Archive for the ‘Resources – Trainers’ Category

Six Category Intervention Analysis

Friday, April 21st, 2017

John Heron’s 6CIA model is, arguably, the best guide to the most fundamental foundation stone of developing performance in individuals – effective choice and use of the most appropriate and helpful intervention in each particular situation. This short vlog will explain it, give you examples of its uses and describe its benefits.


Pedagogy v Andragogy … v Humanagogy?

Monday, May 4th, 2015

A colleague recently drew my attention to an article, “Pedagogy vs. Andragogy: A False Dichotomy?”. (Being a person with a Reflector-Theorist learning style) I found it a fascinating read.

These two terms are often used to describe, respectively, how children learn and how adults learn. As the article explains, “The term (Pedagogy) is derived from the Greek words ‘paid’, meaning ‘child’ and ‘agogus’ meaning ‘leader of’ …. Andragogy is based on the Greek word ‘aner’ with the stem ‘andra’ meaning ‘man, not boy’ or adult, and ‘agogus’ meaning ‘leader of’”.

I have been a strong supporter of Andragogy for many years and always include it in Train the Trainer programmes I deliver. When I explain it, I tend to call it the Principles of Adult Learning.

I have also always been mildly uncomfortable with the term Andragogy, as I am aware that the approach is equally relevant to the development of learning for children – not just adults. It also implies that adults are easily able to embrace its principles, and I am aware from experience that this is not always the case.

It is, therefore, more about the group of people we as trainers or facilitators are leading, and the article introduces a term that I have not come across before – Humanagogy. The term was introduced by Knudson in 1980 and the article explains, “Unlike the separate terms of pedagogy and andragogy, humanagogy represents the differences as well as the similarities that exist between both adults and children as learning human beings. It approaches human learning as a matter of degree, not kind.” The emphasis here is moving the focus from an aged based assessment to an assessment comprising a wider range of criteria, such as subject matter, learning styles of the individuals, their level of motivation to learn, etc., but also including age.

This approach links very well with Heron’s 6 Dimensions of Facilitator Style. Heron’s model, as I explain here, is all about the facilitator considering the needs of the group in 6 discrete areas (Dimensions) and then deciding throughout the session whether their style should be Hierarchical (predominantly pedagogical), Co-operative, or Autonomous (predominantly Andragogical).

For me, Heron’s model develops the Humanagogical approach from a 2-D model to a 3-D model. It does this by explicitly indicating that whilst the initial assessment of the group’s needs in a way that matches with Knudson’s Humanagogy is entirely appropriate, this situation needs to be continually re-assessed by the facilitator – almost on a minute by minute basis, based on the group’s reactions and actions – in order to maximise the learning taking place.

I would have to agree with the article’s authors, Geraldine Holmes and Michele Abington-Cooper, that the terms Pedagogy and Andragogy do create a false dichotomy. Perhaps it should be a continuum with Humanagogy in the middle?

I will definitely be including Humanagogy in my future inputs and discussions on this topic.

Throughout the planning for and delivery of any session, the needs and motivations of the individuals have to be paramount. Any model, theory or discussion that helps facilitators understand, recognise, include and manage these needs has to be useful.

What are your thoughts?


De-briefing animals, drummers and Shakespeare

Monday, April 14th, 2014

W. C. Fields said, “Never work with Children or animals”. Is this a brilliant aphorism, or did it just indicate he didn’t have the best skill set for such situations? More importantly, how applicable is this to learning methodologies?

In my last blog post, where I described how to get the best out of the use of actors as a learning methodology, one of the points I covered was the importance of the de-brief and how to structure it in order to maximise the learning.

The de-brief itself is too often seen as not being particularly important. This is evident from events I have attended where it has been implemented poorly. This results in reduced learning, varying degrees of frustration for the learners and ultimately a failure to gain the benefit from the financial and time investment.

I have seen horses, drums and Shakespeare used to name just three methodologies – and in cases where these have been used, I have seen some poor quality de-briefs.

These interventions are “Low reality, high process content” learning methodologies. In other words, the “Low reality” indicates that the methodology has little or no relevance to the knowledge or skills of the participants (e.g. shop managers working with horses, office managers learning to play drums). This means that the individuals feel little or no group pressure to succeed in front of colleagues as they are not situations they would face in the workplace. It also means that there is a level playing field in that there is no workplace knowledge or skills required in order to take part. These factors also make the methodology “high process content”. This means that the methodology can lead to a rich seam of learning due to the removal of the described pressures – the result being relaxed participants whose inhibitions have been removed. The participants immerse themselves in the task. This type of methodology is particularly powerful in terms of self-development and team development, and will often focus on attitudes and behaviours.

The use of actors to assist the same managers to be more effective when conducting interviews or running team meetings (as described in the previous post) would be an example of the opposite methodology – “High reality, low process content”. The reality is high, because the situations are tailored to the managers’ work situations through, for example, context and language. The process content in these situations is low as they are predominantly about knowledge, understanding and skills – how to complete the task more effectively. There is less potential for profound self-development and less likelihood of a person changing their awareness of themselves due to participants generally being less relaxed and a little more inhibited – because they know their peers may well be assessing their workplace competence, and the intended focus is around a workplace activity.

Both methodologies are powerful; but for different reasons, and the correct type needs to be chosen. And as previously mentioned, it’s the de-brief that is the key – and one type is generally a lot easier to debrief than the other …

The “High reality, low process content” tends to be the easier to debrief. This is because there is a script, probably some models or theories to include, and it can be predicted to some degree as to the potential outcomes and learning points.

Little of this anticipated de-brief content is available for the “Low reality, high process content” methodology – if de-briefed effectively. The facilitator or de-briefer has to work with the ‘live data’ generated – and this is where many of the providers of this type of activity fall down. They often plan on what they expect to come out of the activity and even have their learning points ready prepared – thus making what happened in the activity fit within their debrief. This can devalue the methodology, and confuse the learners as it doesn’t fit with their experience – thus making any learning less meaningful.

As Abraham Maslow pointed out, “lf you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”.

Why does this happen?

1)      The facilitator is concerned that perhaps no ‘live data’ will be generated, or they will not be able to make the duration of the de-brief worthwhile – which leads to them deciding on the strands for the de-brief or creating the learning points beforehand. As a consequence they do not listen to or see what is really happening during the activity.

2)      The facilitator has a situationally dysfunctional mind-set. They approach the methodology with an “I need to handle” or “I must handle” mind-set. This leads to them adopting the approach described in point 1 above. In order to de-brief it well, the facilitator requires the skills and confidence to enable them to have the “I can handle” mind-set. This leads to the intrapersonal discussion that there will be ‘live data’ and they will be able to de-brief great learning, thus meaning that they don’t script themselves. They approach the de-brief objectively and with an open-mind, using only data generated. And they usually end up having to decide what not to include – rather than worrying about how much there will be to de-brief – as there are so many potential learning points.

Perhaps in the acting world, Fields was correct – certainly for situations where there is a strict script. There is, however, a strong case for using methodologies which generate unpredictable learning – but the time, place and facilitator need to be right.

Next time someone offers you a wonderfully innovative methodology, don’t get carried away by the methodology itself. Spend time checking on the skills of the person who will de-brief it – then you will find out whether it has the potential to be a wonderful methodology or just a frustratingly wasted investment.



Going Round in Circles

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

One of the most satisfying day’s work I ever had was way back in the 1970s – probably 1977, I think. I was working as a ‘Saturday lad’ (meaning I was at school, and so only able to work on a Saturday – shops didn’t open on Sundays, then!) at Boots. It was about 4 weeks before Christmas. Calculators were the ‘in’ item of the season. They had become small enough and cheap enough (around £50!) for them to be available to the mass market – and the mass market wanted them.

On the previous Saturday, I had been learning about them as I worked in tandem with a full time employee. This person was very helpful to me, but he only had eyes for one particular Casio calculator. And so whatever the public were looking for when they visited us, this Casio was the answer. I have no idea why – we weren’t on commission. The consequences were that we sold quite a number of Casios, but also missed out on a lot of sales.

The next Saturday he was on his day off, and I was on my own. The manager spoke with me at the start of the day and asked if I was happy with my role for the day, and then set me a challenge of selling 80 calculators that day. To his surprise, I said I thought that would be relatively easy – so suggested 100 as a target. He said he didn’t think that was realistic. I sold 104. I can still remember the thrill of selling the 100th! Significantly, in my opinion, only a small proportion of them were this ‘preferred’ Casio model.

Which brings me to training courses and meetings. I have sat through a lot of these in my time – as I’m sure you might have.

When people have not met before, the trainer, facilitator or meeting chair will usually – and rightly – ask everyone to introduce themselves. This is often accompanied by a request for individuals to explain their role, or what they want to get out of the event, or why they have chosen to attend, etc. This can be helpful to both the attendees, as they learn more about each other and the different motivations for being there, and for the trainer or leader, as they get a better idea of what people are looking for and potentially the opportunity to tailor the programme accordingly.

But do facilitators make this activity as comfortable and beneficial as it could be? At the majority of meetings and events that I have attended, attendees are normally asked to go around in order from left to right, or right to left, etc – often starting from next to the facilitator.

Put yourself, for a moment, in the position of the attendee. What happens for you in this situation? Do you prefer being first, or last, or somewhere in the middle? Do you think, “Let me introduce myself now”, or perhaps, “I wish I had a bit more time to think about what I’m going to say”. Perhaps you think, “Only 4 people to me … only 3 people until me … only 2 people to me …”. None of these are particularly useful internal responses as they mean that you are not listening to what’s being said, or you are not giving as helpful information as you might be able to. How can this be addressed?

First, we must recognise that these groups will always be made up of many different types of people. Whatever we like when we are attendees, this will be different from many of the others attending.

One of the dichotomies within the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is Introvert and Extravert. The Introverts generally like time to think, time to consider what they are going to say. The Extraverts usually like to have conversation, get involved quickly and make conversation.

The NLP “Motivational Traits” model, has ‘Proactive’ and ‘Reactive’ as one of its dichotomies – the ‘Motivational Level’ Trait. This relates to whether a person prefers to take the initiative or wait for others. Proactive people want to do it now, get going – and so, given the chance, usually introduce themselves as soon as possible. Reactive people prefer to wait, to consider, to act with caution and they generally dislike taking the initiative. 15 – 20% of the population are strongly Reactive, and a similar amount strongly Proactive.

How, then, can trainers cater for these differences in personal preferences, enable people to feel as comfortable as possible, and get the maximum benefit from the exercise?

This is how. The trainer can explain that there will be the opportunity for everyone to introduce themselves, together with the reasons or benefits of the activity. He or she can then explain that they are happy for anyone to start by introducing themselves first, and from then on, anyone else can follow on, as long as they are not sitting next to the person who has just spoken. It might have to be explained a second time, but its worth doing. The benefits?

  • Extraverts and Proactive people can interact as soon as they want.
  • Introvert and Reactive people can wait a while and consider their contribution.
  • Contributors are likely to feel more comfortable.
  • Attendees are more likely to listen as they are not counting down to when it is their turn.
  • The trainer will learn far more about the attendees.

And in relation to the last point, I don’t just mean learning about what the attendees want out of the event. The trainer learns who is likely to be quick off the mark, who is likely to be quickest to answer questions, and who may be a little reticent in coming forward, who might need a little time to think before responding. Information that can help the trainer, and the delegates – and make the day even more effective.

All because of a very small change in a methodology as a result of focusing on delegate needs.

But as with most rules, there is an exception. If I am running an event with a blind or visually impaired person in the room, I would go left to right or right to left in a structured way. This is because the blind person uses this process to map out the room – who the people are and where they are sitting. A ‘random’ approach will cause them confusion and hamper their involvement.

Have a go – and let me know what you find!


Purposeful Objectives

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

For effective learning to take place, what is the most important part of the process? The accurate specification, the quality of the performance improver (aka trainer, coach), the attitude of the learner, the quality of the evaluation, or something else?

I’m not sure it’s possible to make a robust argument for one particular aspect being more important or influential than any other – they are all integral to bringing about effective performance improvement.

Having said that, I do think there is one part of the process that links all the parts together. And it is an area that is often not given the priority or importance it warrants. It is the ‘learning objectives’ or ‘learning outcomes’.

When I used to train trainers, and then assess the lessons they delivered, it was the single most problematic area. Where the trainers weren’t clear on their objectives, or their methodology didn’t meet the objective (usually because they had committed the cardinal sin of choosing a methodology before arriving at their objective) they often came unstuck. Where they had a well structured objective together with a matching methodology, they had clarity of purpose – and the sessions generally went so much more smoothly for all concerned.

Well-formed objectives assure the client that the specification of their needs is clearly understood, they inform the trainer what is to be covered and to what level, they let the delegates know what they are there for and they let the evaluator know what they need to measure.

An well written learning objective needs to achieve two key criteria. Firstly, it needs to say what is to be achieved by the delegates, and secondly it needs to say to what level.

This is where we need to thank Benjamin Bloom for his Cognitive Domain Taxonomy of Learning. He developed his theory in the 1950s, together with work on the Psychomotor and Affective Domains. A Taxonomy is an “ordered list” and the Cognitive Domain describes the various stages and levels a person passes through as they develop greater knowledge and learning around a specific area.

The left hand column of the table below describes the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy relating to the Cognitive Domain.

Level Possible measurable
Knowledge Label; Identify; Recite; List; Name
Comprehension Explain; Summarise; Illustrate; Give examples; Distinguish between
Application Organise; Apply; Produce; Show
Analysis Differentiate; Compare; Prioritise; Categorise; Classify
Synthesis Compose; Construct; Hypothesise; Design; Combine
Evaluation Evaluate; Make a judgement; Recommend

The right hand column gives some of the words that can be used in writing objectives to ensure that they are both measureable and pitched at the appropriate level. Let me give an example.

An organisation wants its staff to learn about its Performance Management processes. Some staff who are perhaps not included in the process may need only to have ‘Knowledge’ of it. Those who are appraised probably require the “Comprehension” level, and managers will need to have the “Application” level in order to carry out performance reviews. Other staff in HR may require the higher levels within Bloom’s Taxonomy.

These first three levels should generate three different learning objectives which could be, for example, that by the end of the session the delegates are able to:

  1. Identify the organisation’s Performance Management processes (Knowledge)
  2. Summarise the organisation’s Performance Management processes (Comprehension)
  3. Apply the organisation’s Performance Management processes (Application)

These different objectives dictate the levels to be achieved, and therefore the methodologies to be used and consequently the duration of any learning intervention. To achieve the first objective could take 10 minutes, to achieve the third could take 2 days – a significant time and cost differential for a one word difference in the objective.

Moving finally to our evaluator. He or she can then ask delegates, either verbally or in writing, to “Summarise the organisation’s Performance Management processes” – and the answer will tell us whether the intervention has achieved its stated objective. When reported back, the client has clarity as to whether their requirement has been met, as does the trainer.


Management Gone Missing?

Monday, September 10th, 2012

I saw this comment on a learning and development forum recently – “I recently ran a management course for new and existing managers at similar levels, it is a course which all managers new to the organisation are told about and attend with agreement from their line manager. I had a number of managers who were negative and felt they shouldn’t have attended as they had a number of years’ experience as managers already. The other delegates were newer and did want to be there. I found I really struggled to turnaround / manage the really negative individual and the other few who weren’t happy to be there. Due to this I really feel I didn’t deliver the best course I could have done as, whilst I have experienced the odd 1 or 2 negative delegates in the past on various courses, I’ve never experienced such constant negativity which I didn’t seem to be able to have any influence over.”

Following the post were a number of suggestions from respondents, including:

  • Having individual discussions with delegates prior to their arrival
  • Encourage delegates to explain their concerns
  • If people don’t want to stay, don’t make them
  • Tailor the course more to their particular needs
  • Ask them what they want to get out of the course
  • Meet with their managers post-course

What surprised me, though, were that all the responses focused on what to do in the classroom environment, or post-course. In order to implement a long term solution, there needs to be wider and more systematic activity.

What can be done to ensure that such instances are minimised in the first place? What appear to be missing are effective learning and development management interventions.

For learning in the workplace to be effective, there needs to be a tripartite approach comprising the delegate, the delegate’s line management and the learning provider. And in terms of the learning provider, this means both the trainer and – importantly – their management.

Within the post there is no mention of 3 key activities or processes that I would expect to see.

1. Why is each delegate attending the course? They have been nominated by their manager – what are the reasons for the manager requiring them to attend? Managers having pre and post-course meetings with their attending delegates is one of the areas often examined during an Investor in People (IiP) assessment – because it makes a difference.

If this process doesn’t happen, it should. If it does happen, it should be recorded – and most     importantly be available to the trainer. This not only helps in terms of dealing with the issues    in the person’s post – by being able to explain to or remind them of why they are there – but it helps in terms of planning a more meaningful event for the delegates – and will generally mean an increased return on investment (ROI).

2. How might the use of a Student Charter or Learning Agreement help this situation? If such a process is in place, it means that the internal customer (the delegate and their line management) knows what to expect from the internal provider (the learning and development function). It should also include what the internal provider requires from its delegates – in terms of participation, input and behaviours – together with the consequences for a delegate who chooses not to meet this level of expectation.

Such an agreement should have been agreed across the business at senior management level – and so it is then easy for a trainer to use and implement without fear of having overstepped the mark. Transparency for all concerned.

And as a consequence, those who want to be there and want to learn can do so.

3. Finally, the person’s post on the forum indicates that this course has been delivered previously. What evaluation data has been generated?  And I don’t mean end of course or Level 1 data – I mean Level 3 or above, good quality data.  How is it improving the performance of those who are attending? How have previous delegates been able to use what they have learned? How is the course improving organisational performance?  What is the organisation’s return on its investment?

This information should be gathered from the delegates between 2 and 4 months after the completion of the programme. Both the quantitative and qualitative information can then be used by the trainer to illustrate what delegates can gain from attending – thus also demonstrating the overall value of the internal learning and development function to the business.

I have to say, I really feel for the trainer. I’ve been in that position and it’s not a lot of fun. Here is a trainer wanting to deliver a quality product, but some of the delegates are apparently thwarting his or her efforts.

And I get the impression that perhaps in this situation they are not been sufficiently supported by their learning and development management. The activities I have outlined above would both assist the trainer and probably make their role more enjoyable – and, above all, benefit the business.



London and Learning Legacies

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Almost 25 years ago I stood in torrential rain and watched one of the most evocative concerts I have witnessed. It was Jean Michel Jarre’s spectacular ‘Destination Docklands’. Originally planned as one concert, it eventually became two concerts (due to Council objections) and they took place on a Saturday and Sunday in October 1988.

The audience stood and sat on what was derelict land – land that is now one of the Olympic venues, the ExCeL  Arena, which hosted the boxing.

Fast forward to the present day. Last month, the new Olympic Stadium – also in East London – held  the most spectacular event since Jarre’s oncert; the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

There were significant similarities between the two. The Opening Ceremony told the story of a rural Britain instigating the Industrial Revolution on behalf of the world, followed by post-war immigration and then celebrating social welfare, British music and its current multi-cultural make up.

Jarre’s concert was divided into four sections, the first of which was devoted to the Industrial Revolution. Part Two was London in the Swinging Sixties (when Jarre was joined on stage by Hank Marvin), the third section was the forthcoming digital Nineties, and the final section was ‘The Emigrant’.

Having said that, the differences in the environments were striking. The Olympic Stadium is set in beautifully landscaped gardens, with fantastic public transport and a huge, bright shopping centre close to its entrance.

On my way to and from the Jarre concert, I can remember being uncomfortable for the majority of the time, and very uncomfortable on a couple of occasions. East London was not a welcoming place in the late Eighties.

It was still the London described by The Clash in “London Calling” and The Jam’s “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”“ …Whispers in the shadows – gruff blazing voices, hating, waiting …”.

Nothing changed in London as a result of the Jarre concert. Lots has changed, and lots more will change, as a result of the Olympics. Only time will tell what the legacy will be, but there are firm plans and noble intentions.

The reasons for the difference? In the case of the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the aforementioned plan, infrastructure, investment and community involvement. Reasonably obvious, I guess.

Move the context to organisational development. I was recently asked to submit a proposal for a number of sessions to help an organisation’s managers navigate it successfully through a period of significant change – spookily enough, in south east London. My tender included a number of additional offerings at no additional charge – for managers requiring them, a number of Action Learning Sets, email and phone consultation on real situations faced by the managers, and a number of one to one coaching sessions if desired. I offered these because I know that for development to work, people need the opportunity to build on their learning, discuss real problems and opportunities, and seek assistance with specific scenarios.

A couple of weeks after submitting my submission, they rang me. The discussion was mainly around whether there would be any cost difference if they didn’t use the additional free offerings. I said there wouldn’t be. The person’s final comment was, “You see, we only want some training sessions”. My alarm bells rang. Perhaps they were just wanting to tick a box? Our relationship didn’t develop any further. And I was reminded once again of those two spectacular concerts.

For effective development to take place, it needs to be supported by the organisation, there needs to be a plan as to how it will be implemented and then how it will be supported post-implementation. It doesn’t matter how good the intervention is if this support isn’t here. Lasting change – that’s what development should be all about.


Skills for Growth

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

I got on the train at Harrogate. I sat behind a man who got up soon after we had pulled out of the station – he went to the toilet. The train pulled into the next station which is only about a mile from Harrogate Station, and he suddenly left the toilet and got off the train. He hadn’t left himself much time, I thought. Then he looked back into the train from the platform – he seemed to be looking at his seat. Why did he go to the toilet directly before the station he was getting off at? Why was he rushing? Why did he look back at his seat? I had so many questions.

Some of us sit happily in the ‘Reviewing the Experience’ stage of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) or are shown to be strong Reflectors having undertaken Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles questionnaire. For others, this reviewing or reflecting is not a strength, not something that comes easily or naturally. As you can probably tell from the first paragraph, it sits very comfortably with me … or should that be too comfortably?

What is this process? Rowntree (1988) says reflection is, “… studying one’s own study methods as seriously as one studies the subject and thinking about a learning task after you have done it”. Unless you do this, he says, the task – as a learning experience – will almost certainly be wasted. In any learning situation, he adds, you should prepare for it beforehand, participate actively during it, and reflect on it afterwards.

Donald Schon (1983) suggested that to reflect “on action” so as to engage in a process of continuous learning is one of the defining characteristics of professional practice. He argued that the model of professional training which loads students up with knowledge in training schools so that they can then discharge it when they enter the world of practice has never been a particularly good description of how professionals “think in action”, and is quite inappropriate to practice in a fast-changing world.

The cultivation of the capacity to reflect “on action” (after you have done it, retrospective thinking) and “in action” (while doing something, thinking on your feet) has rightly become an important feature of professional training programmes in many disciplines. It can also be argued that effective reflective practice needs another person such as a mentor or coach, who can ask appropriate questions to ensure that the reflection goes somewhere, and does not get bogged down in self-justification, self-indulgence or self-pity.

If the student can be coached to identify the feelings they have experienced and the thought processes they have used – to reflect on his/her own learning – then learning will continue at a much swifter pace and ultimately with less support from the coach or mentor.

As the makers of the man’s iPhone say, “Think Different”.

Enabling a person to initially reflect ‘on action’, and subsequently reflect ‘in action’ is the key to sustainable self-development. Due to its importance, trainers, coaches and facilitators have a responsibility to ensure that this is a golden thread throughout all their contact time.

Returning to the man on the train … I got to ask him all the questions I listed above. That’s because having seen him looking back into the train, I had a look around his seat – and I found his iPhone.

When I returned it to him a couple of days later he explained that he had fallen asleep. When he awoke he needed the toilet, but didn’t realise how close to his station he was.

If he had reflected in action – as opposed to on action – he may well have not gone to the toilet, and thus not lost his phone – a significant potential return on investment! And whilst I accept that most of us are not at our most effective when we wake from a sleep, the more practiced and engrained reflection is, the more likely it is to become the default position, and so just happen.

It all made me reflect on how my son had left his iPhone on a bus a year or so ago – he also spoke to the person who found it, but they didn’t return it. Not all reflection is helpful …


I Had a Dream …

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Through the nervous 90’s, and on 99 not out … then the opportunity arrived … a slower ball … driven back past the bowler for a single … a maiden test century … and then, sadly, I woke up … Why was I dreaming about that very English game of cricket?  Ah yes, I went to sleep last night thinking about what to write in my one hundredth blog post. I quickly discounted – with a shiver at the thought – that this was an indication that I should explain the rules of cricket and how it is played. No, it was because this journey of writing a blog has been like a cricket innings.

At the outset I thought that it would be tricky – a bit like facing the new ball. As each idea to write about comes to mind, they are a bit like balls being bowled – some can be used and ‘posted’ to the outfield, whilst others should be left well alone. Sometimes there might be a dozen in a row to be left alone, at other times 2 or 3 good ones come along at once. And the weather conditions – or my outlook – can impact on the effectiveness of the posts.

And in the same way as when a cricketer makes a century, and the TV coverage reviews their 100 runs, I will review my experience of 100 blog posts.

When I set out, I had very little understanding of blogs and websites. I didn’t know whether to write a blog, but I was given one piece of crucial advice which made the decision for me. I was told that websites will rise up search rankings if their content is constantly being updated, and that a blog was one way of doing this. The other primary way was for me to update my own website, but my ineptitude in this area left me with just the one option.

I also read parts (I say ‘parts’ because I don’t think I can claim to have read a full book in at least 20 years) of the book “Naked Conversations” from which I really warmed to the idea of building on-line rapport with potential customers – by demonstrating where my expertise lies and helping others understand what makes me tick.

Those were my two reasons – ranking and rapport – which were countered with a large dollop of trepidation. What would I write about? Did I actually know anything of any value to others? Where would I find the time? Was I really comfortable opening myself up, warts and all?

However, as with many things we concern ourselves with in life, none of these issues materialised. And more importantly, there have been benefits, huge benefits. It has been personally fulfilling, a tremendously positive and enjoyable experience and has generated a small amount of client driven business from people I would never have otherwise met. So what have been my main learning points?

  • Returning to my dream I referred to at the start of this post … at the outset I found myself reviewing the day as my head hit the hay (I  haven’t intentionally attempted poetry yet!). I found myself asking  “What has happened today that links to learning and development or my business?” I found it a tremendously satisfying way to review and reflect on a set period of time.  It generated some really good stories. The next day I would write my post. And I have discovered that I just love spending a couple of hours writing, reflecting, thinking, questioning, writing, learning, considering, writing … and finally publishing!
  • By checking the ‘search strings’ I can see which particular blog posts are being found by people. This has helped me to understand where my expertise is perhaps welcomed and subject areas that are not as readily available on the internet as others (John Heron’s wonderful ‘6 Category Intervention Analysis’ and ‘Dimensions of Facilitator Style’ are two such subject areas). From this, I can give additional focus to areas which are of interest to readers.
  • By checking the statistics, every now and then I notice a website that has been paying a close interest in mine. This is usually because they have published one of my articles – sometimes for good reasons – and it is great to see my company logo in some e-magazine in some far off country – and sometimes as an error (I once used a Steps album cover as my photo, and I now have an unintentional presence on Steps lyrics website!)
  • There are very few down sides. The only one that springs to mind is the amount of spam comments I get – about 150 a day. The majority are deranged, illegal or obscene, but a few are misguided – like the glasses company that linked to my post describing how to create a Vision! On a different tack, I do also remember a rather lengthy discussion with my wife as to whether I should publish a blog about OFSTED in case it was libellous. I published.
  • I have learned that I can use one blog post on various media in addition to my website – for example Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. I know I am connected to different people through all the different media, and so this facility enables me to contact as broad an audience as possible. My areas for future development here are to learn how (if possible) to get the comments generated via one form of media to populate the other forms automatically, and to develop  y use of other media.
  • I was also approached by Glasstap asking if they could publish my old blogs as articles (akin to a new film being released on DVD, I suppose) which has given me exposure to another market very relevant to my business.
  • And the final jewel in the crown – new business. After wondering many times whether the laudable principles described in “Naked Conversations” would work (build on-line rapport, show your expertise, never overtly sell a product or service) an email arrived out of the blue, saying “ … and having looked at your website and blog, I am interested in setting up a meeting with you. We have 4 senior executives who would benefit from coaching in Leadership skills amongst other things. Could you give me a ring when you are able please?” As I read it, I knew I was experiencing a significant moment on my blogging journey, in a similar way to 100 blog post  being an important point …

This reviewing of my ‘maiden century’ also comes along at an opportune time as professional colleagues have been discussing the pros and cons, and whys and wherefores of blogging.

I have no idea whether my experiences or enjoyment matches other people’s – each person has their own unique reasons for blogging. However, one of the ideas that I have seen and heard being discussed is having other people write blogs for you, and either being quite open about this, or, as one person has suggested, “… simply send to your clients as if it was your own work”.

I can understand why some people choose to have other people writing their blogs – better understanding of the internet, use of key words, reducing workload to work on other things – but it’s not for me. In my previous post I outlined my core foundations – how am I demonstrating realness, or being genuine if I pass off someone else’s work as mine? It certainly wouldn’t build that rapport I am seeking to achieve.

And I may miss out on business opportunities, but more importantly to me, I would miss out on my fun, my enjoyment, my sense of achievement. For me, using others to write my blog is the institutionalising of something that is expressive and perhaps rough round the edges – akin to choosing Paul Weller rather than The Jam, listening to Radio 1 over Radio Caroline, shopping at Waitrose as opposed to the Farmer’s Market and passing by the local coffee shop to savour a Starbucks.

A few weeks ago, a colleague said to me, “Every time I read your blog, I can hear you saying it”. Perfect! That pleased me no end, and if and when I stop writing my blog, if it had a headstone, that would be the best epitaph.

Blogging might not be for you, but if you are thinking about it, go for it. Just write! I’m so pleased I did. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

And hopefully my thoughts here might have taken a bit of shine off the new ball for when you come out to the wicket!


Person Centred Facilitation

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

When I trained to be a trainer – over 25 years ago – I was  very lucky that the course I went on was ahead of its time. It had a far  greater focus on the intrapersonal skills, interpersonal skills and  facilitative skills of the trainer than other courses around at that time. It was  in many respects also a coaching course – before coaching was really spoken  about. Yes, I was very lucky.

And one of the foundation stones for the programme was the  work of Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987), whose work I have briefly referred to once  before (‘Problem person’ paragraph). Rogers (above) was an American psychologist who developed what  was known as the “person centred approach” and was one of the founder  of the “humanistic  approach” to psychology. His approach is underpinned by three pillars.

The first is the Realness in the facilitator of learning. This is all about the facilitator being real, being genuine. It is the most fundamental of the three pillars. Where the facilitator is genuine and open, they will enter into a far more meaningful relationship with the learner. The lack of a front or façade will help the learner gain more from the relationship. Practical benefits of this are that the learner is more likely to be open with the facilitator and co-learners, more likely to be honest about their weaknesses and more likely to accept feedback. All of which will bring about greater growth.

The second is Prizing, acceptance and trust. This is a set of attitudes that stand out in those who are successful in facilitating learning – it is unconditional positive regard for the learner. Rogers said, “I think of it as prizing the learner, prizing her feelings, her opinions, her person. It is a caring for the learner, but a non-possessive caring.” I think this last sentence fits very well with the Kahlil Gibran passage I focussed on in my last post. The ‘acceptance’ aspect relates to the learner being a separate person, having their own rights, values, desires and goals. And if the facilitator has a belief that the other person is trustworthy, there will be the required level of ‘trust’.

The third and final pillar is Empathic understanding. This has been developed further since Rogers’ work into a fundamental aspect of Emotional Intelligence (EI). Where a facilitator can listen effectively and comprehend the other person’s reactions from the inside, they will be far more sensitive to the person’s individual needs. This significantly increases the potential for a greater depth and breadth of learning –due to learners feeling valued and appreciated, not judged or evaluated.

I continue to use these three pillars to underpin my approach when I train, coach or facilitate. They are non-negotiable.

Furthermore, it is not possible to tell whether they exist within someone from a CV, qualification or tender. And so this is why whenever an organisation is hiring such a person to touch its staff, it should at the very least meet the person – even better is to witness them operate.

Rogers sadly died whilst I was undertaking my 11-week residential training course, however, the brilliance of his work lives on and I and many others attempt to bring it to life on a daily basis.