Do you walk into every training development project knowing exactly what needs to happen to make it a success? If you are like me, probably not. As a junior trainer, a lot of my lessons were learned from failure and feedback. While those are wonderful ways to learn, it isn’t always ideal to put yourself or your team at risk for failure if it can be avoided. Is there a way to be proactive about troubleshooting your next training event?
Sophie Oberstein, author, coach, adjunct professor, and L&OD consultant, joins us on the Train Like You Listen podcast this week to discuss how you can find solutions to training problems.
Make sure to check out her book, Troubleshooting for Trainers, which is available October 6, 2020.
Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.
Transcript of the Conversation with Sophie Oberstein
Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone to the Train Like You Listen Podcast, a weekly podcast of all things L&D in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn. I’m the co-founder and CEO of a company called, Endurance Learning, and this week I’m joined by Sophie Oberstein who’s an author, professor, coach, consultant, and all-around L&D professional with over 20 years in the field. Sophie, thank you for joining us today.
Sophie Oberstein: Thank you for having me.
Brian Washburn: Absolutely. I was very intrigued by this book that you have coming out called Troubleshooting for Trainers. We’re going to get to that in just a second.
Brian Washburn: But before we get there, we always like to start with a six-word biography to have our guests introduce themselves. And for me today, with today’s topic about Troubleshooting for Trainers, my six-word biography, something that sums up my life along lines of this topic is “I’ve always wanted an answer key”. How about you? Do you have six words that could sum up your life?
Sophie Oberstein: Sure. I think this sums up my life, as well as the motivation for this book, which is “I love providing tools for success”.
Brian Washburn: Nice. Now, you do have this book that is out October 6th called Troubleshooting for Trainers. Where did you get inspiration for this book? Who would be able to find it most useful?
What Inspired the Book “Troubleshooting for Trainers”?
Sophie Oberstein: It started with the adult learning principle, the one that says that people are motivated to learn when they think the content is going to help them to solve a problem. So I just started thinking about “what are the problems that trainers face”, and whether there was a way to structure a book around those problems? I just envisioned a book people could pull off the shelf when they were stuck on something.
Brian Washburn: And when I do a training, a lot of times I talk about the parallel process. So not only am I am I training somebody, but I’m also trying to model how to actually train. And so it sounds like you’re doing something very similar, where it comes with adult learning, which is really one of the core principles, the most fundamental principles, is that it needs to be relevant, it needs to help people solve a problem oftentimes in the moment or some sort of immediacy to it. And so you have that here, which is pretty cool. I think I interrupted you. Were you going to say something else in terms of the inspiration the book?
Sophie Oberstein: Well, I was just going to say where I then started looking around for problems and talking to students in the learning design course I teach at NYU, and talking to trainers at the Core Four conference that ATD sponsors, and in organizations where I do consulting work, just started realizing that there truly was a need for people to just throw their questions out there, and their challenges that they face them, and get them real-time response.
Brian Washburn: And so you have this book that has all sorts of thoughts on how to address a variety of specific issues that may arise for a trainer. What do you think might be one of the biggest picture– or one of the biggest general categories that trainers struggle with?
What Do Trainers Struggle With the Most?
Sophie Oberstein: If it’s OK, I’m actually going to pull two off of this list I created. So in the book, I share a “Top 10 Mistakes That New Trainers Make”. And the two I want to focus on are the ones I feel are most common and most critical. One of those is providing training when training is not going to help solve the problem.
I think that trainers, particularly new trainers who are really eager to help and want to respond positively to every request that comes their way, don’t do their thorough analysis that they need to do, and don’t feel comfortable suggesting some other approach if training is not the most appropriate in the situation.
Brian Washburn: So it’s like the order-taker syndrome. So you get an order, and then you feel like you have to fulfill it. Especially for newer folks, it’s almost like being a waiter in a restaurant, where somebody asks you for something and then, it’s like, “yes, sir”. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll do that.”
Whereas, really in terms of the world of training, we need to think of ourselves as partners to help further the ability of people around the organization, and training isn’t always the answer. I think that’s a great one. You mentioned that you had two. What’s the other one?
Sophie Oberstein: Seeing training as an event and not part of a blended approach. Like we can create fantastic one-and-done training programs, but it’s just not going to have the kind of positive impact that’s going to create the kind of behavior change that we’re looking for. Trainers need to think about the full experience from the moment someone enrolls in a course, through when they go back on the job and they’re supposed to apply this and remember this and use it.
Brian Washburn: Yeah, I’m looking– if I could look in a mirror that took me back 15 or 20 years when I first started, these were two of my biggest problems. Now, when it comes to trainers, it’s not just them who are involved in a program. Oftentimes– or an organization– their supervisors play a role as well.
Advice for Trainer Supervisors
Brian Washburn: Your book focuses on a number of individual anxieties or concerns or struggles, and you have answers or ideas for people who are going through it, like we were just talking about. What about people who are supervisors of trainers? Do you have any advice for the supervisor of somebody who might be new in the field, or just somebody who is struggling with some of these concepts, like lack of credibility or training itself not being well regarded? Those are a couple of the things that you mentioned in your book. But how does a supervisor help somebody who’s struggling with some of these things?
Sophie Oberstein: Well, I think that, whether you’re a supervisor or you’re a member of an L&D team, you struggle with credibility issues, both on an individual level, as well as for the learning function as a whole. I think that supervisors have a higher level of responsibility in that area, or they can at least take some of that layer away for training new trainers, so that they can really focus on the instructional design, the facilitation. Supervisors have more visibility in the organization, sometimes more access to senior leaders.
But everybody struggles with getting people to trust in them, personally, and their work product. And building trust takes time. So the first thing is just be patient.
What If Training Isn’t Well Regarded Where I Work?
Sophie Oberstein: There’s a section of the book that’s called “Training Isn’t Well Regarded”, which is just chock full of strategies for when your function isn’t to– isn’t invited to the table or isn’t seen as value added. And if that’s the case, if training isn’t well regarded where you work, I think it indicates that maybe a broader focus is in order. And as an individual team member, you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to influence that.
Whereas, if you’re a supervisor, you could say “yeah, we need to think beyond the one-and-done training program. We need to think about skills that aren’t being– that aren’t needed immediately on the job, but that help people in the world today with the jobs that are going to come, like critical thinking skills or finding data and knowing that it’s reliable– those sorts of broader topics.” You need to find out what outcomes your stakeholders would find valuable and supervisors have more of an opportunity to talk to some of those stakeholders. And you need to invest some additional effort on communication, not only to get people to sign up for your training, but just to involve their supervisors and people at all levels in L&D effort.
Brian Washburn:Yeah, it’s interesting. I think this book is– it’s written and the title is Troubleshooting For Trainers, but I think that supervisors could actually– would be well served to have a copy of this book on their shelf as well. For me, I’ve worked at smaller organizations and my supervisor has never been somebody who has been, or who has had experience in the world of training and development.
And so sometimes, I had my own blind spots that I couldn’t see. I could see how this book could help inspire a supervisor to see where some of my employee’s blind spots are as well. You know, we’ve talked here about troubleshooting, obviously, but let’s end with a strengths-based question. What do you think is the easiest thing to do well when it comes to training other people?
What is the Easiest Thing to Do Well When Training?
Sophie Oberstein: So this may seem counter-intuitive, but the easiest thing, I think, for any trainer to do is to be upfront about what you don’t know. So it might feel like you’re coming across as ignorant, but you’re actually building credibility because you’re being real and you’re being vulnerable, which builds trust. So it’s good for relationships with clients and subject matter experts to say things like, “I’m not sure how this will work because I haven’t tried it in an organization like this one, and I look forward to figuring it out together.”
Or to say to participants in a session, “I don’t know the answer. No one asked me that before. But I’m going to track them down, and I’ll send it to you in the next 48 hours.” And it’s just– it’s easier, obviously, because you don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to make anything up.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. I think that making answers up is the absolute worst thing that you can do. So being able to– and having the courage to say “I’m not sure”, or “I’m not sure how this is going to work. Try it with me and let’s see how it goes.”
Sophie Oberstein: Right.
Brian Washburn: I know that I’ve been in that situation, as a designer, a number of times with somebody saying, “you want us to use Play-Doh in that activity? Are you serious?” And I’m like, “yeah. Let’s try it and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, we’ll change it.”
Sophie Oberstein: Right. Right.
Brian Washburn: I think that having humility is definitely a key, and it’s part of that low hanging fruit. It’s part of, you’re in control of that. You’re in control of being able to say, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you on that.”
Sophie Oberstein: Right.
Brian Washburn: Thank you so much for sharing some insights. I’m really excited to dive more deeply into the book when I can get a copy in front of me.
Get to Know Sophie Oberstein
Brian Washburn: But the more we wrap up here, I’d love for our listeners to have a chance to get to know you just a little bit better. So we’re going to do a quick speed round here. The first question is, what’s your go-to pre-training food?
Sophie Oberstein: At first I didn’t think I had one, but then I realized I’ve always got a Clif bar in my bag because I never have time. So it’s a Clif bar, especially a peanut butter flavor.
Brian Washburn: Nice. A lot of people go with light breakfast. But sometimes people tell me that they need a big breakfast or a big hearty meal. I’m like, “I got nerves. I can’t do that.”
I’m with you. The Power bar, the Clif bar is the way to go for me too.
What’s a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?
Sophie Oberstein: So last year I got introduced to the Noun Project. It’s a website that’s just filled with icons for any topic you’re interested in. And it just makes my stuff look better, without being too distracting.
Brian Washburn: Is there a podcast or book that folks in L&D should be paying attention to these days?
Sophie Oberstein: So the book I’m reading I’m loving right now is called Designing For Modern Learning by Crystal Kadakia and Lisa Owens. And just because it builds up the concepts I talked about earlier, and it’s about surrounding learners with meaningful learning assets, rather than creating one event.
Brian Washburn: Nice. And how about– why don’t do we end here with any shameless plugs that you might have? Do you have a shameless plug for us?
Sophie Oberstein: Sure. First of all, thank you for promoting the book, which you can order on Amazon. There is one plug.
And then the other thing I thought I’d mention is that I’m playing with an idea of Troubleshooting for Trainers Service Line, that would answer people specific individual challenges. Like, you could call me with a question or a document for review and feedback. And for the first month of this idea, I’m going to offer it on a sliding fee scale. So pay however much value you get out of my response. So if people are interested, they can reach out to me on my website on LinkedIn.
Brian Washburn: And with your website?
Sophie Oberstein: Sophieoberstein.com
Brian Washburn: Excellent. Sophieoberstein.com. Sophie Oberstein, thank you so much for joining us and for spending some time here. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts, your insights. And I’m excited to get my hands on the book.
For everyone else who’s been listening, thank you so much for listening to Train Like You Listen. It is a podcast that you can find weekly on Spotify, on iTunes, or anywhere you get your podcasts. And if you like what you hear, go ahead and give us a rating. We’d love that too. Until next time, happy training.
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