“Okay time for the sheep”


Back in the day, before blended learning, when it came to training, we had “events”, when everyone had ILT although it wasn’t called that then (Instructor Lead Training) whether they liked it or not. There was one colour and it was black. This ILT involved going to a hotel, staying overnight and this was called “classroom training” (not ILT), even though it wasn’t in a classroom.  This quite often led to week long courses in expensive hotels (with bar bills paid) with 12 delegates and two trainers (and acetates and endless coffee breaks). Hasn’t life changed? Hopefully…

We didn’t know about blended training back-in-the-day, indeed, we knew little of microwaves, blenders and M&S meal deals but we got on with training in this manner and the outcome was pretty much okay. Now, in the sophisticated 21st Century we have distance learning, e-learning, on-line learning, Skype meetings, self-paced learning, virtual training, workbooks, cuddly toy and deep fat fryer etc… and the occasional ILT. Not in a hotel. Always.

Most of these “new” approaches work well, especially when it comes to knowledge and qualification training but, whisper this, most people still prefer… ILT (and some also like staying in plush hotels, i.e. not those with “Express” in their title). And, when it comes to the dreaded “soft skills” training (when it happens at all) the “virtual” training approach is flawed from the start. Why? Because (and you should never start a sentence with “because”), if you are trying to get people to understand how to interact with people, which is really what most “soft” skills are, training them WITHOUT doing this interaction is counter-productive (or “stupid” as we like to call it in the trade). You don’t learn how to dive into a swimming pool without actually diving into a swimming pool (and some people don’t even then; see my earlier article on that wonderful programme “Splash”).

“But,” I hear you say, “the other forms of training are cheaper both financially and time-wise, doing ILT is expensive, we don’t have the budget, well, we do, BUT,” you carry on, “it’s very time intensive”. Yes, it is. But it needn’t be (though this should be seen as time invested, not time wasted). “Needn’t be?” you ask. (I assume you are doing this conversation, in your head. I am and I’m enjoying it.)

The real solution, as ILT is genuinely effective, is simple: have groups of only 2-3 and keeping sessions to 2 hours.

One of the typical errors of delivering ILT as I described in the hotel analogy above (or “the good old days” as it is known) is the “one size fits all” solution, or the “sheep dip” approach. By taking 12 people, putting them in a room and having one “script” for all, around 50% of the time is wasted for all and, given the fact that people forget about 70% of what they learn in 2-3 days, it was never going to get a useful outcome (I’ll let you do the maths or “math” as spell check wants me to write). Oh and people aren’t sheep. The real solution, as ILT is genuinely effective, is simple: have groups of only 2-3 and keeping sessions to 2 hours.

This way you can still cover the topics you want but they will now be focused on the individuals and their real, personal needs, so most areas covered can actually be used directly and instantly as well as making sure that each person is dealt with as an individual. (Recently, doing assertiveness training, one delegate came back after the first hour and gave an example of using what she’d learned. She’d asserted herself as she hadn’t done before. That’s how to change behaviours and outcomes. Full details on application. But it involved coffee.)

Of course, this approach is very tiring on a trainer (poor souls) but it’s the best and most effective approach. We know, we’ve been doing this for years. Especially when it comes to “soft” skills.

Key topics such as listening, questioning, communication, assertiveness, presentations, delegation, time management, stress management, motivation, (shall I go on?) etc., are all better served by small focused ILT sessions. Small as in time and people. Of course, the extra “blended” elements can be brought in to the mix but it should be a mix, driven by ILT.

This approach has much going for it for you; it:

  • Saves money
  • Saves time
  • Gets to a personal level
  • Increases skills therefore impacts on motivation…
  • … which impacts on performance and business
  • Helps stopping you being fined
  • Helps retain staff
  • Improves your culture
  • Makes you feel good

And even Wikipedia knows this:

“ILT is an effective means of delivering information, as it allows for real-time feedback, questions and answers, manipulation and changeable delivery to suit the needs of learners in a real-time environment, and a learning environment can be created by the instructor’s style.”

Overlook the ILT approach to “soft skills” at your peril; this is the preferred method for “soft” skills. Preferred and most effective.

Yes, it puts trainers under pressure as they have to be good, they have to be flexible, they have to know their subject and they do need to have stamina (as they will be delivering three sessions in  day, maybe on different subjects or, more tiring, on the same subject!). It’s what is required for “soft” skills.

“Soft” skills. It’s a bad name as it suggests that these are the skills that aren’t important. Yet these are precisely the skills that make the difference when it comes to dealing with people; and the skills that businesses say are lacking now. Well, if they are lacking, it may be time to do something about it. It won’t eat up time or money, if done correctly. And the results should speak (and pay) for themselves.

An American CEO made this comment about soft skills and new entrants to his company in January:

“Of all the things employers look for when hiring entry-level talent, it’s the so-called ‘soft skills’ that are valued most: communication, teamwork, flexibility and positive attitude are by far the most sought-after skills. Employers understand that everything else can be taught, so they look for the most promising raw material to work with.”

He is, of course, wrong. Well, they are “valued” and valuable, that bit is correct, but soft skills aren’t just genetic or taken on by osmosis, they can be taught and should be taught. They just aren’t! Well, they are, we (and many other companies) do this and make a significant difference to people, performance and business. After all, if people DON’T have soft skills, what will companies do?

There’s a wonderful Dilbert cartoon from many years ago that sums this up. The dim CEO shows research that he’d done and points out that, despite common knowledge, people are NOT a company’s most important asset, indeed, they come eight, just behind carbon paper. Sometimes, despite the demise of carbon paper, I think this may well be the thinking in companies, well, the less successful ones.

People need to be seen as any companies key resource; they now need to be invested in, properly. People can and should be trained, but for this time to be successful they will need instructor involvement and input; it doesn’t mean a sheep-dip approach. Just the reverse. Unless you want sheep, of course.



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Training Design & Delivery of topics such as Customer Service, Note Taking, Business Writing, Presentation Skills, All Management/Team Leader areas, Sales, Sales Management, all tailored and run in-house for your personal requirements. Also, coaching and mentoring.

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