I was speaking with a client recently about what managers want, and the old chestnut of ‘not being able to please all the people all of the time’ came up. This is never truer than in the training room.
I’ll spare you from a description of all the ever moving hoops that trainers jump through to attempt to do the impossible pleasing thing (Have you covered every learning style? Personality type? Level of ability? Is it brain friendly? Experiential? Enough theory? Too much? Stickability? etc).
Right now, I’m more interested in what managers actually want than what it is I am supposed to give them. It’s a jungle out there.
What managers want
I’ve trained and coached a fair few managers in my time, as well as facilitating Awaydays where teams are taken off the day job to focus on how best to move forward. I’ve noticed that their wants fall largely into three pretty evenly distributed groups. Before I tell you what they are, can I remind you that wants are not the same as expectations, in fact they are often at odds – they are not even quite the same as aims. I’ll stick to calling them ‘wants’! Here they are:
The Model Monkeys: Some new ideas, please
The first group may be the easiest to please from a trainer’s point of view. They are open to theory, models, strategies and research. They want to broaden their horizons and increase their repertoire.
They probably don’t want loads of academic detail as they need it to be useable, but they do want to know what’s out there that might be beneficial. They’ll grab their pens if you mention a book, want links to TED talks and websites. After all, that’s what training is for, isn’t it?
The Task Oriented Tigers: Solve my problems, now!
They need training activities that give them opportunity to address their prime concerns, and have little tolerance with discussing things that might come in useful some time in the future. They want practical action points and they want them now. They’ll get agitated if they can’t see where an exercise is going or how it might be useful.
The Bonding Bears: Getting to Know You
If you’ve ever been described as a people person, you might belong to the third group. These folk put getting to know their colleagues better above anything else. They’ve bought into the concept of teambuilding, and figure that the way to move forward is to build stronger working relationships with the other delegates.
They enjoy delving into the experiences of others, looking for common ground but also probing why others do things differently. They see connections as the oil for the cogs of business. You’ll see them exchanging numbers and setting up meetings.
…and the rest. Mainly hedgehogs.
There are a very small number who do not fall into any of the categories above. I’m going to call them hedgehogs, because they curl into a metaphorical ball and try to avoid direct communication.More often than not they are quiet, taking a back seat. I assume they do not want to disrupt the day for others.
I don’t always get to the bottom of what is going on with them. Sometimes they are the mavericks who will always do things their own way, deep introverts who would prefer quiet thinking time to the babble of the training room, or line managers who are there to show solidarity with their team, but would rather be somewhere else.
There is also the very occasional noisy dissenter/agitator, but they are so rare I’m not going to give them a category of their own.
The Jungle in the Training Room
What to do when you have a room full of bears, tigers and monkeys? What managers want isn’t often straightforward. The ideal solution (and to be honest, what I try to do most of the time) is to devise activities that introduce a model or theory that can be applied to a practical problem, and let small groups work on the exercise. This way, the monkeys, tigers and bears are all happy, having had their wants addressed.
It’s also useful – though not always possible or practical – to talk to delegates ahead of the day so that you get a feel for what they want and how they would like delivered. I rarely get opportunity to do this ahead of a one off training day. When it’s a longer programme, there is often a pre-course assessment, such as a 360⁰ feedback or Myers Briggs questionnaire linked. This gives me the chance to meet participants , give them their feedback and discuss what they want from development activity.
When it comes to Awaydays for senior teams, having a meeting with each participant to tease out their key concerns and wants (I actually mean a structured interview here!) has proved invaluable. it may seem labour intensive, but it means I can:
- prioritise issues across the whole team
- make recommendations for issues to be addressed
- write a report that shares information so that the playing filed is level and transparent and
- devise the most appropriate programme
I could witter on for hours about the training methods I use, but every situation is unique. If you want to know any more, just ask.
I’d also be interested to know whether you agree with my classification. Do you see yourself as a Model Monkey , Bonding Bear or Task Oriented Tiger? Or are you a hybrid?
And the point is?
Most trainers work hard to adapt to the needs of the people in the room. If you see us reworking exercises or changing the programme, it’s because we’re thinking on our feet, responding to the vibes we pick up and trying to keep all of the people happy as far as humanly possible – which is where we came in.
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace