get it’ and can relate the lesson to their ‘world’. (For more on being audience driven see this blog post.)

I know, this sounds a bit like parenting: “What did you learn? Why? What will you do differently next time?” BUT many trainers don’t take the time to reflect on exercises, activities and games… perhaps that is because they are driven by the ‘happy sheets’/feedback ratings at the end of the session instead of the real driver behind the training: getting to results.

DESIGN FOR RESULTS

When designing a program, you start with the objectives. (What will be the result of your program/session? What will attendees walk away with upon completion?) From there you can measure and evaluate how well your program addresses those objectives (and ultimately impress your sponsor with your success.) [For more on interpretting training feedback, download the Strategic Feedback System whitepaper available in the box on the right-hand side of this page. I will be removing that download very shortly. So download it now and let me know what you think.]

However, what happens if your ultimate objective is something you can’t achieve with training alone? What if your program is  reliant on some outside event, equipment, activity or stimulus?

Why do I bring this up? Supporting culture change is challenging. There is a difference between what you can impact as a trainer and what needs additional measures to be successful. An understanding of culture change may help you be more consultative which may impact your sponsor’s success. For an over of culture change and the critical success factors, consult my most popular (and talked about) blog post: “What Trainers Need to Know about Culture Change.

GIVING THANKS

“At the end of the day”, focus on what you can impact, relate your training to the ‘world’ of your audience and thank them for their attention and participation. Remember you are a ‘guest’ in their world.

And this week be thankful for friends & family, health, happiness

and all the little things that we take for granted.

It can all be taken away in an instant.

DRIVE SAFELY, EAT WISELY AND LAUGH HEARTILY!

Thanks for reading… Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving.  Gobble, gobble! :-)

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Flickr Creative Commons Image by grapesmc

blur

Three-year-old children understand the secret.  

They know the magic word.

What does that say about us? Do we know the secret?

Let me explain.

THE CHALLENGE

When someone seeks you out and asks you to deliver your service, training, what do they usually say? I bet it is probably, “Here’s what I want…” And many times that comes along with a list of topics and an entire outline. While that may sound like easy money, it may turn out to be a difficult situation to navigate.

Now a good consultant (and trainer) always delivers what the client wants. But what if that client doesn’t understand what they need?

Great ‘trainers’ will take a consultative approach to determine who the intended audience is and what they (and the organization) truly need.

 

CONSULTATIVE WORDS TO AVOID THE PERCEPTION OF BEING CONDESCENDING

There is a fine art in turning a request into a consultative approach. You need to understand what the drivers are behind the request for training and probe to find out what success looks like. I typically like to start with phrases like, “Let me understand a bit about what is behind this request…” or “I want to understand the situation as fully as I can so that you are absolutely delighted at the end of the training…”

Once you have a good understanding of the background, you can examine what outcomes the training should have and determine if they are reasonable. “Just so I understand you correctly… at the end of the session, a participant should be able to [fill in the blank]…”  “Are there any additional outcomes that are important?” These types of phrases will help confirm your understanding of the outcomes. You may be surprized at additional outcomes are important. This is where we are getting closer to the magic word…

When your client says, “… this is important.” You know you have to use the magic word.

What is the magic word? The magic word is “Why?”

Think about it! So many times trainers nod their head yes and deliver what they were asked for without understanding “Why”. Whereas, if they were to probe the request they’d uncover the ‘grey area’ and potentially redirect or supplement the training with material that could really impact the business.

EXPLOITING THE BLURRY LINES

Coming from a large company and moving into the small and medium business environment has really opened my eyes. The very defined, silo-like, job roles and responsibilities of larger companies allow employees to specialize and create quite a depth of expertise. In the small and medium business world the lines between roles (and responsibilities) are more fuzzy (or blurry) and it your breadth of skill and expertise becomes more important.

Why am I exploring this? Well understanding the job roles and the business process may be important when you develop your training. Examining the “blurry lines” (and even the set in concrete responsibility ‘lines’ in large companies) may uncover a weakness in a process or gap between job roles. Addressing that discovery may ultimately have the most impact on the effectiveness of the organization.

You may also find that you understand a certain ‘fuzzy area’ and it is there you can provide tremendous value. The ‘fuzzy area’ that I consider my sweet spot is the area between Marketing and Sales. Some organizations call this area ‘Sales Enablement’, while other organizations ignore the area (and it becomes a gap), while still other organizations bicker about who owns the responsibility to equip the Sales Reps with the information, tools and training they need. (I don’t care what you call it, this gap/overlap/’fuzzy area’ still needs to be addressed.)

YOUR SUCCESS:

In conclusion, you will be MORE successful if you,

  • Obey less and understand more. Go ahead, use that secret word!
  • Address the blurry lines (and gaps) between job roles and business processes. This will position you as a valuable consultant to the organization instead of just your average trainer.
  • Find your niche in one of those ‘fuzzy areas’.

Now wouldn’t you agree that your three-year-old would make a good consultant?  “Why?”  ;-)

Until next time…

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Flickr Creative Commons Image by Jasleen Kaur

Shiver me timbers!

Monday, September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day and our thoughts may turn away from business for a few minutes to contemplate the lighter side of pirates and pirating (especially if one of your colleagues starts acting the part.) In the training business, we can learn a lot from pirates.

PIRATES: SCARY CUTTHROAT ROGUES?

There are plenty of definitions of what pirates are and plenty of opinions on what privates are not. If you examine the definitions including the modern definitions describing the pirating of videos or software, you will notice words or phrases that include “without commission”, “without authority” or “without permission”.  The definitions would lead you to believe pirates were/are all rogues.

HOW ABOUT A CALCULATING, COLLABORATING COLLECTIVE?

I’d like to suggest that pirates could be looked at as exemplary team players as they are: calculating and collaborative. Setting up their own language and their own “code” of conduct (for engagement and responsibility) catapults them ahead of most teams.

I’ve collected several pirate related blog posts on into a page of team teaching tips. This ‘Pirate Series’ outlines critical success factors when teaching as a team. Collectively, you must:

Pirates, as a result of working together so well, created a strong brand: their mission was clear, their tactics unrivalled and their results were legendary. Your training team can achieve similiar results if you learn some lessons from pirates.

 LESSONS TO SAIL OFF WITH OR PONDER OVER A GLASS OF RUM

 When pressured to deliver products better, faster and cheaper, just like pirates, be calculating and:

  • Consider the impact of your actions on your: training product, training business and training brand.
  • Invest upfront to agree, define and disseminate roles and responsibilities AND rules and regulations. These do not have to be formally written, although you will find that the exercise of putting pen to paper often unearths additional ideas or additional areas that need to be addressed. If you have your working arrangement written down, it is also easier to bring additional staff or guests ‘on board’ to help.

Until next time, have some fun and ‘talk like a pirate’!

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Flickr Creative Commons Images by Mykl Roventine

Check out Mykl’s work… It is truly inspiring: Day 19 - Make Mistakes

Sailing and sailing regattas usually spell fun-in-the-sun for some lucky folks in the summer. Exciting, unpredictable and hopefully uneventful, sailing has many similarities to the teaching/training world. The training lessons we can learn from sailing, should not be taken lightly: as they illustrate some top training mistakes.

UNPREPARED NAVIGATION

A good sailor knows you have to chart your journey, consider the ever-changing wind and weather and prepared for the unexpected.

One of my pet peeves, is when you know a presenter, teacher or trainer is (clearly) just ‘winging it’. Such unpreparedness shows a lack of respect for the [paying] audience. Now, having said that, there are people who can just talk off the cuff and be extremely organized in their thought process and somehow stay on topic. But lets face it, can you really expect to do that successfully? Will it showcase your skills in the best light?

Talking is one thing, but when you are giving a demonstration it is another thing. Demonstrations require the planning of  your navigation. I always have a cheat-sheet to help even if the demo is something that I really know well. On my cheat-sheet I always record key points so I will talk through them. Not everyone will be as familiar with whatever you are demonstrating, so it is important for you to help navigate them with phrases such as “… in the top left had corner there is a pull-down menu, I’m clicking on that and selecting…” I try to orally navigate my audience as if they were visually challenged or if English was their second language. Remember to slow-down, consider the different learning styles and practice your navigation. The more prepared you are, the higher the probably of success you will have.

HIKING: LIVING ON THE EDGE

I remember the excitement of ‘hiking’ on a sailboat, just like in the photo above. Wow, what an adrenaline rush, especially when you hike (or hang) off the boat so far that you wet your hair in the water.

While living on the edge and ‘stretching’ may be a rush. It poses some risks, just like the time I backward somersaulted off the boat into the water! (That was embarrassing!)

When you are training, it is exciting to ‘stretch’ a little and pose a controversial question or try a new challenging exercise. BUT: Do you really have time to do these things? Will they really add value? Is it worth the risk? So, always be prepared with a back plan… and if things go wrong, NEVER forget your sense of humour!

EQUIPMENT CHECK

A sailing ‘best practice’, (and really a no-brainer), is equipment testing. If you watch parents of sailing youngsters, they’ll equipment check (or ask about equipment checking) several times before the young sailor ‘sets sail’. They wouldn’t dare let one of their children out on the water without equipment checking.

If you are dealing with any technology, it is important to equipment check. As an instructor, I used to arrive early to ensure the equipment was set up properly and in working order (even though I had checked the night before). (Back in the really old days), we even had spare light-bulbs for our three overhead projectors. When traveling on technical marketing awareness roadshows, we always equipment tested because invariably something did go wrong at the last-minute. Don’t laugh, when technology is involved, Murphy does show up. (I love this quote from the Murphy’s Law Website: )

Murphy’s Law

“If anything can go wrong, it will…
Corollary: It can…
Corollary: It should…
Corollary: At the most inopportune time…

Extension: it will be all your fault, and everyone will know it.

CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

So, in closing:

  1. Plan your navigation, especially in ‘tricky waters’.
  2. Mitigate the risks when you ‘stretch’ above and beyond what you are used to.
  3. Always, always equipment check. It is one thing to fail because of better competition, bad weather or conditions OR stretching and really trying. However, failure because you didn’t check your equipment: now that is unforgivable.

Until next time, enjoy the summer sun and breezes!

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Image of  “Connor Hiking on Connor Bay”, Port Maitland Lighthouse in the background, courtesy of Gord Palin.

This is the sign that started it all. Per a previous blog post I was amazed at  how the description of poison ivy on this sign was somewhat ambiguous, especially when the sign was set back from the trail with lots of green bushes in-between. For me, the experience illustrated an important lesson for trainers: different learning styles.

 

Over a month had passed and I was hiking on a different trail and came across that same sign. This time I could safely get close enough to take a picture.

 

But it seems poison ivy always teaches a lesson…

 

 

That’s it, a simple lesson for the day: Update your material (even when you are on vacation).

Until next time, happy hiking…

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Special Additional Notes about poison ivy:

  • Notice young poison ivy leaves are reddish NOT green (and this isn’t the Fall),
  • Don’t touch or pet your dogs: they may have come in contact with poison ivy,
  • Wash (with soap and water) your hands and any skin that may have come in contact with poison ivy.

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