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Coaching and mentoring monthly feature: Magpies and Performing Parrots


Over the coming months, Dr Richard Hale, Director of Action Learning Forums, International Management Centres Association and the CPD Business School will be writing exclusively for TrainingZONE on a whole range of coaching-related issues.

In the first article of this brand new monthly series, he suggests that trainers, coaches and consultants need to take a fresh look at how their role is percieved and defined in the workplace.

Magpies and Performing Parrots

With all the talk of the accelerating rate of change I often find myself musing on the future of the motley mix people working under the titles of trainer, coach, mentor and consultant. Such people (and I include myself) seem to be avid networkers, web-surfers, conference-goers and exhibitors if not exhibitionists.

Many are magpies - looking to beg, steal, borrow or even pay for the latest idea, fad or training technique. There are of course those that are just plain helpful and keen to provide ideas for those who want them.

On a web-based network discussion group recently I noted 30 per cent of the postings were from people asking for a training technique or tip and 60 per cent were from others only too willing to oblige with all sorts of wonderful tips and tricks ranging from juggling to blindfold walks, origami and hot coal walking. Perhaps more the performing parrot than the magpie!

Several started their request with 'I have been given two hours to run a session...'. Well, I know time is short in busy organisations but I couldn't help thinking that a senior line manager had deigned to give training a slot on a conference and the trainers were just grateful to have the opportunity. So do we let others condition us or do we condition them?

I was at a meeting of trainers and HR professionals recently and inevitably the discussion got around to that perennial issue of 'How do we raise our profile within the organisation and get a voice in the Boardroom?' A worthy subject I think. A few suggestions:

  • Don't become stereotyped as the provider of ice-breakers, energizers and training tricks.
  • Don't accept requests to run 2 hour cosmetic sessions masquerading as learning events.
  • If you are genuinely restricted to two hours gather the participants around the table and get back to basics. Ask 'What are the real issues causing you problems with respect to...? (e.g. team development, time management, business improvement).
  • Identify the stakeholders and schedule quality time to tackle these issues on and off the job over a three month period.
  • Instead of getting all knotted up in the difficulties of training evaluation, insist the participants define measures for success and track these throughout and at the conclusion of the event.
  • Count yourself in and become an exemplar learning coach.
  • Given that I don't think the job Training Officer (too military) or Training Manager (too traditional) will exist in five years time, I do think the time has come to think seriously about how to transform such roles. As trainers we might think about having a stake in defining our future role rather than simply letting others define it for us. The first step to being seen differently by others, though, starts with re-appraising how we see ourselves.

    So what will we be if not Magpies or Performing Parrots?

    If you've an opinion on this subject, add your comments below.

    For some case studies on how trainers are becoming facilitators working with action learning based projects, read Action Learning Through Value Improvement Projects.


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