An Australian Fable Friday and a useful training tip

“You see that guy over there with his arms folded on his chest?” said my client, the EVP of a large commercial bank.  “He could be trouble for you in your training program.”

We were at a cocktail party in Perth, Australia and it was the night before I was to kick off a major sales effort over the next three months.  The bank liked to do everything in style, so they brought the participants in the night before and treated us to drinks and appetizers so we could all get to know each other.  But now I was worried.

“Why do you think he might be trouble?” I asked.

“Because he’s been here for almost 30 years, and he’s probably forgotten more than most people know about banking. I doubt he’s looking forward to attending sales training with you.  Problem is, if he starts giving off signals that he isn’t interested, others will take his cue, and then you’ll lose your audience.”

Of course the executive was right, so not missing a beat I excused myself and went over to the veteran banker and introduced myself, getting right to the point: “I’m Gregory LaMothe, I’ll be the facilitator of the training, and I could really use your help.”

We shook hands, and naturally curious he asked how he could help. I told him, “You can see by my accent I’m not from here, and as I was asking about the participants, I learned that you’re the most knowledgeable and experienced banker in the group.  I doubt you even need to be in my program, so I have another role for you.  You see, the program works best when the learners contribute their own experiences and stories, what works and what doesn’t.  Since I have no Australian banking or cultural experience, I need a leader in the group to contribute and I think that’s you.  Doesn’t matter if you agree with me or not, just as long as you speak up, and share with us how you do things.  Can you help me?”

Well, needless to say he loved this idea, and for the next three days it was a task to keep him quiet. He had great stories about everything and the participants loved it.  When the program was over, he came to me to tell me how much fun it was and how he had learned a lot. He told me I was a good trainer.  It meant the world to me.

Two years later, the bank pushed him into retirement, and he wrote to me, telling me how much he valued my appreciation of his work. He wanted to stay in touch, and for quite some time we wrote to each other. He landed on his feet eventually, and enjoyed a longer career.

Now let me ask you something if you are a trainer.  Do you go around and perfunctorily shake hands with the participants just before your training session, as you’re “supposed” to do? Or do you do your homework before the session, find out who’s going to be there, what they need from the program, and the role you hope they will play?

Always try to isolate your strong participants, and try to give them a job to do to get them engaged. I often ask a senior person to help coach the newer learners.  They love that job, and it’s a great way to…

Think Like Your Customer