Transforming Prisoners to Willing Participants to Transfer Training

Unfortunately, there is no single, easy answer for dealing with difficult questions from participants who feel and act like prisoners. Handled incorrectly, they can destroy learning and results for everyone involved.

But that is where your skill as a facilitator comes in to help transfer new skills and knowledge from the workshop to the job for each and every participant. Difficult participants are often kept from learning new skills because of their negative attitude. It is your job to try to shift them from negative to positive so that they can join the rest of your group and learn what you have to teach to increase their performance.

Here are four techniques that work:

  1. Humor. Is there a light-hearted way to lessen the tension? Challenging questions or resistant participants poison the atmosphere and make everyone uncomfortable. If humor is a tactic you are comfortable using, try it to create an environment for learning, practice, and reflection.
  1. Redirect the question. Rather than try to answer the difficult question yourself, acknowledge that it is a “good question” and then send it out to the class as a whole. You can say that you have some thoughts on the subject but would like to see what others think first. Ask the group for their ideas and suggestions. This way you can involve all participants in a discussion of the situation and possible solutions; this way you are not the target or the sole expert. Insights from the questioner’s colleagues may lead you all to a more satisfactory answer than you would have been able to find on your own.
  1. Get them on board. Do what you can to persuade prisoners to come to your side. Certainly, you will avoid confrontation. But you can go much further in trying to establish a cooperative relationship. Use positive reinforcement whenever they participate in an exercise or lend insights to a discussion. Invite their help in distributing handouts or scribing comments on a flipchart. Only as a last resort should you speak directly of their disruptive behavior…and then only in private.
  1. Try to uncover the reason for their resistance. Once you understand why a participant is acting like a prisoner, you have an opportunity to gain their support. Is the content beneath their perceived skill set?  Are they operating on overload and worried about falling further behind on the job? Was their commute especially nerve-wracking? Are they in danger of being let go? Have they just been chewed out by their boss? A little understanding goes a long way. And then you can try to show how the skills they will learn in the session will ultimately help them be more successful on the job.

How to Separate the Good Consultative Sales Hire from the Bad

It is all too easy to be persuaded by a consultative sales candidate that they are right for your job opening—effective persuasion is their stock in trade.

But that does not mean that they will be a good addition to your sales team. How do you sift through multiple job seekers to find the select few good hires?

There are no guarantees, of course, but here are some tips that, if followed, will significantly enhance the odds that you choose the right consultative sales person for the job.

  • Don’t rely on talking just with the interviewee. Talk with references who can give you the inside scoop. Seek out former customers. They are likely to be forthcoming with their impressions and you want to know that the candidate you choose will represent your company in a positive way.
  • Marshal sales team members as interviewers. They know what it takes to succeed at the job and what personality characteristics would mesh well with current co-workers.
  • Use documents to substantiate what you are hearing from the candidate. A quick look at W-2 records will let you know if they were as successful in driving revenue as they would like you to believe.
  • There are many assessments available that predict sales success. Make use of them. You want to know upfront if the candidate can succeed through the entire sales cycle from cold calls to closing, from qualifying prospects to effective negotiation, from product/service presentation to account management. All these skills will be tested and the scores will give you a pretty good indication of a salesperson’s overall ability to sell consultatively effectively.
  • You will hear about their record of success without asking. But often it is the failures that measure a salesperson’s perseverance and willingness to learn and adapt. Ask the candidate to tell you about a situation where they lost the consultative sales deal and what they learned from the experience.
  • Test them on the spot. Pick an object in your office—a paperweight, a lamp, whatever—and ask them to “sell” it to you. You will quickly learn their methodology and style. Are they pushy? Do they ask questions in discovery mode? Do they consider your needs? Would you characterize their style as product-focused or consultative? It is then up to you to determine which style would fit better with your company. 

Use the checklist above next time you are in hiring mode as sales manager. You will have far better chances of bringing a “keeper” aboard.

How to Change Your Company Culture

Many business leaders assume they are stuck with the culture that surrounds them. But the opposite is true. If, as a CEO, you are committed to changing the organization’s environment, you CAN make a difference if you follow a few simple, but powerful, change management training and consulting best practices.

  1. First, take a step back and try to define your company’s current culture…the good points and the not-so-good points. Your objective is to accentuate the first and deactivate the second in order to create a culture that breeds success.
  1. Next, as the leader, you need to be genuine. If you seek authenticity, you need to act naturally so your employees get a feel for who you truly are and what you stand for. Live the company values so that they become central to all the decisions you make. Soon you will see others basing their actions on those same values as they follow your model.
  1. Use “carrots” to encourage the behavior you want to promote. Every time an employee exhibits the kind of value system you are trying to instill, be sure to reward them. And this recognition process does not need to be expensive. Most often, a pat on the back, an acknowledgment in front of peers or a simple note of thanks and appreciation will have the desired congratulatory effect.
  1. Fine tune your talent selection and assimilation process. Get involved in hiring to be sure your staff is bringing the best talent aboard that fits. Help to define just what competencies are needed for your company’s future and see that these competencies shape the candidate pool. Then, participate in the orientation process. The faster you can integrate new hires into your workforce, the faster they will be productive and the more engaged they will feel.
  1. Be out there, not behind closed doors. The more you can communicate with your workforce, the more they will feel as if you truly value their contribution. No matter how effective a leader you may be, your employees can feel alienated if you isolate yourself on the top floor. Visit different departments, show an interest in current projects, try to get to know your employees personally…that’s the way to build loyalty.

A winning culture need not be out of reach if you are determined. Foster open communication, see that the company values guide company strategy, model the kind of behavior you want your employees to display, and recognize those who conduct themselves in a way that promotes the culture you seek.

While always difficult, effective and meaningful change is possible.

An Instructional Design Model that Fits Today’s Fast-Paced Workplace

Even as the economy improves, employees are taxed to the limit. There is more to be done in shorter time with fewer workers to handle the tasks. And yet, with a constantly changing work environment, new skills need to be taught.

Where does traditional instructional design consulting and training fit into this fast-paced, demanding scenario?

There is a new way to deliver training that just may be the answer.  (Well actually not very new as we started doing them with clients in the late 90’s to support fast growing businesses.)

This new method of instructional design and training is known by various terms—learning bursts, mini-courses or self-directed learning to name a few.  The method is well known by action learning leadership development advocates who have used just-in-time learning to get targeted results for decades.

Targeted learning bursts can have several advantages over more traditional training that is delivered in a one- or two-day period. It is less costly in dollars and in employee time off the job. It takes place at the learner’s convenience. It is ideal for those with short attention spans as it occurs in stages typically only 20-60 minutes long. And it typically checks for understanding along the way with a short quiz or performance test at the end of each session.

Here is an example of how it works…

  1. Learners listen to an audio cast which lasts from eight to ten minutes that is played on their own compatible device. This is not in a lecture format but designed to deliver the key learning points in an entertaining way…much in the manner of a late night talk show.
  1. The learner is supplied with a workbook that supplements the audio cast and, for more visual learners, provides models and graphs that support the concepts introduced. The written material may only be three to five pages long so that it is easily reviewed. Included will be suggestions as to how the new skill might be applied on the job and some questions to be answered that test how well the learning has been understood and absorbed.
  1. The final piece requires a brief action plan that asks the learners for ways they will adopt the new skill or concept. This completes one cycle or topic and then the learner will move on to the next. 

The entire “course” consists of a series of mini-courses, maybe as many as a dozen. In effect, the learner expends the same amount of time that would have been utilized by a much longer training. However, because the learning bursts are taken one at a time, when the learner has a free moment, there is far less disruption to the workday.

Done right, learning bursts can be used to replace an entire curriculum or augment a broader learning solution.

How to Wow Your Customers


As a business leader, you no doubt spend lots of time focused on perfecting your products and services.

You yourself want to believe and then be able to convince your customers that yours is the best of all other similar offerings. Certainly, providing a superior product that exceeds their expectations is one way to “wow” your customers.

Another way is by delivering superior service that is above and beyond what they would expect.

Here is one example of a company that provided unexpectedly “over the top” service…and the problem was not even caused by them. According to the LA Times, “As far as customer service stunts go, this one was pretty epic: A helicopter sent to a remote Alaska town bearing a Taco Bell truck, itself bearing ingredients for 10,000 Doritos Locos tacos.”  Bethel, Alaska is a small town of under 7,000. It is so remote that, should a family get a hankering for a fast food meal, they would have to drive 400 miles to satisfy their yearning. Here is the story—a local prankster convinced the townspeople, at least temporarily, that Taco Bell was opening a franchise there. At first the town was elated and then, when they realized the story was a hoax, they were supremely disappointed. When the leadership at Taco Bell heard the sad tale, they set about figuring out a way to “wow” all these frustrated customers. The solution? Airlift a taco truck to the town by helicopter with enough supplies to make over 10,000 tacos. The tacos were served free to an ecstatic crowd!

Granted…this is pretty extreme and costly. But think of the benefits to Taco Bell. They delighted 7,000 people, the resulting publicity (it hit all the media and got broad coverage) was free, and their brand was significantly enhanced by their image of paying attention to the “small guys” and having a heart.  The LA Times reported that “The effort, which Taco Bell dubbed ‘Operation Alaska,’ was hugely popular – both in Bethel and on social media, garnering thousands of Facebook likes. On Twitter, the company posted a series of photos as its helicopter skimmed snow-capped peaks en route to the town. One woman told servers it was the first time she had eaten Taco Bell in more than two decades.”

What is needed internally to be able to respond to customers in a way that will “wow” them?

  1. Get to know your customers…personally. Remember their names and anything that will launch a conversation that shows you pay attention to their needs and that you care.  Make them feel like part of the family.
  2. Be creative in your solution to their request. Customers expect that you will do the basics; go the extra step…the one they did not ask for.  Exceed their expectations.
  3. Ensure that all employees understand your mission to serve customers well, that they have the authority to follow through with great service and that they will be supported by management.  Make it a priority.  Reward and measure accordingly. 

You may not have the means to hire a helicopter to satisfy your customers, but you surely can “wow” them with your time, attention, kindness and the extra step or two.

The Hiring Dilemma: General Experience or Special Expertise


If you were faced with two candidates for the same position, one with years of general experience and the other with a more focused professional background…

Who would you choose?   More importantly, who should you choose?

Our consultant-like answer? It depends.

It all depends upon the growth stage of your organization…there are times when you need broad experience and there are times when a more narrow experience base brings you better value.

Think of the process of choosing the best talent for your company’s situation as similar to launching a journey by car. The more challenging and unknown the route, the more experienced the driver should be. You want someone who can do everything from repair a flat tire to read a road map to find the nearest gas station when running on low gas.  You may even want them to be able to handle a possible speeding ticket with finesse. In other words, if you are at the beginning stages of company development and your future is uncertain, you need an experienced driver at the wheel. You don’t know if you will need someone to design a new plan or build an enterprise to scale. Perhaps you will need someone who can find new markets, has experience with funding, or can sweet-talk early investors into being patient. Someone with versatile and general experience can adapt to whatever competency is needed at the time to succeed.

So when is the focused talent the better choice? As your organization matures and your needs for expertise in certain areas become obvious, then it may be time to invest in employees who are experts in an area you know will be critical to the future of your company. Back to the car journey analogy…with the route determined and most passengers aboard, you know you will need someone with specific knowledge of how to keep your engine running smoothly. You will need an employee who is a professional in the area that will determine the success of the organization. Until now, you have managed with employees who can, in general, oversee the operation in a particular department. At this point, you need a specialist who can take that function to the next level.

As you interview for your start-up or your growing company, consider the kind of experience that would serve you best…general or specific…and make your job offer on that basis.

Use Stories to Increase the Effectiveness of Your Presentations


Stories Are Not Just for Bedtime 

Stories at bedtime are often designed to put children asleep; but a well-crafted story that relates to a key point in your presentation will keep your audience wide awake and focused. That is our first tip for grabbing and keeping an audience’s attention. Here are a few more…

    • Keep it short. Make your points clearly and cleanly and repeat them only for a quick summary at the beginning (for an executive audience) or end (for the audience take-away). There is no need to belabor the obvious. In fact lingering too long on one bullet will bore and even annoy your audience.

      And beyond moving quickly through each major point, remember that it is always better to end early rather than late. Your audience will appreciate your respecting their time and you will have time for questions or to follow up with individuals as needed.



    • Beware of how you use slides. Too many presenters “kill” their audience with too many slides and with slides that are too dense. Keep them simple and use them only as back-up to what should be the real center of attention—you. The worst faux-pas is to read them. If you have bullets, they should contain only the key words of your broader point. If you have a graphic, it should be a simple illustration of an overall concept.



    • Watch your language. Do not speak in jargon. You cannot count on your audience being as familiar with industry-specific terms as you. Using overly technical, complicated language may sound impressive but you risk losing listeners who cannot follow your thinking. It would be like getting a diagnosis from a doctor who speaks not in simple lay terms but as if you had gone through medical training too.



  • Use a story or two. How does this help a presentation? A story not only can illustrate the gist of a critical point but it can also engage your audience emotionally. By not overwhelming your listeners with dry facts and figures, they are much more likely to leave with a visual image that encapsulates a key thought. If you are reporting on climate change, for example, you can paint a picture of how the local area would be adversely affected…drought or flood, loss of flora or fauna, more extreme weather in winter or summer. The more personal and relevant the story, the more it will grab and stick.