Who’s in Charge?

It seems like everyone else knows better about what the training department should do and how its resources should be used.

The employee or agent thinks more continuing education is the department’s best use of its members’ time and complains about the lack of courses when the agent needs it. The manager decides that his/her office or region needs a particular approach to training, bypasses the training department and goes straight to the company president for approval.

Who needs a training/education department when those whom the department serves know better?

It’s frustrating to try to deal with these situations. As a training leader, you don’t want to appear like you’re engaging in turf warfare, but there comes a time when you must stand your ground and assert your right to promote your vision for training at your company.

This doesn’t mean you discount the ideas and suggestions. Instead, you refer to the plan and determine whether they make sense in light of the objectives and goals you set forth. Maybe there’s room for change if the change supports the goals of the organization and training’s role in achieving those goals.

How you handle this situation will determine whether such intervention in the training program will continue to occur. I have seen it happen time and again, and typically it’s done by those who think they understand the training function. They are often well-meaning individuals who are looking to gain some advantage. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of an effective training program for all.

Ultimately, you (as the training professional) must make the case for training as you envision it. You must gain buy-in for the plan from all who are charged with promoting the program to their direct reports. An effective guide for me has been James and Wendy Kirkpatrick’s Training on Trial. The book makes the case for the value of training and how it can enhance an organization’s bottom line. One of the lessons I learned from this study was how to get managers (in particular) and company leaders to understand this.

I don’t want to spend all my time defending my department, fending off well-meaning, but ultimately clueless attempts to undercut the value of the training plan we’ve implemented and continue to refine. We have considered the options. We have consulted with managers and other leaders. We do need to bring a consultative approach to the process. But at some point, managers need to trust that training is doing what needs to be done.

Preparation

I recently had the opportunity to teach two courses for a group that was not my usual audience. My experience took me back several years to when I was a master’s student living and studying in Germany.

One of my professors asked me to assist him with his introductory literature seminar. I would meet with a small group outside of class to discuss the works we were reading and their projects. I could handle that and I enthusiastically agreed. I went to work reading everything the students would read and all the secondary literature before the semester began. I wanted to be prepared for any questions that might arise in my group. I also devised a structure for our meetings so that we would be sure to cover all of the material we needed to consider.

A few weeks into the course, the professor had to go out of town. Instead of canceling class, he asked me to take over for him. Here I was, the American teaching German students German literature. As I stood in front of 100+ students that day, I worked hard to not let my nervousness show. What got me through the class was the confidence that I knew the material. I had prepared well, having read everything necessary for the class and outlined how we would approach the day’s topic. If anything, I probably over-prepared.

Preparing to teach cannot be dismissed. It is perceived as a time-wasting activity for those who like to stand up in front of a group and just talk. You know these types: Well-meaning, experienced professionals who want to impart their knowledge on the group. The results of their “teaching” are, at best, an out-pouring of information without structure or intention. Sometimes, these are subject matter experts we have engaged to train employees or agents. Just because someone knows their field does not mean they can teach it to others.

I took it upon myself to become a subject matter expert in order to provide agents with relevant training in an area I knew little about. I immersed myself in the topic and read widely to gain knowledge. Then, I started using the tools I would teach about. I prepared myself to teach others the “why” and “how to” by engaging in the practices I wanted them to use.

Just knowing how to do something and why is not enough if you want to instill the desire in others to further their careers by adopting a practice. Planning and preparation for a course includes consideration of how learners learn, the techniques to use when teaching the material, and how to structure your time with learners.  While preparing for my recent teaching experience, I spent time organizing my material and finding new examples to reinforce my words. I took my outline for the course and checked the timing. I devised activities for the group so that I wouldn’t be the only one speaking for three hours.

When you prepare well, the butterflies you feel getting ready for the class only serve to help you be the enthusiastic teacher your students deserve. Preparation gives you the confidence to step in front of the group, ready to help them master the material.

Convention Time

Fall is the season for conventions in the real estate world. The busy summer selling season is winding down and salespeople and brokers have time to spend on meetings, education sessions, and visits to the trade fair. So, let’s put on a convention!

At my company, we tossed around the idea of having a mini-convention for a couple years, then got brave and decided to do it this year. The planning began months ago with visits to potential venues and calls to speakers regarding availability. When we finally settled on a date and reserved the facility, the real work began.

Finding speakers to present interesting, timely, and relevant material to our agents was not difficult. Finding speakers who were available on the date we needed them proved to be quite tough. Once we were able to determine who was available, we signed agreements as quickly as possible to secure the speakers for our date.

Then came the next question: Do we offer continuing education credit for the sessions, or not? Agents need to provide proof of a certain number of hours of continuing education credit each time they renew their licenses. By offering CE credit for the convention sessions, we provide an opportunity for the agent to get information and CE credit, and we give ourselves a marketing opportunity. Continuing education gives agents an added reason for attending the sessions when the need to know isn’t enough.

Promotion started about a month in advance of the convention. Registrations trickled in slowly, and we began to doubt what we were doing. Why weren’t they signing up to attend? Were we totally off the mark with our topics? We should have calmed down and waited patiently. Real estate agents are notorious for deciding at the last minute to register for anything. The registrations began to pour in about 10 days before the initial deadline, and continued to appear for a few days after that date (registration was kept open, but capped).

How can we measure success of such an event? The immediate feedback gives us a good idea of participants’ feelings about the day: Whether they liked the facility, thought the food was good, had a good time talking with friends and colleagues, and heard some good speakers. This is the “smile sheet” that tells us what their impressions of the event were. By all accounts, we got high marks for a good event.

The long term effect of the convention will be whether those in attendance apply anything they learned at the sessions they attended. We might be able to measure satisfaction with the event shortly after the event, but assessing the impact of the day will be a longer-term process. We’ll need to look at the attendees’ implementation of techniques and tools to increase their businesses as well as their production over a period of time to be able to determine if what they gained at the convention will have an effect.

Putting on a convention, even a one-day convention is a lot of work, but it is also immensely satisfying to see learners excited to try something new that they learned in just one day.

The Case For Professional Development

I recently read a post on the PR blog Spin Sucks about the need for people to continue to develop professionally. The post makes the case for reading regularly in one’s field, networking, and taking online classes as an investment in your future. These are great ways to continue to learn and grow in your profession, no matter what your field is. My question is this: Does your employer bear any responsibility for helping you grow professionally?

If you’re a free-lancer or self-employed, it’s up to you to stay educated and informed. Reading, participating in online communities or networking groups, and taking courses are your main methods for staying up-to-date. You may even choose to go back to class and earn a certification or degree. It’s up to you, though, to get what you need. This is your investment in growing your business.

If you work for a company, chances are good that there are in-house opportunities to learn. These could takcase-for-professional-developmente the form of mentoring, on-the-job training, classes, online resources and discounted tuition for degree courses at a local college or university, just to name a few. Many employers view professional development or training as a way to develop talent internally and increase business development through enhanced customer service or product offerings. Professional development is a good thing for business, and many businesses invest greatly in their workers’ training and education.

Then there’s the hybrid situation where the company offers education and training for the independent contractors who operate under the company’s supervision or in partnership with the company. It benefits the company to make sure that those independent contractors are able to present the company’s offerings well or to minimize risk in their business activities. If the independent contractor is a licensee, the state will most likely require continuing education for license renewal as a way to ensure minimum standards are met. Professional development benefits the company and the independent contractor.

Who’s responsibility is it for independent contractors to come to class or take an online course? If both benefit from the education, they should share the responsibility, right?

Usually it falls on the company to “sell” the benefits of training and education to potential participants. This forces professional development professionals to consider the end when designing courses. What will be learned? Who does this benefit and how? How will we judge progress? Why should someone want to learn this material?

I’m sure many professional development pros in situations where they deliver training to employees consider these questions, too. However, the company has the ability to condition employment on participation in training. Independent contractors can leave and practice elsewhere. Attracting these people to training, convincing them to invest time (and perhaps money), and keeping them learning is no small feat.

Some people will always be self-motivated learners. They like to read and discover new things and ways to do their jobs better. For those who need a push, we have to clearly state the benefits and deliver quality education that will help participants grow and flourish in their chosen profession.

Tech Training Truisms

Twice a month I facilitate training on our technology platforms for agents new to the brokerage. This introductory training consists of two, six-hour days of hands-on training. Participants are asked to bring a laptop with them so they can work along as I demonstrate the various tasks they need to perform to be able to use our technology tools effectively.

Since I’ve been leading this kind of training, I’ve noticed a few things that, no matter where I am or how many people attend the class, always tend to come up. Here are my top five tech training truisms:

  1. People pay little or no attention to the description of the class or registration confirmation telling them to bring a laptop to class. I have nothing against iPads or other tablet computing devices (I own an iPad and use it often). They are handy to have and work well for many applications. Unfortunately, they don’t work well for some of the tasks we need to perform in class. I’ve learned to adjust my instruction to accommodate those with tablets. I’d prefer not to have to take time in class to show the one person with a tablet how to do something while the rest wait to move on. I believe that this will not be an issue in the future as more technology platforms accommodate mobile devices.
  2. The wifi will crash when you’re in the middle of working on a crucial task. I travel with my own wifi now, but if the internet access in the building goes down, the entire class is stalled. I now have back-up presentations I can show if I can’t do a live demonstration. Participants can’t perform the tasks I instruct them to do, but at
    least they can still learn.
  3. tech-training-truismsThere will be someone in the class who doesn’t understand basic instructions like “point,” “click,” “open a browser window,” or “upload.” I could name a few more, but you get the drift. You’d think that everyone has basic computer skills these days, but it’s not necessarily true. I usually need to teach to several levels of computer literacy in any given class.
  4. No matter how engaging you are as an instructor, someone will get bored and decide to check e-mail, go shopping, play online games, etc. I have spent much time working to provide engaging training to avoid this problem; however, the lure of the internet is too great. I’m not sure anyone could keep people from surfing with the most engaging training in such a class.
  5. People might “get it” in class but they don’t really understand the tool until they have to use it. For many of the agents new to the business, this means there is a gap between their initial training and actually using a tool in the field. Some are able to retain what they were taught, but many forget. This is where online, on-demand training fills the gap. They can refresh their knowledge in order to use technology when working with a client.

I was never a boy scout, but I have learned the value of being prepared when I train on technology tools. Whatever can go wrong usually does.

A New Deck

“Death by PowerPoint” is a well-known phrase and all too often experienced. There is nothing more deadly than a long, wordy PowerPoint presentation accompanied by a presenter who reads from the screen. I don’t think this was what the creators of PowerPoint had in mind when they made the software.

PowerPoint can be a a vehicle for presenting ideas and can enhance the presentation. It is one of several presentation software options available, and probably the most commonly used. There is flexibility in the program that allows for different designs and fonts as well as the ability to add photos, images, and video to the deck. It just takes a little effort and some trial and error to figure out the possibilities.

Other presentation options exist. I have used Haiku Deck frequently for very eye-catching presentations. Haiku Deck is available for the iPad or online as a web-based tool. There are numerous photos and layouts to choose from. Sharing your deck with others is easy from Haiku Deck. There are built-in options for social sharing as well. Another option I like is Canva. Although you can create a multitude of different designs with Canva, there is also a presentation option that lets you create the slides for a presentation using a variety of templates. All of them are visually appealing. All you have to do is fill in the information for the slide.

No matter which presentation software you choose, there is a fundamental idea to keep in mind when creating the slide deck: The presentation should not explain everything. Get rid of the words! That’s what the presenter is there for–to explain the topic. The slides enhance what the presenter is talking about. I have seen too many presenters get caught in the web of having too much text/graphs/data on the slide. Soon, the audience is paying more attention to what’s on the slides than what is being said.

Part of my job is to create slide decks that others will use to present information. It is very easy to fall into the trap of creating slides with a lot of text on them. I want to give the presenters the information they need to present, so I put it on the slide. This is not a good idea. I have to guard against this tendency and use the notes area of the slide or an additional document for the presenter to review prior to giving the presentation. I focus on creating visually-appealing slides that enhance the information that is to be presented.

Ultimately, the slide deck you create for your presentation, whether it’s for a meeting or a training class, should be visually appealing and enhance the message you wish to present. The deck shouldn’t tell the whole story. That’s your job.

One-sided Webinars

Because I can’t be everywhere all the time, I use webinars to present training. You likely have either watched a webinar or had the pleasure of presenting one. They are ubiquitous in the training world. Webinars let you broadcast your training to whoever will log in, and if you remember to click the “record” button, you can post the recordings for anyone to watch at a later time.

I have something of a love/hate relationship with webinars. I like the convenience of holding webinars. I don’t have to arrange for a room, drive somewhere, deliver training, and drive back. I can open my laptop and start a session in a matter of a few minutes. I plug in my headset, and away we go!

It’s not that easy, though, to present a good webinar. You know, the kind where you plan according to a goal for the training, create the presentation or map out the tool you’ll demonstrate, construct polls for interaction, and create the follow-up survey. And if you’re conscientious, you’ll edit the video for clarity, dropping out the gaps in the presentation and the ummms and ahhhhs that naturally occur during live training, and then post the recording and add it to follow-up e-mails from the platform.

Another pitfall of the webinar format is when presenters follow the one-sided approach to their webinar. They soldier on through the material without giving any thought to how it might be received. Questions go unanswered, comments in the chat box are left dangling. Webinar attendees lose interest and check their e-mail. I, too, am guilty of being one-sided on occasion. The webinar format can be convenient, but it can be deadly dull, too.

The best webinars are engaging. Presenters frequently stop to ask questions of the participants and request feedback. Then, they pay attention to the questions and feedback and incorporate that into the presentation. Polls and surveys can help get feedback from participants. Good presenters keep the tone upbeat and move at a pace that keeps the topic fresh.

A good webinar also depends on the presenter having assistance from someone running the technology or having practiced enough to know the technology. I don’t have the luxury of an assistant and have to run the webinar dashboard at the same time I am the presenter. I have been guilty of forgetting to take myself off mute before starting the webinar. (I also failed to notice the comments in the chat box telling me the participants couldn’t hear anything.) Now I have a checklist and follow the same process each time I begin a webinar. I practice the material before I present live. I make sure it fits in the time allotted and leaves room for questions and feedback.

With planning and preparation, webinars can be a great tool for training people across a company with a geographically large footprint. They don’t have to be one-sided, either.

Why Training?

I once heard a definition of training that juxtaposed it with definitions of education and experience. You may have heard this before, too. It went something like this: Education is the why, training is the how to, and experience is what you get when you don’t have education or training.

Education and Experience

I work with real estate agents. The requirements to get a real estate license in the state of Ohio are relatively few: 120 hours of pre-license education, be 18 years or older, have a high school diploma or GED, answer “no” to a series of questions, and pass the sales license exam.

It’s up to the real estate brokerages and Realtor associations to help new licensees learn the business and stay up to date. Real estate continuing education is mandated by the state, but “seat time” is the only qualification used to determine if a licensee has earned the credit hours for a given class. So how do we know that a real estate agent has really learned a skill or information and can apply it in their businesses?

I should mention at this point that real estate agents are independent contractors, not employees. A business that requires employees to attend training has the ability to mandate the class. Brokerages can make training a part of requirements for holding a license, but few exercise the right to return a license because an agent refused  or didn’t attend training. Training becomes a benefit, a perk, of being affiliated with a particular brokerage. If an agent doesn’t want to take advantage of training and education, there’s little beyond returning a license a brokerage can do.

We spend a lot of time teaching people how to do real estate. This is what they want because they need to earn a living. We teach techniques and proper procedures. Agents learn to comply with state law and represent clients correctly. They learn to use the tools of the trade to market their services and serve their clients. What they rarely learn is why they should want to do x.

I am the person who thinks the why can enhance the learning and make the concepts taught “stickier.” Some people get confused by the why. They don’t really want to muddy the water with why, they’re happy with how to. These are the learners who challenge me most. If I present a technology tool for their business and teach them how to use it, that’s fine. But as soon as I ask why they should want to use the tool, most do not know. I try to make the connection and help them understand (that’s my job after all). When they walk out the door, there are only a few opportunities I have to reinforce the message and help them understand.

In the end, I teach the how to, sprinkle in the why, and try to help agents avoid the experience that may end their fledgling careers.

The Online Education Conundrum

A few years ago, I started advocating for an online education portal where our agents could go to access training classes if they couldn’t attend training in person. Unfortunately, the stigma of a previous incarnation of an online education portal for our company caused senior leadership to reject the idea. I should say that this was an early instance of online learning that was quite rudimentary. It left much to be desired.

Fast forward a couple years, and the attitudes changed in light of a growing company with the need to offer training to people in several locations. Instructor-lead training is the norm, and the ability to offer classes in multiple locations at times people were willing to attend has become problematic. Now, online education seems to be the solution to the problem.

Instead of evaluating various platforms available in the marketplace, we took a different approach. One of our partners is a local college of business that provides online pre-licensing and continuing education courses across the country. Without much knowledge of the platform they were moving their online education offerings to, we agreed to partner with them in a new venture. The college would offer our agents the ability to register for pre-licensing courses or take continuing education courses online through a custom-designed portal. We would have the ability to place our education offerings online using this platform and our agents would have access to them via the same portal.

This seems like a win-win situation. The college gets more business for their pre-licensing courses and online continuing education, and we get a place to put our content online. The agents get access to what they need, when they need it.

Here’s where the questions pop up: What kind of platform is this, and how easy is it to build courses for online use? The platform the college chose was designed for use by K-12 institutions. It does the job, but it’s not an easy platform to work with for our purposes. I find myself creating content, then having to manipulate it in such a way as to get it into the course I design. One example: videos can be uploaded directly to the platform; however, for viewing ease, I upload the video to YouTube, copy the embed code, paste it into a text document, save the document with a particular title and .html, move that document to a zip file with the same title, then upload it to the platform. This is not what I would call user-friendly.

The end result is not bad. I can categorize the courses, and they work as designed. Unfortunately, we have yet to launch this platform for our agents despite having access to it from the back end for almost a year. We are waiting for the college to migrate all of their content to the platform, and then we’ll be able to make it live. I often think it would have been much easier for us to contract with a platform provider directly. We would have had it up and running by now.

The benefit to having this online education portal with the college may be intangible at present, but the relationship offers us other benefits we can’t deny. Our recruits get an automatic scholarship when they register through our portal. We have a revenue sharing agreement that gives us a portion of the proceeds from online continuing education that our agents complete. And, we have created a relationship with this college that offers us access to resources we can’t maintain on our own.

I’ll keep plugging away at placing our content on the platform. Once we go live and agents have a chance to experience the training, I’ll be in a better position to evaluate if this is the answer to our prayers.

 

What’s It All About?

I have taught hundreds of people over the years–everything from verb tenses in German to social media marketing–and I’ve come to some realizations. Teaching isn’t easy. It’s not for those who think because they know something, they can impart that knowledge on others. Teaching (and its cousin, Training) is, when done well and with purpose, exhausting, frustrating, exhilarating, satisfying, and fun (there may be a few more descriptive words I’ve left out!). There are few occasions in one’s professional life so fulfilling as when a learner “gets it.” It’s even better when that learner takes the new knowledge and applies it.

I never intended to become a teacher (instructor, trainer, education specialist). Somewhere along the line, the excitement of standing in front of a group of people and helping them learn something made me want to do it again and again. And, I wanted to get better at it.

I am certainly not the only one to focus on “train the trainer” topics. Nor am I the most experienced. I do possess a great deal of intellectual curiosity though, and sharing my discoveries and thoughts about workplace training and professional development is my way of helping my peers to sharpen their skills.

Who knows where this will lead us. We might discover a new way to approach a common problem. We might have an opportunity to laugh at some of the silly things that happen in classes. I might get a chance to vent now and then. Hopefully we’ll learn, too. That’s what it’s all about, right?

P.S.–Why “Two Minutes to Learn”? We’ve all been in those classes–interminable bore-fests we can’t wait to flee. Even great topics can be flogged to death. I try to structure learning in short snippets, easily comprehended and put into action. That’s my goal here, too: Short bites of learning for those times when you only have or want to take “Two Minutes to Learn.”