Troubleshooting for Trainers

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.

6-Word Introduction

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.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at soapboxify.com.

How to Deflate Even the Best Designed Training Program

balloon

Last week I had an opportunity to help plan a training program for an organization with a large presence across India. I was the only training professional sitting around the table. I was joined by several high ranking officials and some operations staff.

At the beginning of the meeting, I was asked to share my thoughts about good training design. With a flare of theatricality, I took out two balloons and I asked a colleague to inflate the first one.

I held the balloon in my hand, but I did not tie it. I explained that this balloon represented so many training programs. It took some work to inflate. It looked nice. It looked festive. Maybe it even looked fun. Nice, festive and fun are all goals of a balloon, so it looks like we’ve achieved what we wanted, right?

Then I let go of the balloon and it shot up, twisting and turning and floating around the conference room. For a brief moment, I wondered if this was a dignified enough monologue with such high ranking officials in the room, but I pressed ahead.

In the end, all that balloon had was a bunch of hot air and now it’s gone and it’s not really nice or festive or fun. It didn’t really achieve anything.

Then I asked my colleague to inflate the second balloon. I tied it.

This balloon represented what we should aspire to, I said. All of the hard work of inflating the balloon is sustained. We had a plan (to blow up the balloon), we executed the plan for maximum sustainability (we tied it) and if we were to come back tomorrow (ie: follow-up later down the road), we’d still be able to see an inflated balloon!

This is how training programs need to be. Good design. Good execution. And measurable, sustainable results.

Looking around the room, reactions ranged from mild amusement to head nodding to one person asking the question: “Ok, I like it… so how do we keep the balloon inflated?”

In that moment, I felt like a genius. I didn’t just talk about adult learning and training design. I showed what it was. I reached not just for the rational minds of my audience, but also their hearts. And they were in love.

Until halfway through the meeting.

I had my back turned as I wrote something on the white board. And then I heard the sound that everyone who has an older sibling has heard at least once in their lives. It was the distinctive sound of my prized possession, my balloon, being slowly deflated.

My head whipped around. I saw who did it. It was one of the executives! He smiled sheepishly. The room was tense. Everyone wondered what my next move would be.

“That,” I began. “That just shows us that my great opening balloon metaphor wasn’t yet complete. Even if we have amazing design and amazing delivery and amazing follow-up… one senior official or executive can come by on a whim and untie the balloon, letting all the air out and killing any long term impact of the program.”

Without manager (or director or executive) support, even the most well-designed training program is just a bunch of hot air.

 

Instructional Design Lessons from a 6-Year-Old

My 6-year-old daughter wants an American Girl doll in the worst way.  Recently, she cracked open her piggy bank to see if she had enough money to afford one.  As a mix of change and dollar bills lay on the ground, she started counting her pennies.

She counted out 40 pennies and asked if that was enough.  I explained that the doll cost over one hundred dollars.  Instead of trying to count her $1, $5, and $20 bills, or even nickels, dimes and quarters, she went back to counting her pennies.

In truth, after six years of squirrelling away spare change and birthday money, she had more than enough money in her piggy bank to buy an American Girl doll.  But she insisted on counting all her pennies, pausing to find out if she had enough for a doll every two or three minutes.

When I asked her why she didn’t try counting her paper money or her other coins, she explained that it was easier to count by ones, and she knew that each penny was one cent.  More than enough money was within her grasp to buy an American Girl doll, but she insisted on staying within her comfort zone of counting pennies.

As I reflected on this, I was struck at how remarkably similar this process was to developing training components.  The coveted object of desire – the American Girl doll, so to speak – for me or SMEs or anyone else doing presentations should be cultivating new skills and knowledge and better ways to do things among their audience. The best way to do this is through good instructional design and engaging presentations, but developing such components can take significant amounts of time and sometimes requires us to go outside our comfort zone to try something new.  It’s a lot easier to regurgitate old lessons or relapse into old habits of lecture and bullet-pointed PowerPoint presentations because they’re quicker to put together and there’s just so many other things that need to be done on any given day.

And when we eschew risk taking and trying new things and putting the effort into good design and engaging presentations, we’re basically just counting pennies.  In the name of ease and comfort, we sacrifice the opportunity that is right in front of us to create an amazing and transformational learning experience.  And at this pace, we’ll never get our hands on whatever the trainers’ equivalent is of an American Girl doll.

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.

“What would have made that webinar better?”

Recently, a doctor asked me for some feedback on a webinar I had observed.  I started to rattle off some suggestions.  Then I had to stop myself.  It’s true that more interaction would clearly have made the webinar more engaging – use of polling features or the chat function or simply posing questions to the audience and having them respond verbally or maybe even throwing in a few breakout room discussions.  (Click here for a related post on strategies to engage learners during a webinar.)

But none of these suggestions felt right.

Then I realized I was doing a poor job of answering his question.  Honestly, I couldn’t answer his question without one key piece of information: what were the original learning objectives for the webinar?  It was never clear to me what the learners were supposed to be able to do differently as a result of the webinar.

It dawned on me that the answer to this doctor’s question was: better-crafted learning objectives would have made the webinar better.

What is a well-crafted learner objective?  A well-crafted learner objective finishes this sentence: by the end of this webinar, my learners will be able to

If his learners should be able to explain the key differences between the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) IV and the DSM V, then there should have been some type of activity in which participants were challenged to explain these differences.

Well-crafted learning objectives are essential to a well-crafted and engaging learning experience – whether it’s a webinar, instructor-led classroom training or even an elearning module.  Without identifying what learners should be able to do differently, it’s tough (impossible?) to design and deliver a tight, targeted, engaging learning experience.

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!