Recently, I committed to co-writing a chapter for publication on a technique my firm has been using to work with senior managers in one world-wide company, and also a well-known Caribbean conglomerate. The training technique is one that can be high-risk for the person leading the session, as it involves delivering live feedback in a public session and encouraging other participants to do the same. At the same time, participants have reported that they are able to give and receive more real-time feedback than they ever have before, and some actually demonstrate the new skills they have learned during the training.
As a precursor to writing my portion of the final paper, I thought I ‘d express my thoughts in this blog, as a way of saying a few things about how the process works.
One of the principles used in our training is to make training as real as possible for those with whom we are intervening. “Making it real” entails doing as little “theorizing”as possible, and engendering as much truthful confrontation as possible, while directing the confrontation towards action-based commitments. In short, we provoke “Action, Not Ah Bag Ah Mout” in the hope that practice will make perfect, rather than further explanations and rationales.
The area that we focus on in this training is that of Critical Confrontations, and the specific training we have the most experience with is in training managers to engage in effective feedback conversations with their employees.
Most training in feedback involves at the least some mention of the principles on how to best frame the right words. These principles are reasonably well known, and there are several excellent texts that describe the “right” approach to use. In most of our training sessions with executives, the majority have been exposed to these ideas prior to the sessions themselves. Furthermore, most training has evolved to the point where each participant is given an opportunity to practice these principles, usually using generic examples.
In our work with Caribbean executives, we have adapted an approach that was first pioneered by a colleague of mine, Grady McGonagill, and perfected at several international companies. In this approach, the following process is followed.
The Training Process
Before the training starts, up to 10 customized cases are developed based on the client’s culture, needs and kind of business. Many are based on actual events, or issues that involve some emotional content.
- Participants are divided into groups of 4-6 for training periods of 5-7 hours each
- Cases are selected depending on the group being trained
- A curriculum is developed to address the training needs, focusing on demonstrable behaviours rather than vague nostrums (such as “be positive”)
- At the start of the training itself, the theoretical principles of good feedback are shared
- Dyads are formed to give each participant an opportunity to play the role of Manager and Subordinate, and the Manager is given the choice of cases to work on
- Managers and Subordinates are given written one-page scenarios that describe the case and their role in the situation
- A 5-10 minute interaction between the Manager and Subordinate is video-taped without interruption
- The tape is reviewed by the group, and stopped frequently to give the group an opportunity to coach the Manager on his/her “performance”
- The Subordinate provides direct evidence of the experience
- The group looks for opportunities to deepen the theoretical principles of good feedback
- The group continues until every member has had an opportunity to play the role of Manager and Subordinate
The following training elements are included in this training that are normally not included in this kind of training:
- cases built on real-life issues
- giving public feedback in real-time from the participants and the facilitator, using the principles bring learned
- using a recorded video-tape as an impartial and factual basis for feedback (rather than memory)
- asking the Subordinate to share their emotional state at different points
- using recorded behaviour to “prove” that the principles work, demonstrate how difficult they are to use effectively, and to refine the group’s understanding
- offering multiple opportunities for trainees to use the coaching being given on the spot in a repeat “performance”
These elements are quite difficult to incorporate effectively and precisely, as the facilitator must be seamlessly competent in a variety of disciplines, not the least of which is the ability to operate and trouble-shoot video-recording equipment.
The public goals of the workshop are quite modest, yet it regularly accomplishes much more than advertised. Trainees are often able to demonstrate a solid progression of increasingly skilled behaviours during the few hours of the training, and are able to receive and use the coaching given from the group to make immediate changes. The knowledge that they increase their effectiveness that quickly in a difficult area some focused practice and coaching is one of the tremendous benefits, even for observers of the process. Anyone can improve, given the right conditions in which to do so.