Trainers as Leaders: Thoughts, Words, Actions, and Congruence

June 16, 2011

“Congruence,” the contributors to Wikipedia remind us, “is the state achieved by coming together, the state of agreement,” and that proved to be a tremendously fruitful theme to explore at the initial meeting of Trainers as Business Leaders @Mt. Diablo ASTD recently.

The Trainers as Business Leaders special interest group, sponsored by one of the two remaining chapters of ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) here in the San Francisco Bay Area—there are nearly 130 chapters across the United States—is built upon a firm foundation of helping Chapter members and supporters develop and hone their leadership skills in ways that serve the larger workplace learning and performance community.

And while our initial discussion around the importance of congruence in leadership may not have resulted in complete agreement—after all, have any of us ever seen a group of trainers engage in a conversation where the resulting product was complete agreement?—the exchanges did produce immediate results.

The small group of initial members agreed to hold monthly rather than quarterly meetings. The broad-based discussion around the role trainers play as leaders within the organizations we serve created a short list of books that we expressed interest in exploring on themes of leadership, collaboration, and even Neuro-Linguistic Programming. (Titles included Lead with LUV, by Ken Blanchard; NLP [Neuro-Linguistic Programming] at Work: The Difference that Makes a Difference at Work, by Sue Knight; and Thinking for a Change, by John Maxwell.) Participants walked away with a short list of ideas they could use in their own workplaces the day after that initial meeting took place. And participants even used a challenging situation one attendee summarized as a case study in how effective leaders might find creative and positive solutions to vexing workplace problems.

What felt most promising about this gathering of workplace learning and performance professionals exploring and sharing thoughts and proposed actions on leadership was the way these current and prospective leaders modeled the very behavior they were promoting. One participant’s suggestion that “if you are defending a position, you are not hearing another one” reflected the overall openness of group members to exchanging ideas without displaying any inclination to debating those thoughts to score points at a colleague’s expense.

The suggestion that “sometimes you don’t want to shut down people that you think are wrong” continued that theme of inspiring positive actions through collaboration rather than complete reliance on confrontation, and there wasn’t a word uttered during the 90-minute session that would have led to those with conflicting points of view hindering the conversation that took place.

And the theme of seeking congruence between ourselves and the situations in which we work not only served as a foundation for positive interactions among the group’s members, but also became one of the themes that members proposed to explore within their own workplace settings in the days and weeks that followed that initial meeting.

As the discussion drew to a close, individual group members listed some of the actions they would take as a result of their participation in the Trainers as Business Leaders group: working toward establishing congruence within their own work settings; striving to remain in “investigative mode” by listening rather than simply diving in with solutions for each workplace challenge they encounter; seeking to find a few advocates for positive change within their organizations rather than being overwhelmed by the amount of opposition change sometimes inspires; and “putting ourselves in the shoes of the executives instead of acting from our own agendas.”

All of which suggests that members of this dynamic group of trainer-teacher-learners are well on the way to creating wonderful learning opportunities for a larger set of colleagues while modeling the behavior they are promoting.

N.B.—This is the first in an ongoing series about the ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter Trainers as Business Leaders group. Information about upcoming monthly meetings is available on the ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter website at http://mtdiabloastd.org.


Workplace Learning & Leadership: It’s a Book!

April 25, 2011

They may not be as heart-warming and engaging as the words “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy” are. And we’re certainly not giving out cigars. But the phrase “it’s (finally) a book” is tremendously satisfying and rewarding to those of us who have given birth to one.

The recent publication of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Nonprofit Trainers, which Lori Reed and I co-wrote for ALA Editions over a two-year period while meeting quite a few other professional and personal commitments, does bring home the satisfaction that accompanies any extended act of creation—particularly one that celebrates the spirit of collaboration by itself being the product of extended and extensive collaborations.

And it’s far from being all about us. Workplace Learning & Leadership reflects the collaborations we established with acquisitions editor Christopher Rhodes and other colleagues at ALA Editions. It also is the result of collaborations with the trainer-teacher-learners—many of them active in the ALA Learning Round Table–who volunteered hours of their time for the interviews that are the heart of the book

Given the theme—that workplace learning and performance professionals are increasingly ineffectual if we don’t assume leadership roles within our organizations and foster the development of communities of learning—there’s little surprise in the acknowledgement that our colleagues helped create what ALA Editions published. It’s one thing for trainer-teacher-learners like Lori and me to try to pull together our own experiences in a way that helps others learn how to create effective training programs. It’s quite another to recognize that learning is at least partially fostered through effective storytelling, and that it takes a lot of great storytellers to create a book about effective learning.

Gathering some of the best storytellers we know, then taking a back seat to those storytellers so they could engage readers in a memorable and entertaining learning experience, reflects what we all know about learning: it has to be sticky. And stickiness is enhanced by a variety of voices.

The foundation for all of this, of course, is recognition that success in training-teaching-learning is rooted in a sense of humility. It’s not about any of us posing as the ultimate experts in our field. Nor is it about achieving a level of expertise and then resting on our laurels. Learning is continuous—as is the act of gathering and documenting practices that benefit all of us—so what we have done through Workplace Learning & Leadership and our ongoing attempts to stay ahead of those who rely on us to provide effective learning experiences is to celebrate.

We are celebrating the joys and benefits of collaboration. Of community. And the effective use of leadership to the benefit of all we serve. We are also celebrating the leadership skills all of us have developed as well as the leadership skills we see in others. Most importantly, we are celebrating the positive effects our efforts have on learners and the people whom they ultimately serve.

It’s all about providing something of lasting worth. Something that contributes to the workplace learning and performance endeavors we all adore. And something that will reach and touch members of our community we otherwise might not have the chance to meet.


Training Trends, Learning Outcomes, and Setting More Productive Goals

February 10, 2011

When we look at trends and predictions for workplace learning and performance (training) in pieces such as Training Industry, Inc. CEO and Founder Doug Harward’s recent article posted on TrainingIndustry.com, we find an intriguing combination of potentially positive changes and misdirected attention.

The positive elements include predictions that “total spending for training services” will increase by seven to nine percent in 2011; “the role of the learning leader” in organizations is changing for the better; “learning technologies are becoming social, collaborative, and virtual”; and “learning content will be transformed for easier consumption”—situations many of us have already been seeing or can, without too much thought, accept as likely.

Sources including the ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) “2010 State of the Industry Report” confirm that training remains a well funded industry in some ways even though many of us note and lament reductions in training budgets: “U.S. organizations spent $125.88 billion on employee learning and development  in 2009” (p. 5)—the year during which the data in the 2010 report was gathered. The eLearning Guild’s “Getting Started with e-Learning 2.0” and co-writers Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, in their book The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media, provide support for the idea that social media tools are already making a positive difference in fostering learner-centric training. And interviews that Lori Reed and I conducted for our forthcoming book on trainers as leaders (Workplace Learning & Leadership) document the increasingly important roles workplace learning and performance professionals are assuming in developing, delivering, and evaluating effective learning opportunities.

One particularly interesting assertion among Harward’s predictions is that learning leaders are becoming solutions architects or learning architects—“someone who designs innovative approaches for employees to access knowledge, when they need it, in relevant chunks, no matter where they are.” This, he suggests, moves them/us closer to the role of consultant—a role which trainer-consultants including Peter Block (Flawless Consulting) and the late Gordon and Ronald Lippitt (The Consulting Process in Action—particularly Chapter 6) have abundantly described in their own work when they write of internal and external consultants (long-term employees as opposed to those hired for well defined projects with specific beginning and end points).

As was the case with Training Industry, Inc.’s report on “How to Promote the Value of Online Training Within Your Organization,” however, there is a bit of myopia among the predictions. The proposal that “metrics for learning will be based on content access, view, involvement, and downloads” rather than “how many students attended a program” doesn’t appear to provide a significant and positive change; furthermore, it ignores the larger issue to be addressed: is all this workplace learning leading to positive change for learners, organizations, and the customers and clients they serve? The unfortunate answer, as documented elsewhere, is an emphatic “no.”

More importantly, this proposed shift in focus misses the larger mark because it still makes no attempt to engage in the levels of assessment suggested in Donald Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels™ Evaluation Model, Robert Binkerhoff’s Telling Training’s Story: Evaluation Made Simple, Credible, and Effective, or Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson, and Richard Flanagan’s The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development Into Business Results—those measurements of workplace learning and performance’s real results in terms of positive change.

There is much to admire in what Hayward writes. There is also obviously much room for seeking trends that, in his words, “will reshape the training industry” in a significant and sustainable way. All we have to do is keep our attention on the learners and those they serve. And set even more productive, measurable goals.


When Trainers Lead: Drawing From the Past to Build the Future

August 19, 2010

A magnificent—and not unexpected—success story is continuing to develop for the trainers-as-leaders at the ASTD Mt. Diablo Chapter in San Francisco’s East Bay Area: long-missing colleagues, including former members of the Chapter Board, are continuing to return to the organization after months or years of absence. More importantly, they are quickly becoming re-engaged in the organization’s growth and sustainability and are offering much needed skills.

Some are becoming formal business partners. Others are considering new volunteer non-Board roles in support of initiatives like special interest groups to serve members’ and prospective members’ professional development and workplace learning and performance needs. And still others are simply being drawn back to the Chapter’s monthly meetings because of the learning opportunities offered by guest speakers at those events.

As noted in earlier articles, this 80-person chapter of the 40,000-member national/international organization (the American Society for Training & Development) with more than 130 chapters in the United States and more than 30 international partners, was near collapse three years ago. A few dedicated Board and non-Board members refused to let it go under, and their (our) efforts have helped to bring it back to its position as a well focused, structurally sound, vital, vibrant, and sustainable community of learners in a heavily populated part of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The rewards to the Chapter and its supporters are obvious. Our members go far beyond the usual pay-your-dues-and-run sort of relationship often maintained within organizations. They bring a level of engagement which shapes and nurtures the sort of third place—community meeting place—described by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place and the complementary fourth place—a community gathering place for social learning—that several of us are just beginning to define and promote.

Our still-evolving vision of business partners through our Chapter Community Involvement process builds upon existing strengths instead of attempting to create something from scratch through cold calls with those who are completely unfamiliar with what we do and offer. Those business partnerships are a real point of pride for us and serve as an easy model for others to pursue. They begin with us looking at resources far-too-long ignored: Diane Fleck, a former Chapter Board president who became inactive in the Chapter after successfully establishing a business through the contacts she developed via ASTD—not her fault that she fell away, mind you; it happened because the Chapter no longer worked to be an important part of what she needed. That’s a chilling warning for those who don’t know that they’ve got till it’s gone.

Lynda McDaniel, our second business partner, came as naturally as the first: she is a Chapter member with tremendous writing and outreach skills—which she is willing to use on our behalf in exchange for the additional visibility it creates for her. Again, everyone wins. And our latest partners, Steven “Shags” Shagrin and Thornton Prayer through The Networking Lounge, are two consultants who have offered invaluable pro bono organizational development support at critical times in the Chapter’s growth; by acknowledging what they have done in ways that bring them visibility, we’ve nurtured another important relationship while gaining additional resources—including free meeting space—at a time when the number of activities we are scheduling is increasing and free meeting space will be critically important to the success of those events.

So here we are, a small and growing community of learners creating a fourth place for those who want and need it. And all that is needed—how strange and encouraging that what once seemed so daunting now is almost casually dismissed with the phrase “all that is needed”—by anyone wanting to build from this example is a core group of dedicated members who would not and will not give up something that they value; a shared vision which evolves to meet the community’s needs; and a willingness to cherish past resources in ways that re-engage them in the present and the future.


When Trainers Lead: To Market We Go

July 23, 2010

Because trainers and those who use their services often ask what tangible results they produce, it’s a pleasure to note the continuing successes one group—board members of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Mt. Diablo Chapter—is achieving.

While the adoption this week of a Chapter marketing and communications plan might sound about as exciting as watching gopher holes under construction in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (where do people find time to make and post these videos?), it actually serves as another example of what happens when trainers assume leadership positions.

The plan, like the strategic plan Board members adopted earlier this year after more than 14 months of work, is notable for several reasons. It fills an obvious need: helping Chapter leaders, other members, and an evolving group of business partners, collaborate to better serve the organization’s core constituency of workplace learning and performance professionals throughout the San Francisco East Bay Area. It is part of a larger organizational development effort since it is interwoven with the strategic plan and has, as its foundation, a commitment to implementing the Chapter’s mission, vision, and value statements. It was developed relatively quickly and in a way that generated enthusiasm rather than boredom; all that was required were three intensely focused and very productive conference calls lasting less than 75 minutes each and easy-to-accomplish between-meeting activities on the part of a Chapter marketing and communications task force—all in response to a clearly defined mandate with a definitive set of deadlines.

Best of all, it was far from the work of a small group of insiders who were simply egging each other on to produce a document that would gather dust instead of producing worthwhile results. The plan draws from the expertise of current Board members; other Chapter members with marketing, writing, and editing skills; and a successful and respected business partner—Diane Fleck, Founder and CEO of The Learning Café—who had not, until recently, had a formal affiliation with the Chapter in more than five years even though she had served as Chapter President nearly 10 years ago. Flecks’ participation in shaping and now moving quickly to implement the plan provided expertise and a simultaneous opportunity to revive that long-dormant relationship; it also offers the additional benefit of providing a template for additional business partnerships to strengthen the Chapter’s ability to meet and exceed its members’ needs and expectations. Not bad for a process that was originally designed to provide a roadmap for organizational growth and development through better communication with its constituency.

With the ink hardly dry on the document, key Chapter trainers as leaders and other volunteers are moving to maximize the impact of the plan. Joe Novosel, Chapter VP, Communications, posted the document on the Chapter’s website so members and guests would have access to it and so it could serve as a resource to other ASTD Chapter leaders throughout the country. Task force and Chapter member Lynda McDaniel—a second newly acquired Chapter business partner and Founder/Director of the Association for Creative Business Writing—is providing much needed assistance in writing and editing marketing and promotional materials for the Chapter. Fleck is reaching out to her extensive network of contacts to provide additional resources for the Chapter. And all of us on the Board are beginning to breathe a little more easily as we see the incredible workload we have been carrying being dispersed a bit into additional obviously qualified hands—one of the many goals we set for ourselves in the Chapter’s strategic plan.

As mentioned in an earlier article, the Chapter—with collaboration from a variety of interested and dedicated volunteers—has been on a long and steady road to recovery from the threat of extinction nearly three years ago. A partially moribund Board was slowly and steadily rebuilt while the Chapter bylaws were rewritten. Board job descriptions were revised to stress the collaborative approach Board members take to conducting Chapter business. And the strategic plan was created through the same sort of process which produced the marketing and communications plan—formation of a task force which included Board members, other Chapter members, and those who had previously been active in the Chapter but had, for a variety of reasons, drifted away over a several-year period.

Facing the final five months of its existence in its current form, the Board (where members serve overlapping two-year terms designed so that half of the Board’s members are up for re-election or replacement every year and half remain to provide continuity from year to year) will aggressively move forward to build on the Chapter’s successes while seeking even more. And always with an eye on what can be done to promote the Chapter as a sustainable organization offering “a professional, caring, supportive, and fun environment” that is rewarding for anyone involved in workplace learning and performance.


Leaders Emerging

July 5, 2010

One of the great pleasures of attending the 2010 American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Washington, D.C. last week was seeing Emerging Leaders Program participants display and discuss the year-long projects they completed.

Projects on view during a two-hour poster session held on Friday, June 25 in the Washington Convention Center showed a great amount of planning, creativity, and practical application. Among the topics were web-based leadership development; a free-links project “to identify and select free web-based tutorials and professional development information for librarians in other countries to access via the Internet,” with the links being posted on a wiki; a survey of ALA members to determine how interested they were in having the Association adapt Web 2.0 tools into its new content management system;  and revising and updating an online staff development resource center so that individuals and organizations can “share policies, manuals, materials, and other information related to library staff development,” according to printed material distributed  by members of the Emerging Leaders group that completed that project.

Two projects which quickly caught my attention were sponsored by the ALA Learning Round Table (formerly CLENE), an ALA group which serves as an online and conference-level home away from home for me and many others involved in workplace learning and performance. The first, providing a recipe for planning successful staff day activities, drew from responses provided by nearly 600 ALA members and resulted in creation of a wiki which includes a variety of resources for those interested in developing their own staff day successes and a short video documenting their work. The second, creating and documenting the process of offering a sustainable webinar series for workplace learning and performance professionals in libraries, provides information for others interested in developing a similar series and is also described in two separate short online videos.

There really wasn’t a bad project among the more than 20 that were on display, and it’s a credit to those who each year facilitate this dynamic project for library staff members who are either under 35 years old or who have fewer than five years of experience working at a professional or paraprofessional level within libraries.

What was somewhat surprising to me was how few of the sponsoring ALA divisions and round tables actually had members onsite to work alongside the Emerging Leaders during their presentations. Discussions with program participants provided food for thought: although they were tremendously grateful for the opportunities they had under the Emerging Leaders program, many of them said they had not been approached about becoming members of the groups, were not sure whether they would continue their relationships with the groups which sponsored their projects, and wished they had been able to work alongside members of those sponsoring organizations during the  two-hour session on June 25—a clear call to action for those of us who want to support the efforts of these and the other emerging leaders in our lives.


When Trainers Lead: Collaboration and Midyear Reviews

June 20, 2010

The trainers-as-leaders who serve as Chapter Board members for the The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Mt. Diablo Chapter in San Francisco’s East Bay area took another leap forward last week by reestablishing a dormant connection: the Board voted to create a formal partnership with The Learning Café in the San Francisco East Bay Area.

This collaboration, for all involved, looks to be a positive and significant move in many ways. It reunites the Chapter with The Learning Café’s founder and CEO, Diane Fleck, who served as Chapter President nearly 10 years ago and who credits that experience with having inspired her to found her organization for workplace learning and performance professionals and others seeking to improve their business skills. It brings Fleck’s tremendous marketing and training skills to the Chapter at a time when Board and other Chapter members are seeking to increase awareness of the Chapter’s activities and offerings among its current and prospective members. It brings The Learning Café’s many workplace learning and performance opportunities more directly to the attention of those involved in ASTD locally and regionally. And it continues Chapter leaders’ current efforts to mine the Chapter’s past to assure its healthy future by reaching out to those who played key roles in the Chapter’s development over a long period of time before moving on to other endeavors.

Under the terms of the partnership, Fleck will serve as a formal marketing advisor to the Chapter at least through the end of 2010; help finalize and coordinate implementation of the Chapter marketing plan; and provide public relations support by including promotion of Chapter events in the form of notices within The Learning Café weekly online newsletters, which are directed to more than 7,000 people throughout the United States. The Chapter will keep The Learning Café’s logo on Chapter website homepage, promote The Learning Café’s activities and its Advisor Network on the Chapter website, and keep Chapter members aware of learning and professional development opportunities offered by The Learning Café’s through the Chapter’s own publicity efforts.

The timing for this important step couldn’t have been better. Board members, taking a midyear look back toward the Chapter strategic plan discussed and adopted during the first two months of 2010 after a nearly year-long effort to create the document, confirmed that the overall theme of seeking opportunities to add value to members’ involvement in the Chapter are well underway. Membership remains steady at a time when other ASTD chapters are struggling to attract and retain members, and innovative programming continues to provide what Chapter members seem to value most: learning opportunities which can be used in members’ own workplaces.

Collaboration and building a community of learning have been important elements of what the  Chapter Board set out to do when it was struggling to overcome challenges in 2007 and 2008. Consistent attention to this goal is now beginning to pay off for the organization, and all of us are looking forward to continuing to lead through collaborations for the remainder of the 2010 Chapter Board’s term of office.


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