Thursday, December 18, 2014

Getting Shy People to Tell Stories: A Sensitive Approach

Imagine a team meeting where a facilitator is asking customer service reps to tell a two-minute story about an incident where they felt personal satisfaction in helping a customer.  The goal is to share effective relationship skills.  Of the team members who volunteer their stories, many are caught up in the emotion or humor of their own tales, clearly enjoying their moment.  But one or two are reluctant to contribute, and, when pressed by the facilitator, they tell stories that are stilted, unclear and awkward.  They retreat into silence for the rest of the meeting’s agenda.  What happened?

Shy people don't feel comfortable when attention is on them.  They can be afraid of being judged by others or embarrassed by what they say or do in a social setting.  Yet, as part of a team, their ideas and perspectives are valuable and should be included.  How can shy people contribute their stories to the group without feeling pressure or anxiety?  Here are tips for facilitators:

  • ·       Set the stage:  Explain why stories—because of their imagery, detail and emotion—are useful in implanting memorable lessons, inspiring change, and creating connections between people.  Demonstrate by telling a short classic or two like “The Blind Men and The Elephant”, or “The Zen Master and The Cup of Tea”.  Google these titles for examples. 
  • ·       Keep the tone comfortable:  Explain the ground rules—No one is being judged, it’s not a contest, the overall goal is to learn from each other, it’s important to share what you are comfortable with. The feeling in the room should be light, fun and upbeat.
  • ·       Make it easy to contribute:  Get participation going by some light-hearted easing into speaking aloud in a group.  Ask participants to give you a one-word description of the first thing that comes to mind when they think of…peanut butter, flat tires, bow ties, kittens…something a little silly and non-business.  Call it a sound-check; have fun with the responses. 
  • ·       Safety in structure:  Provide a framework for the story, give an example, and ask everyone to use it.  A story-telling structure can be as simple as three steps: 1) Set-up the situation, who is doing what and where, 2) Tell us what happened or went wrong and what you did, 3) Describe what you learned.  There are other story structures you can invent or find, but keep it simple and uncluttered.
  • ·       First write, then read:  Shy people might be reluctant to speak in front of people, but generally they are not shy about writing.  So, ask everyone to spend a short time writing an outline, some phrases, or sentences to fill in the structure.  Provide a worksheet with the story structure.  People will feel more comfortable reading aloud what they’ve written.
  • ·       Small group, big group:  Telling a story to a partner or in a trio group might be less threatening than a larger group.  After participants exchange stories in the relative safety of a small group, ask each group to nominate the best story it heard or to summarize the lessons learned.

Finally, and most important of all, recognize when shy people do make a contribution.  During a break or in a quiet moment, privately thank them for their story.  After all, they went into uncomfortable territory to help the team.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fast Lane Learning

Corporate training has changed.  At Singularity, we’ve been involved with several recent game-changing designs, and we see a pattern emerging across the industry.  We call it Fast Lane Learning.

ast Lane Learning is what is happening now in enlightened training settings. Fast Lane Learning is a structured experience that goes beyond a workshop or classroom and which puts bold and edgy techniques in play.  The elements of this paradigm come from traditional best practices mixed with ideas from the world of entertainment, youth culture, theatre and life in a wired—and weird—world.

The pivotal idea: The learner is responsible for navigating and managing their own learning experience.  The organization provides, the learner engages.  How does this work?

Nine characteristics of Fast Lane Learning:
1.     Experience versus event. 
Fast Lane Learning involves a mixture of orchestrated experiences—alone, with a partner, a peer group, an expert or with a manager and team in a classroom, online study, team meetings, one-on-one at a workstation, and more.  These experiences are spread out over time, perhaps weeks or months beyond the start point, eventually becoming embedded as a part of daily work where skills become part of the learner’s repertoire. 
2.     Urgency for a necessary and useful deliverable. 
From the outset, every learner knows he/she is expected—and under pressure—to produce a basic and simple work product.  This outcome helps the learner, his/her team and the organization come closer to achieving real business goals.  It is a necessary tool, a bridge to achievement, and essential element of success. 

3.     Putting learners on edge.
The basic idea is to set the performance deficit between what the learner needs to know and what the learner thinks he/she knows.  The awareness of that gap gives most people the motivation to be receptive to new ideas.  At the very least, it focuses attention on the learning matter at hand. 
Creating mild performance discomfort in the learner—“setting the deficit”—is the way to do that.  For example, putting people into an improvised role-play situation at the very beginning of a workshop can be fun and illustrative, especially when the learner struggles with a skill.  Making that a “show” in front of a class can really open up some eyes. The point is that without that discomfort, there isn’t a reason to learn. 

4.     Optimize face time for application activities. 
Fast Lane Learning uses the “Flipped Classroom”.  Learners study concepts on their own or with others, complete simple assignments, come prepared to a classroom or team meeting and practice by solving problems, creating new approaches, and evaluating cases using their acquired knowledge.  The corporate trainer is now a master of ceremonies who presents problems, crowd-sources solutions, refines and clarifies acquired knowledge, structures practice and provides feedback.  This is liberating the trainer from lecture mode and making him/her a true teacher.  Now there is time for application exercises: simulations, role-plays, case discussion, gaming, projects, and experiential and creative exercises.
5.     Fast and focused, less is more.
Today’s learner wants to scan and learn, store for reference and return to bookmarked placeholders.  Learners want blog-length, sound bite, check-in, three-minute, YouTube explanations and examples.  That means that any online learning has to be layered, so learners can hop up and down an information structure from highlights to details and examples and back up again in any way they like.  It also has to be provocative and engaging so that learners don’t flit away from topics.  In-person sessions have to be centered on presenting the only tops of the iceberg, “three clear points”, and fast practice limited to twenty-to-thirty minute segments and clear follow-on, simple assignments to develop concepts and then on to the next topic. 
6.     Proficiency through coaching and on the job practice.
This is what truly distinguishes the Fast Lane Learning.  The job setting is the actual learning environment where application practice and proficiency building really takes place.  Through follow-on assignments, frequent structured practice and feedback sessions with coaches, peers, managers, experts, or trainers embedded in the work environment, the learner builds confidence as well as competence. The key here is to make on-the-job simple and easy, with a cadre of prepared, well-tooled, and coordinated supporters—not just the manager—, slipping right into the cadence of how work gets done.
7.     Improv and “What Ifs.”
Fast Lane Learning uses improvisation for practicing skills with fun.  Improvisation is a spontaneous, on-the-fly, off-the-cuff experience, allowing frequent “what-if” scenarios and fast feedback.  There’s no striving for perfection, just a lot of practice and discussion of approaches.  The learner who practices several times can show they get the basic idea of the skill.  Proficiency comes later with practice on the job.
8.     Contribution.
Participants shape the Fast Lane Learning experience.  They bring their own examples and problems to solve, decide what’s next and when enough is enough.  They can identify what skills need more work and how they will build proficiency.  These kinds of choices customize how the learning works for each participant. 
9.     Membership.
Participants who go through a learning experience together already have a tribal identity.  Fast Lane Learning leverages that, naming the group, creating forums for after-learning experiences and maintaining relationships.  Alumni can become peer coaches for newer learners and each other, they can help reshape content, and they can become instructors or facilitators.

Fast Lane Learning is a networked, cadre-based, organizational approach that goes beyond individual skill development.  Everyone learns how to learn together.  If you’re thinking, “That kind of stuff can’t happen here”, think again.  Fast Lane Learning is in place in organizations that have decided to make training more effective, relevant, engaging, and, yes, useful to the learner. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ready To Change: An Organizational Readiness Checklist

An email from a far-flung correspondent brought this question:

“I know that there are certain times when an organization is ready to change and when it doesn’t make sense to try.  Is there a rubric or evaluation tool that I can use to assess an organization’s readiness for change?  What are the indicators I can look to and the levels to pull to get change going?”

An excellent question, and for anyone in a position of leadership it is certainly one of THE questions.  Ultimately what leaders bring to an organization is change.  This is not always perceived by the organization as a good thing.  Even when people who do see change as needed may not realize the degree of dislocation that changes often require.  Hence, being able to assess readiness is a central part of a leader’s tool box.

Whether it is increasing sales, growing into new markets, fixing processes, cutting costs, or improving the current quality of what customers are getting for their money, change should be an ongoing leadership agenda.  The degree and timeliness to which that change takes hold and “works”, is hard or easy, or captures the commitment of staff is a function of the organization’s readiness.  If leadership reads readiness incorrectly, haphazardly, or jumps before thinking through broad issues, then change might not be realized as envisioned.

Readiness to change is, in a sense, the degree to which all people in an organization are led to recognize that things need to be done differently now and that they are the people who will—must—make it happen.  That’s the end-state.  Let us deconstruct that notion on our way to making a checklist of sorts for leaders. 

r  The Need. 
Frankly, how painful is the status quo?  Does it hurt enough to capture everyone’s attention?  Do people in the organization get the idea that there is a big gap between where they are now and where they want to be, should be or could be?  What are the consequences if nothing is done?  How desirable and valued is moving away from the status quo to a new goal?

Are there numbers that describe the gap?  Numbers and data seem to be the gold standard in getting people’s attention.  No felt need, no impetus for change.

r  The Instigator. 
Who was the one who had the courage to raise his/her hand and say the gap hurts?  Or that there is an opportunity waiting?  Was it a position leader, aka “the boss”, or someone else?  A small group?  The whole group?  A single-voice in the wilderness?  Credibility and critical mass are issues here.  To get change moving, there has to be a palpable pusher who is taken seriously.  Complaints do not start change initiatives unless they are from the right people at the right volume.  Staff who are savvy about building coalitions and influencing can impact direction if they focus on documenting the business problem and solutions and being helpful contributors and not mutineers.

r  Alignment.  
Is everyone in the system seeing the same relative problem?  Is the gap being interpreted the same way by all parties?  Has the gap caused disparate coalitions and interest groups to form?  Is this a case of overcoming inertia and mediocrity and getting a critical mass on side, or is everyone in the organization actively looking for answers from…somewhere.  Do people agree there are challenges and opportunities ahead that need to and can be addressed? 

The same will be true of the solution when it emerges; is there commitment to the approach, the solution, the strategy—whatever it is that turns the corner.  Research has consistently shown how withholding full and wholehearted agreement at this point can sink the most righteous change effort.

r  Timing. 
What else is the organization facing?  Is the need-gap center stage now?  Are there distractions and too many activities and agenda items clouding up a clear path to getting people’s attention?  Are teams working on other initiatives?  Dedicated effort makes change happen; a change effort is sunk if it looks like simply something else to do.

r  Structure. 
Can the leader build a mechanism for making change happen?  Is there a change management governance committee in place, a task force, a group of anointed managers who are deputized to lead the charge?  Could there be?  Is this a cross-functional, multi-level team?  The leader of an organization can’t do it alone; the “structure” is the team that is focused on alignment, mobilization, and accelerating the change.

r  People.
Are there core, A-team allies on board who “get it”, who have the courage, patience, skill, dedication and vision to make this happen?  A talented team consists of people who are persistent, yet open.  How many are there on board?  The right people on the proverbial bus is the metaphor that Jim Collins indelibly embedded in the corporate world.  Are they present and accounted for?

As for the staff, how resistant are the resistors?  Will reason, patience, involvement and care-and-feeding help accommodate the antagonists?  Some people can be led only so far before they have to make a decision to commit or go.  How far is far?  Is there a sense on the part of leadership that there is specific and liberal amount of patience to deal with resistance and withholding at the end of which is a decision point?

r  Flexibility.
This is related to People.  Are people in the organization willing to be flexible?  Can there be a consensus about a solution or approach that might not be ideal, but is good enough for this time and place?  Is there room for people to come to terms, so to speak, on a reasonable new way of doing things?  What has the organization’s history lesson about adapting?

r  Leadership.
The best for last.  Is there a courageous leader with the vision or who constructs a vision and who is determined to press that agenda home?  Diplomatic, astute, willing to listen, political but always focused on the goal, determined to keep the pressure on for progress and never being easily discouraged, at least in public.  This leader has to enlist for the long haul, and be prepared to do what it takes.  Leaders, are you ready for that?  Without leadership, there is no change.