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Learning impacts on all business functions

For any business to run effectively all the functions within that organisation have to interact through good communication, clearly defined procedures and good management.

In discussion with a group of ‘baby’ trainers recently it became apparent how important the function of learning and development is to all businesses whatever their size and complexity.  For example a business may be developing a new product or service which once tested and customer ready has to be sold.  Therefore the developers need to train the sales & marketing people in how this product works, what are its features & benefits, why it will be a great purchase for the customer. Other functions, such as customer service, distribution, IT and administration also have to be trained on the new product so that can assist the customer with any queries they may have, ensure that the processes are compatible and so on.

So it is quite interesting how in some organisations they treat Learning & Development as a separate entity, a part of HR or just outsource training delivery and yet I make the case for the fact that if you get your Learning & Development right in your business, as part of every function within your business, you will reap many rewards.  These will not only be from your customers who are getting great service & products but also from the people who are running your business….your staff!

To make this real one of the key roles of any manager should be that of ‘developing your team’ whether that is through formal training or more informal coaching or a combination of both. Learning & Development should not just consist of ‘going on a course’ every now and then but should be part of everyone’s job but especially in the role of manager.

Every manager should have ‘developing your team through learning & development’ written into their job description and be measured on how effective they are in delivering on this.  This will enable your people to learn & grow in your business, this will give you an engaged workforce who feel valued and will therefore be more loyal and productive and you will ‘grow your own people’ which can also be a cost saving benefit in the longer term.

So my question to you is how effective are your line managers? How effective are you at growing and developing the talent that you have in your team?  Are you brave enough to move the poor performers out or are you just coasting along hoping that it will all work out in the end?  You have to be a model to your people, you need to realise that you need to grow & develop in your role….so maybe you need coaching as well?

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

New term, new work!

So here we are at the start of a new academic year and for 1000’s of students of whatever age an exciting and daunting prospect ahead.  It is also like that for newbie tutors like me!!

I am delighted to be delivering the CIPD Certificate in Learning & Development for Coleg Gwent this year and at the same time terrified of the responsibility.  However after listening recently to a great speaker on leadership I do feel better that the scared feeling is ‘normal’ and means that I am only human….in fact it it me being authentic.

This trait of authenticity is one that is key in today’s leaders, be they tutors at college like me or industry or country leaders.  You have to be yourself because when people see that they grow to trust and respect you.  In my case this is key to helping students  who are looking to me for support, guidance, experience and knowledge to share.

This role has also thrown up an interesting conundrum that colleges have as they are seen as academic institutions, yet they are also tasked with developing a commercial offering to business & industry.  This then leads to a differing of opinion in how the students are treated…are they students or are they customers?  Well, I would argue that they are both and therefore as tutors we have to recognise that we are providers of learning and of a service.   We therefore need to give consideration to our ‘offering’ , how welcoming  we are and how we ‘serve’ our customers throughout their learning time at the college.

This is now happening more and more in academic institutions as more and more students have to pay for their education and therefore want to see value for money.  Something we as tutors need to be conscious of before, during and after our core delivery hours as we do not want to be tarnished with the brush labelled ‘unsupportive’ & ‘elitist’.

This is a fine line to walk for academia going forward but one that cannot be ignored.  Bringing commercial private sector people into the academic arena will help this and vice-versa so that the outcome is a positive one both for the student, the institution & the company involved.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Assessing for quality

I guess that most of you drive and here in the UK once you have passed your test then you are able to drive, without any further assessment until you are 70.  So no-one has ever checked whether or not my driving is of a certain standard…is this the same with your training skills?

How often do you assess the standard of your training or that of others who are delivering training for your and your colleagues?  Do you accept that just because they work for a training company that the standard of their training is acceptable?  Bearing in mind that training is an expense to any company you surely want to make sure that you are getting good value for your money?

I believe as professional trainers we should be assessed by our peers & colleagues regularly to help us to ensure that our training sessions are always delivered to an acceptable standard. So as a minimum you as a trainer, or you as a manager employing a trainer should ensure that the session that is being delivered covers different learning styles, is delivered using a variety of teaching methods and that the trainer ensures all parts of the learning cycle are covered.

I have recently assessed some ‘baby’ trainers as part of an accredited course and in some cases their idea of a training session is to talk at the group without any interaction at all.  Yes I know that there are times when you have information to ‘tell’ your group but it is also critical that as trainers we are assessing whether or not learning has taken place.  The idea of formative assessment throughout a training session is key to keeping your learners engaged and to ensure that learning is taking place.

It is also about our professional credibility to ensure that we ‘walk the talk’ and regularly get someone who knows what they are looking for to sit in on our sessions and review our style and techniques.  There is a danger that we get rusty and set in our ways so we also need to be innovative and creative in our delivery style to ensure that our learners do actually learn!

The same goes for the material that we use, this should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it is up to date and relevant to today’s audience, not the audience of 5 years ago!!  Yes I know that there are exercises that I have been using for a while because I know that they work but you still have to ensure that they are relevant to the audience.  This is what is good about having another professional trainer look at your work with a critical but friendly eye to remind us of our training as trainers.

You might find it scary with someone watching you at the back of the room but it will give you some good pointers on how to improve your work which is what we want to be doing – failing that you could always video yourself and self-critique that!!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Measurable learning outcomes

As you know I deliver a number of accredited courses, two of which are qualifications to teach/train others. I have recently completed the delivery of a ‘preparing to teach in the lifelong learning sector’ course (aka PTLLS) with a great group of people.

What happens to me in the weeks after I have assessed their micro-teach I am acutely aware of my own delivery style and whether or not my sessions would pass an assessed observation, whether my session plans would meet the necessary standards and whether or not you can actually measure whether learning has taken place!

It also makes me aware of how loose and vague a lot of learning outcomes are that are being used to deliver training and development programmes as we speak.   It makes me question how the learning will be measured…surely if somebody identified a learning need which led to the training, then there should be some way to measure whether or not the training has met that need?  Here are some examples here for you to consider:

  •     To understand the value of building long term relationships with customers
  •     To know best practice in how to handle difficult conversations
  •     To be more assertive and confident

My point being, how do you measure these objectives, how will you know that an individual has learnt anything or they just had a nice day out of the office? The other issue with unclear learning outcomes, how do you assess the progress of your delegates during the programme? With great difficulty I suggest!  Or as one trainer said to me: ‘you just know that they have got it’.

So this leads me to question how you employ external trainers or training companies, how do you check whether or not they can train & assess, as you want them to? Do you ask the questions about how they will assess whether learning has taken place or not? Or are you sold on their glossy brochure, great sales pitch and the fact that you are buddies with them?

From a business perspective ensuring good value for money has to be a key driver whether or not we are in times of austerity.  You have a responsibility to spend your company’s money wisely and get the best value training for the investment that you are making.  I am not saying that you should always buy the cheapest, nor am I saying that the most expensive will be the best, but you must make your buying decision on who is going to deliver the learning that is required and who will assess it to ensure that the learning has been transferred and that the original learning need is met.

As trainers we also have a duty to ensure that we provide measurable learning outcomes for all our courses and then carry out both formative and summative assessment throughout every programme that we deliver.  We can therefore demonstrate the value of training to the organisation in changing and improving performance and not just by being a nice to have!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Succession planning – have you thought about it?

Succession planning is a critical management tool whatever the size of your business because without it your organisation may not survive!

So what is succession planning? In simple terms….who is going to do your job when you are not there any more!  This does not mean that you are about to be made redundant or sacked but it is good business practice to consider who will do what you do if you are not here.

It may not be about developing people but you may be faced with a situations affected by external issues. Many organisations, for example, now have in their risk register & planning process what will happen if a group of key workers win the lottery.  This is because the likelihood is that the people will leave work, thus giving the organisation a great deal of problems to fill that gap, especially if they are all members of the same team.

The Harvard Business Review suggests that Succession planning should be called Succession Development as plans do not help people learn about the new job so, yes it should be about developing people who have the potential.This has to begin with regular performance reviews and frank discussions about peoples’ aspirations and capabilities.  It is no good if you have identified that George is the ideal candidate to succeed you, if George is quite happy in his current role and has no wish to be promoted.  An even worse scenario would be that you encourage George into thinking he can succeed you when it is clearly beyond his capability.

An even worse crime that you may commit as a line manager is not to consider this at all because you do not know where you are going or you are quite happy in your current role.  That does not stop you being responsible for developing your team, even if that means that they eventually will leave you and go and work elsewhere….that is a natural process.

So we as managers have to be clear about what qualities, competencies, skills & knowledge people should have to be able to carry out a specific role effectively.  It is then important to identify the gaps between what you require and what the person actually has and then develop that person in those areas.

The development can take many different forms and take much time to happen.  Remember it does not just mean ‘sending them on a course’ or getting an MBA or other such qualification, but it may mean the individual spending time with key people & departments in the business to gain a sound working knowledge of the whole business.  It is also good practice for the identified individual to have a mentor (not their line manager) so that their development can be guided effectively and a realistic time frame needs to be given.  Obviously there should then be regular reviews of the development process.

This is not a job that you as a line manager should be doing in isolation but in conjunction with your HR support as well as other line managers so that you can begin to develop a pool of people who have the potential for more senior positions in the business. Critical for you as line manager is your ability to coach and develop your people but also to recognise that for you to succeed your boss you have to work at your own development & knowledge gaps….so don’t forget to look after yourself as well!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Personal Development

I have been lucky enough to do some personal development recently which is always good for a number of reasons some of which I would like to share with you.

As a professional trainer it is good to be on the receiving side of a training session for a change & to sit back & reflect on the information that you are being given. Reflecting is a key part of our learning process and something we perhaps don’t value enough in our busy lives. So a key learning point for me was to take some time out each day, maybe 10 mins to look back on what I have done & to consider ‘what went well’ and ‘what could I do better next time’.

One of the biggest issues for me during one of the sessions I have attended recently was the complete lack of involvement by the learners, I was one of about 300!! So practically it had to be a lecture style of delivery. So do you learn in those situations ? Well, yes you do get to know new stuff but the presenter (who thankfully was good) had no idea about my learning & cannot deal with any questions that I may have had. Neither was there an opportunity to practice or measure the learning, so the training cycle was not completed. This is very difficult to prove value for money when you have to consider return on investment.

Also if your audience is bigger than 12 you need to ensure you are engaging in your delivery style, punchy in messages & to add in small activities that could be done by the delegates in 2’s or 3’s. It is important to keep everyone engaged and to check learning which you cannot do with such a huge number of people.

If you know you are going to have such large numbers then plan effectively what the delegates are going to do after your session in smaller groups, in my case our subject area groups. The key point about this was that the instructions have to be clear because as soon as you let 300 ‘get into groups’ and meet in a different venue they have to be organised!! Clear communication is vital here and if not done properly a lot of time could be lost causing the delegates to lose the initiative & enthusiasm generated by the speaker, and if you are really careless you could easily lose some delegates in the process!!

Finally for now is the need at all large gatherings of people, be it for training or a meeting, an effective signing in process and the issuing of name badges. The former sets the tone for the day and if not done alphabetically or by department causes a great deal of confusion and impacts on the clarity of the records. Issuing name badges at events or ensuring you have one of you own is another great lesson for me…it makes it so much easier to strike up a conversation with a total stranger if at least you can say ‘hello’ without feeling stupid – a key point to encourage great networking in any gathering of people.

So personal development is vitally important for everyone to ensure they keep their ‘saw sharpened’ and next time I will tell you some more insights I have gained from the development I have done recently.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Trainer centric or tutor centric learning programmes?

An interesting discussion took place this week between a number of trainers, me being one of them. The question we debated passionately was that of course design…..should it be learner centred or tutor centred?

Clearly learner centred has to be our main goal as trainers because when people are engaged in the learning & can see the personal benefit they will be more focused & involved in the session.  So then you think about assessment which we have to do to

a) check that learning is taking place during the session (aka formative assessment)

b) end of session assessment (aka summative assessment)

Both of these can be done based on the input you & the delegates have been engaged in during the session.  The difficulty comes in your pre-course assessment.

The purpose of pre-course assessment is to gauge the level at which your learners are so that you can design a course that meets their needs. What happens if the pre-course assessment is only done on Day 1 of the programme which has already been designed?

Here we have the classic training dilemma. How do you advertise & sell a course? We all know that the course should be designed around the needs of the learner but we don’t know this so you, the trainer, has to decide on the content and learning outcomes based on your own skills & knowledge.  Then you advertise the programme and when you meet the delegates on day one you may realise that you will have to flex your skills and knowledge up or down or both based on the knowledge of the people in the group.

In an ideal world trainers would like to run a course that is totally based on the learners needs and thus the first session of the programme would involve identifying their needs. Then it would be up to the skills of the trainer to then deliver a suitable programme to meet those needs.  However how would you sell that? Hence the dilemma that we have as trainers!!

In my opinion the more emphasis that is put on achieving set criteria the more trainer centric the learning gets which reduces the creativity and flexibility for the trainer.  More importantly it may mean that the training that the learner is given is not appropriate to their needs so the whole event may have been a waste of time and money.

So as a manager invest some of your time at the front end of this process correctly identifying the needs of your people and then talk to the trainer to ensure that the course will meet those needs….it will make it more rewarding for all of us involved!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth