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Diary: And now for something a little bit different


diaryAs the new restructuring beds down, training manager and diarist Nathaniel Wallace faces up to the challenge of providing some innovative learning solutions in 2009. He starts by hiring a trainer who is just a little bit odd...

We have reached the final lap of the financial year. Heads and senior managers are putting the final touches to their new plans, ready to be brought before our board of trustees for approval. The fat has been trimmed from budgets and teams have been thinking about how they might manage to do more with less. The re-structuring process that the organisation has put itself through is also entering its final stages.

The initial shock of bad news and uncertainty has passed, with a clearer sense now developing of who will be leaving us and who will be staying. The overwhelming sense of anxiety has in part replaced by a desire for normalcy to return; there is a feeling that staff members want this hiatus to come to an end and to press on with putting into action those new plans and objectives that they have been slaving over for so long.

"I just think there is some value in giving learners something a bit different, a tiny amount of unpredictability. If a facilitator is too polished, too full of the latest training ideas and fads and too predictable, they become a little bit less human."
Nathaniel Wallace

My own plans still feel like they are stuck in that hiatus. I need to wait until the re-structure has been completed and everyone confirmed in their new positions before I can finalise the details of the learning support that will be provided for the individuals and teams that make up our largest and most important directorate. I have a good dialogue with the directors and senior managers involved and it has been encouraging to be know that they have been considering the new learning needs that would come out of the process from its very start.

The fact remains though that until the last interview has taken place and the last position filled, we are still dealing in abstracts. I don’t expect those directors and managers to be able to focus their minds on coaching programmes, learning sets and internally-delivered workshops right now, not whilst they are trying to make the process of losing a job as fair as is possible for those involved. When the time is right, I need to make sure that the options I’m going to present to them are the right ones, with the resources in place to ensure that they are delivered to the right standard.

If I don’t get it right, I lose their engagement for the year. I lose the chance to try new ideas and I lose the chance to help make a difference to the way the new teams work. It doesn’t feel like pressure though, it feels like opportunity.

As well as thinking about the start of a new financial year, I have also been focusing on the end of the current one. With attending learning events pretty much the last thing on a lot of staff minds due to the re-structure, I had to cancel a number of the courses on our internal learning programme in December and January. This left me with some spare budget for the final quarter and being a break-even kind of guy, I now had the opportunity to test out a couple of new courses as one-offs, and see if they caught the imagination. Both run this month and whilst the first is a fairly standard two–day course on building teams, delivered by one of our standard suppliers, the second is a little different, with a new(ish) format and a facilitator working with us for the first time.

After a few phone calls, I met with said facilitator for the first time in the flesh at the end of last week, and enjoyed an engaging conversation with them. I gave them a quick tour of our central office and along the way, bumped into my manager, who I introduced the facilitator to. After our meeting had ended and I had said my goodbyes, I returned to my desk and asked my manager what she had thought of the facilitator. ‘Interesting, if a little odd’ were her words. I was pleased. I love a slightly odd trainer.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a desire to see our people unsettled by a supplier who is exhibiting a range of unstable and inappropriate behaviours. I’m not looking for electric-buzzer handshakes, tin foil hats and unaccountable silences. I just think there is some value in giving learners something a bit different, a tiny amount of unpredictability. If a facilitator is too polished, too full of the latest training ideas and fads and too predictable, they become a little bit less human. The people working with them can quickly become less engaged and drift away. A little bid of oddness can keep them on the edge of their seats.

Of course, if there’s no substance to back up the off-kilter style, then you really are in trouble, as nothing comes across worse than an odd-bod with nothing of any worth to show you. But at first sight, passion can often come over a little funny, and can be interpreted as oddness, and I am absolutely uninterested in any trainer or facilitator who can’t show some passion.

I’m sure the newbie will go down well and I can live with the small part of my mind that is worrying about what happens if they crash and burn.

Nathaniel Wallace is a pen name for a training manager working in the charity sector.

Read Nathaniel's previous diary entry A tough start to the year


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