Not everyone sees things our way (no matter how right our way obviously is)

On September 11, 2001, I was living in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. That afternoon, when I finally grew sick of watching planes crash into the twin towers, over and over and over again on the news, I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. I decided to lace up my sneakers and walk down the street to play basketball.

I was in Washington, DC earlier this week and I pulled my car over when I passed that basketball court to take a picture. The memories of that day came flooding back.

Girard Street Court

For perhaps the only moment in my adult life, it seemed that everyone in the country was on the same page. Members of Congress joined together, regardless of party, to sing “God Bless America”. President George W. Bush’s favorability rating would reach 87% of all Americans (regardless of party).

Then something odd happened that afternoon (as if the day wasn’t odd enough already). I walked past a man walking down the street, proclaiming in celebration, how Uncle Sam had just gotten his butt kicked.  Continue reading

Lessons in Presentation Skills from Hiroshima

Atomic Bomb Dome

Last week I had an opportunity to spend a day in Hiroshima, where I had an opportunity to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. As I reflected on how the museum curators put together such a moving and powerful experience, it made me wonder what transferable lessons there could be for anyone who wants to make a presentation designed to move their audience to action.

It began with the brain

Entering the museum, we had an opportunity to learn about the history of Hiroshima. It was interesting. And awful. But I already knew much of this history (at least the World War II stuff). If the museum had stopped here, I don’t know that I would have been as moved or reflective when I walked back onto the street.

But it didn’t stop here. Physically, we had to walk through a long cat walk in order to enter the “main building.”

It tapped into the heart

Once we arrived in the main building, we entered a completely different atmosphere. I’m not sure I’d ever been in a museum that was as crowded yet as quiet as this. Stories of survivors. Tattered and burned clothes of children who did not survive. Exhibits and images that showed the effects of radiation on the body.

This was no longer some awful yet abstract moment in the history of the world. It was real. It was powerful. It made me think of one of my father’s favorite sayings: “there but for the grace of God go I.” Even as visitors, we could imagine what it was like to be in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

A call to action

Before we left the museum, there was an opportunity to sign a petition for a worldwide convention on nuclear weapons. I observed many people signing their names.

An opportunity to reflect

Outside of the Peace Museum is a large park with greenery, an eternal flame, several monuments and the Atomic Bomb Dome (pictured above, it was one of the only structures remaining once The Bomb exploded). After going through such a powerful experience, I was grateful for the time and space I had to reflect on what I had just seen and learned.

A lesson in presentation skills

Anyone who has read Switch by Chip and Dan Heath will recognize the first three elements from above: addressing the rational side of things, speaking to the heart and “shaping the path” (the call to action). These are the Heath brothers’ three essential elements of change management. The Peace Museum in Hiroshima was exhibit A of how these three elements can combine to create a powerful and moving experience.

Having time and space to reflect and being able to process the experience by talking with my wife enabled me to more fully absorb what I had seen and learned. She talked about things she saw that I must have missed. She talked about things going through her mind that I hadn’t thought about.

The thing I find most boring about a lot of museums is the same thing I find most boring about so many presentations and training sessions and new hire orientation modules: they only speak to the rational side of a topic. By tapping into the emotional side as well as the rational side and having time and space to reflect, the Peace Museum was an experience that will stick with me for a long, long time. If only we could say the same about all the presentations and training sessions and new hire orientation modules we have to sit through.

The next time you get in front of an audience, what will you do in order to tap into both the rational and emotional side of your audience? Will you allow them time and space to reflect on and process what you’ve presented?

Death of an Avocado Tree

Have you ever been frustrated when a great idea of yours fizzled?  In hindsight, do you think it was missing any of the keys to successful change (listed below)?

The Avocado Tree

Last October my mother-in-law and my 5-year-old daughter got very excited about a science experiment.  They put an avocado pit into a cup of water and then observed what happened next.  My daughter was fascinated by the idea of a tree sprouting out of the ping pong ball-sized pit that came out of the middle of an avocado.

My mother-in-law eventually went home, but we continued to see changes occur. Little by little, the pit cracked open and a new plant began to emerge.  After several months, we transferred the growing plant from its original home in a cup of water to a pot filled with dirt.

At first, we watered it regularly.  Leaves began to grow out of the stem.

Then other things came up. The end of the school year. Camping trips. Vacation.

Interest in the avocado plant waned. Remembering to move it to a spot so that the sun didn’t scorch it as the summer took hold and remembering to water it regularly just wasn’t as interesting as other, newer stuff in our lives.

Less than a year later, this…

Avocado Plant (Alive)

…turned into this…

Avocado Plant (Dead)

This weekend I walked by the dead stick, and three thoughts struck me:

  1. If this is how we care for new little living things, we’re definitely not ready for a puppy!
  2. There’s no doubt in my mind that if my mother-in-law lived closer, this plant would still be alive.
  3. This is an incredible metaphor for way too many new initiatives at work.

Translating the Metaphor

How could this avocado plant have eventually flourished and survived long enough to become a tree?  Its best hope would have been for our family to have treated this like any other change initiative.

In his book The Heart of Change (and in pretty much any other book he’s written), John Kotter outlines 8 keys to successful change initiatives:

  1. Increase urgency: With so many other distractions, allocating time on the avocado plant wasn’t really a priority for anyone.  And once we transplanted it into a pot with soil and had to water it, nobody had a sense of urgency about keeping up with it.  Which is similar to that new, shiny online training academy; with all the day-to-day work to be done, does anyone really have time to keep signing up for courses and completing them?
  2. Build the guiding team: Once my mother-in-law left, nobody was really in charge of continuing to labor over the plant.  If a change initiative depends wholly on one person, it may never grow to maturity.
  3. Get the vision right: Was this a one-time science experiment? Or did we really want to grow a tree? And was that training on the new performance management system a one-time event?  Or were people expected to actually do      something with it when they left the training room?
  4. Communicate for buy-in: Most everyone in our house thought the experiment was neat… and as long as someone else took care of it, it might make a fine tree someday. It may have been helpful if the ultimate vision was shared and if expectations around workload had been agreed upon.
  5. Empower action: My mother-in-law initiated the project.  I watered it for a while.  But my daughter – who was clearly enthusiastic about the project – was never included in the caretaking of the plant.  When there are willing      supporters, they should be involved and empowered to take control.
  6. Create short-term wins:  It was fun and exciting to see a stem sprout from the seed.  And then to see leaves sprout from the stem.  But then new developments took longer and there was no more excitement.  Would this thing ever      turn into an actual tree?! And while we’re speaking of short-term wins, who cares if I complete one course or seven courses or thirty courses in that new elearning system?  When can I finish my learning and just be good enough?
  7. Don’t let up: Yeah, watering the plant should have been routine.  But we stopped.  And it died.  Perhaps if we had someone reminding us on a daily basis or sending us a watering schedule, even if from afar, it would still be alive today.
  8. Make change stick: Ultimately, John Kotter suggests the true sign of successful change is when it becomes part of the daily routine.  Our poor little avocado plant, like so many other ideas that were once new and exciting, never made it that far.

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.

11 Lessons My Family Has Taught Me about Learning, Development, Facilitation, Collaboration and Change Management

  1. Saying “mom doesn’t need to know about our little trip to the store to get donuts (right before lunch)” never works… someone inevitably has loose lips and the boss will always find out when the rules have been bent (or broken)
  2. Potty training is an amazing lesson on effective (and ineffective) change management initiatives
  3. Sometimes just saying “thank you” is a lot better than trying to debate and defend yourself when feedback is given
  4. Sometimes it’s better to allow the walk to the park, which normally takes 15 minutes, to turn into a 45-minute nature expedition (exploring what happens when you blow on dandelions, picking up leaves, examining the difference between a crow and a robin, looking both ways before crossing the street) – indeed the process can be much more powerful than just focusing on the task at hand
  5. Even though I can read The Cat in the Hat much more quickly, my daughter will never learn to read if I don’t give her a chance to try it and work through the lengthy process of sounding out words for herself (this is exhibit A of why experiential training design is much more powerful than lecture)
  6. There may be a lot of things that need to be accomplished during the short, 2-day span of a weekend, but being sure to allow for downtime can sometimes be more productive than just having everything be “go, go, go” (no matter how much needs to be accomplished, building in breaks is crucial)
  7. Just because I’ve said “please clean up these toys” doesn’t mean the toys will be put away in the right place, in an orderly manner or in a place they will ever be found again… clear instructions (and even some modeling of the desired behaviors) are pretty important
  8. A head nod or a response of “uh huh” or “yes” doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re on the same page… more often than not it means “I’ll tell you what I think you want to hear if you’ll just leave me alone now”
  9. “Why do you think that is…” is a pretty good response to a 3-year-old’s perpetual repetition of the question “why?” (the old boomerang technique works every time!)
  10. Using candy, ice cream or prizes as a bribe may work in the short term (and sometimes this is a true life saver!), but can also create elevated expectations for extrinsic rewards going forward
  11. Spending some time getting everyone’s input and building a shared vision definitely takes longer but it is generally much better received than “…because I said so…”

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.

Potty Training and Corporate Training: Eerily Similar

My son has entered week three of potty training. As I attempt to facilitate a smooth transition away from diapers I’m struck by how similar this experience is to my day job in the world of training.

Potty Training - Toilet Paper          Businesswoman giving presentation

It’s Compulsory (a sort of compliance training)

Recently, my son was offered a promotion.  His teachers wanted to move him from the young toddler room to the older toddler room.  The promotion comes with all sorts of perks: better toys, a nice corner classroom with sweeping views of the playground and a new set of challenges (the monotony of learning about primary colors will now be replaced with new and exciting secondary colors!).  With more perks, however, come more responsibilities.  One such responsibility is the need to use the bathroom.  And therein lies a skills gap.

Even though a need has been identified and a development plan is now in place, there’s still a lot of resistance when it comes to combatting the status quo.  Basically, he wants the new perks but he’s being forced to go through potty training in order to develop the requisite skill set for this promotion.  I think he resents having this change thrust upon him.

Learning by Doing can be Messy… But it’s the Only Way to Go

As much as I’d like to ease the process along, the fact is that I can’t do the work for my son.  He needs to figure out how to do this on his own.  And he totally gets the theory of using the bathroom when it’s time to go.  We’ve read books.  I’ve modeled the behavior for him.  I’ve even introduced technology (I’ll let him watch this clip from Sesame Street on my iPad if he’ll just stay seated!).  When he’s asked where he should go when he feels nature is calling, he’ll give me the correct answer.  In the world of corporate training, this would be enough to earn a certificate of completion for the training program.  But I’m not quite ready to award this little guy a certificate of completion.  Until he acts on this knowledge, all of these tools and technologies and theories alone will not have guaranteed skills transfer.

Feedback and Rewards

After outlining the need for the change, after introducing the theory and modeling the desired behaviors, we have also implemented an incentive system to ensure we celebrate the small victories along the way.  Simple potty success earns a small treat (such as a piece of Halloween candy from what is apparently a magical, bottomless bag of sweets that found its way into our house last October).  Demonstrating success in more complex potty maneuvers earns ice cream.  In order to reinforce these successes, incentives are immediately payable, even if that means ice cream for breakfast.  I do wonder sometimes what will happen when these incentives – new and novel now – are no longer seen as “special”?  What happens when these incentives disappear altogether and it’s simply an expectation to deliver consistently successful results on behaviors that should be part of the everyday routine?

Follow-through and Follow-up

I do want to be sure that my son’s new skill set is used regularly as he prepares for his promotion, which is why I want to be sure that I follow up with his teachers to check in on his progress. The process of change isn’t a straight line, I know there will be some days when these skills aren’t used as well as other days.  I may even need to prepare a refresher training at some point in the near future.  Making sure there is an open line of communication between the trainer, the learner and the day-to-day supervisor (the teachers) is important.  At the end of the day, I’m looking for signs of measurable post-training transfer of skills, things such as the percent decrease in the quantity of changes of clothes that need to be laundered after school each week.

Implications for the Working World

I’m really struck at how many similarities there are between potty training and corporate training – analyzing the gaps, designing the program, evaluating the results.  Yet I’m also struck by the fact that, when I look around, even though it may take a year (or more), potty training is about 100% effective.  How many change initiatives in our work have similar results?  What happens during a major change initiative such as potty training that does not happen when we go about facilitating change in our work lives?

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow” at the top of the page!

The Parable of the Part-time Trainer (Part 1)

The Parable of the Part-time Trainer  – Part 1

From time to time, all of us have probably been asked to be a “part-time trainer”, we’ve been asked to present something to a group – in front of classmates, in front of co-workers, in front of new trainees, in front of a jury.  The following parable illustrates how presentations can go – both how presentations can go in the moment and the impact of these types of presentations later down the road.  Next week, I’ll spend some time analyzing the good, the bad and the ugly about the events in this all-too-common story of a part-time trainer.

Note: This parable provides hyperlinks to sample materials that you may find of interest in order to get a more complete understanding of the story

Lin is the Director of Human Resources for a non-profit organization whose mission is “to ensure every child has access to education in order to make their lives, their communities and the world a better place.” The organization employs 298 staff working in 24 centers of learning, located in four different states and the District of Columbia.

During this year’s annual management retreat, Lin was asked to facilitate a 2-hour presentation to unveil and train any staff with direct reports (28 managers) on using a new, standard annual performance review system for employees. As Lin put together her lesson plan for this presentation, she struggled to fit everything she needed to present into the 2 hours she was allocated.  At the same time Lin was attempting to make the session engaging for the managers (the session was immediately after lunch).

Lin began the session by dividing the managers into groups of 7 and explaining the instructions of her ice breaking activity: The Human Knot. This activity took a little longer than Lin had planned for, but the managers seemed to find it fun right after lunch. As soon as the small groups got themselves untangled from their human knots, Lin began the actual content of the lesson. She had prepared a PowerPoint slide deck to illustrate the points she wanted to make and provided handouts of each document that was to be used in the employee review system. Lin took about 60 minutes to talk about each section of each form. She allowed for 20 minutes of questions and answers at the end of her session.

The group seemed quiet, but they did ask some questions at the end. Lin wasn’t sure how she did, but she was pleased to see scores of 4s and 5s (on a 5-point scale) on the training evaluation forms. She was also heartened by the comments such as “great job” and “this looks like a very useful performance management tool”. The only negative comments (“room was too cold”) were out of her control anyways.

Marques was a site manager, supervising 12 employees, at one of the four Washington, DC-based education sites of Lin’s organization. He found this new format to be a lot of work, but after six months he concluded that it was well-worth the time and effort. The performance development tools had helped give structure and guidance to the way in which he offered feedback and created annual performance reviews. When Marques met up with the other Washington DC-based site managers for a happy hour, he was surprised, and a bit frustrated, to learn none of them were using the new system. One colleague said he had tried to use it when he had first returned from the management retreat, but it was a lot of work and he had too many fires to put out.   

Three weeks after the happy hour, Lin was touring the various DC-based educational sites. During her meeting with Marques, he commented on how he was enjoying using the new annual review tools and system, but he knew that there were other managers who chose not to use it. 

Following this conversation, Lin began to check on how many managers had actually begun to use the system. She found that seven months after the management retreat, only four of the 28 managers were using it.

The training got such good reviews and early on it seemed like there had been a lot of buzz and excitement about the tools provided. Lin was completely deflated. What happened?!

To be continued…

Have some thoughts on what went wrong?  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comment area below.  Part 2, next week, will analyze this situation in more detail.