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Trainer’s Diary: The Learning Curve


Byron Kalies The learning curve is often presented as just what it sounds like, a smooth, gentle climb and descent. So how come it sometimes feels more like an uphill struggle of Tour de France proportions? Byron Kalies investigates.

Ask anyone about "the learning curve" and you'll get a nice, elegant smooth curve that looks as if all you need to get through that difficult first 10 years of training is time, patience and some resilience. However, that hasn't been my experience. For me it's rather like a cross-section of the mountain stages Lance Armstrong has been struggling with recently. Each mountain peak getting a little higher but each containing a huge and rapid descent. For me, this equates to my level of confidence and (dare I say it) smugness rapidly followed by an intense 'learning experience'.

For instance, a few years ago I'd been helping present a number of half-day consultancy events for senior managers looking at the new Performance Management system due to be rolled out the following month. I'd run about nine or 10 for fairly large groups (20-30ish) and they'd been quite challenging. For years people had complained about the old system but now it was going to change they were adamant the old way of working was brilliant (but that's a different article). Let's just say I was met with a fair amount of resistance. I'd got through it though and towards the end I felt I was dealing fairly comfortably with the questioning.

The final session was hastily arranged as there were two people who hadn't been able to attend. "Of course I'll just schedule these two for this afternoon," I said thinking... Well you know exactly what I was thinking. Needless to say it was a disaster. I wasn't prepared mentally for this at all and had a miserable few hours. I dare say you've all got your own stories around this theme.

But these are the things you learn more from, in my view. I was at the top of that 'Lance Armstrong' mountain - performing well, when suddenly I'm back down again ready for the next ascent. I've learnt far more from the disasters than I have from a hundred sessions that went to plan. Now I'm not saying you should deliberately go out of your way to mess up, but it is some crumb of comfort to know immediately after a 'developmental' session that you're going to learn a great deal from it.

What really helps with this though is having a team of like-minded colleagues to share the pain with. It's often very difficult for new team members to admit to mistakes. Frequently working with new people I'll ask how it went and get a bland 'fine' or 'really well'. However when you only hear that it doesn't quite ring true. There was a time when this used to frustrate me a lot. I have learnt over time to be more accepting. For new people it's to do with self-esteem, confidence, self-awareness, etc. New team members need time, space and support. I realise it's for me as an old/experienced trainer to give them that and try to create that relationship where they can turn around and tell me:
"Guess what's just happened to me. I just had the worse day..."

* Byron Kalies' latest book "25 Management Techniques in 90 Minutes" (Management Books 2000) was published January 2005, for more information click here.


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