The phone rang, and a tired sounding woman said she’d been given my number as someone who maybe able to help. I asked what the problem was. She told me her company had a neglected team of trainers; the training manager had left six months ago, and they had struggled to recruit a replacement. They wanted someone to come and work with them full time to cover the role. I told her that I had commitments 2 or 3 days a week, so couldn’t help. As quick as a flash, the woman replied that they would take the remaining days.
That’s how I found myself being an Interim Training Manager working in an industry I knew absolutely nothing about. They spoke a whole language I didn’t know. Why did I let myself be drawn in? I asked exactly what it was they wanted me to do – I needed to know whether I could actually be helpful to them. The brief I was given was crystal clear. And I can’t resist a challenge. It was only three words long too. It was this: “Stop trainers resigning” Ah, I begin to see the problem. They were a specialised engineering company. If employees weren’t trained, they couldn’t operate the machinery or carry out their roles. Regular refreshers were required by law too. Without trainers, they were over a barrel.
Day One. I equipped myself with a new thermos flask of hot tea and drove 80 miles to the site at Stupid O’Clock in the morning. I have a vague recollection of being shown to my office by yet another tired sounding woman, who seemed unsurprised by my arrival, but didn’t seem to be expecting me either. What I do remember is a brown, empty office with an empty chair on my side of the desk. On the other side of the desk sat Nick, a trainer. He had an envelope in his hand he was waiting to give me. “Here’s my resignation” he said, proffering it towards me.
I could have taken it, and beaten the world record for failing at a job. It’s actually quite hard not to accept a letter being thrust towards you! Not knowing quite what to do with my hands, I think I raised them in some kind of open ‘I come in peace’ gesture. I do remember what I said. “Why don’t you hold on to that for a moment, and tell me what the issues are? Then I’ll see what I can do.” Nick unleashed a tirade of wrongs. I scrabbled madly for pen and paper. Within a few minutes I had two pages of bullet points, few of which made any sense to me. I am a woman of my word. I set about seeing what I could do. Those notes became my business plan.
Due to excellent training when I worked in careers, my one ninja skill is asking questions. And that is what I did for the next six months. Most of the time they weren’t deep, meaningful questions. I guess I was like a bluebottle buzzing around the place. “Who is responsible for this budget? Where can I find them? Why is the door locked? When are they in? What does that word mean?” etc. Nick and his eight colleagues watched on with a degree of bemusement. One in particular, found my endeavours a constant source of fun. He would try to catch me out by coming up with wild goose chases for me, such as telling me that I needed to do some of the heavy duty maintenance in the pouring rain. I don’t think so.
So it went on. I soothed ruffled feathers, exposed inertia, and learnt new words. About four months in, I took a phone call from the training department in another region. I addressed his query and then realised I wasn’t sure why he had come to me, of all people, for an answer: “Why are you asking me?” He replied “Word has got around that you know what you’re doing”. If challenging the status quo is knowing what you’re doing, I guess I pass. Maybe I should capitalise on this by having a shouty landing page: “BECOME AN EXPERT IN FOUR MONTHS BY ASKING QUESTIONS!” Or maybe not. Neither Nick, nor any of colleagues resigned during my time there. This actually feels like one of my biggest achievements.
If I have to get all shouty, this is what I want to say: Listen, really listen to your people. Let them know you’ve heard. Let them see you’re working on it. Do that, and chances are you’ll get to keep your good people.