I rolled out a client service improvement programme across an entire organisation once, without ever meeting the trainees.
The training rooms I stood at the front of were full of people with client service roles in the company that had engaged me, but that was where the trail seemed to go cold.
At the beginning of each session, like a good trainer, I’d try and establish relevance. So, I’d ask the delegates if they saw a need for improving client service. If I was lucky, and I mean really quite lucky, one of them would actually say something.
Something, yes, but rarely confirming relevance. Here’s a typical example: ‘Yes, I understand the need for periodic improvement, but as long as I’m in here listening to you, I’m not actually providing any of my clients with a service, am I?’
A small, incredulous part of me, that I’ve since learnt to suppress, would, at this point, say something like, ‘Not five minutes have passed, and already the gloves are off?’
But trying to tackle the resistance in a direct fashion was never going to achieve anything. Nor would diffusing the resistance slowly have been effective, in my opinion – even had there been sufficient time for this. Because the gloves had never been on. There was something in that company’s culture that made it acceptable for this to happen. Something in their corporate DNA that made it okay for someone to toss away the first comment of the day on a nullification of the day.
Then we’d go through the training session, and, at the end of the day, once again – only if I was having a good one, a delegate would acknowledge the usefulness of this content for someone who actually needed client service training. As if there might be such people out there who required such a thing. But the sub-text was clear: whoever these people are, I am most definitely not one of them.
By the time I got to the final session of the programme, a small, naïve part of me, that I’ve since learnt to suppress, was really excited, thinking that, finally, by some incredible coincidence, all the people in this company who actually needed some help with client service improvement would be there with me, in the same room, on the same day.
Like I said: a small, naïve part of me, that I’ve since learnt to suppress…
None of the delegates I met during that training programme, I can guarantee, turned up with the intention of learning precisely nothing. None of them sat in their cars, on their trains, on their bikes the morning of their training, thinking, ‘Today, I’m going to waste the company’s money…Today, I will become a beacon of indifference. Today, I will close my mind to learning.’
None of them. I guarantee it.
So, what on Earth was going on?
The most fundamental question had not been asked, that’s what. Namely, does our organisational culture permit learning? Does it encourage our people to open their minds to at least evaluate new ideas – rather than instantly rejecting them, just because they are new? In short: do we know how to adopt new behaviours – as individuals even, let alone en masse? And, if so, under what conditions? In homogenous groups, thrown into an unfamiliar, ‘soft skills’ improvement environment, with a punchy, external training provider, in some formula, hotel conference centre? Really?
Before asking, ‘What are our L&D requirements this year?’, we must all consider the shocking possibility that the answer might be one, single, requirement, without which all the effort, struggle and investment are meaningless: to learn to learn, and to develop to develop.
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