Today I have a nice lunch date planned with a colleague to talk about her latest vacation and get tips on the places she visited. And this afternoon, I get to “teach the people.” But I am exhausted from my week.
Training is not teaching. I learned that pretty quickly after perhaps trying too hard to draw too many connections between what I had been doing in graduate school and beyond for all those years and my work afterwards. While it’s still not teaching, it’s still getting up, presenting your ideas, having people react and being able to listen, adapt and respond to their reactions – good or bad – quickly and accurately. I’ve had my share of confused, frustrated, and even frustrating teaching students and training participants alike. But you roll with it and that is one thing I have many years of experience in.
When I first got to “corporate America,” I volunteered to be part of a technical deployment project as a technical trainer. Again, I am not a tech person, but I learned and it was a fantastic experience. I worked with a group of colleagues and consultants who were smart, energetic, leaders who listened, and who I am now proud to call my friends. We were all relatively new at the time and we had to figure things out quickly. Sometimes we did so by trial and error. And sometimes we made some mistakes. But we always recovered well and together. It’s always about the recovery!
Our goal in every session was to make sure the people sitting in the room with us or listening to us on a call and watching our presentation knew why they were there, knew how this session would help them do their work, and that they walked away with a clear understanding of what they needed to do. Training is much more functional and less theoretical than teaching. And this kind of “change management” training is far less aspirational and perhaps fun than training that’s offered on the softer skills.
Of course, by the time you’ve presented on anything for the 25th time, you get into character quickly and you move through it almost without thinking. You get into the zone. And because you want it to be interactive and you know the script, you learn to make jokes at the appropriate times, you figure out who you can ask to respond to a technical question or respond with the right amount of diplomacy or humor when you’re trying to make a comparison to the old way of doing things. Knowing your audience and engaging with them is part of the routine.
Later this afternoon, I’m providing a one-hour walk-through with an outstanding technical team who has not yet seen all of their content in the new platform we’ve been developing and rolling out. That means in the session I’ll be pitching the new platform — highlighting the benefits and reasons why the content looks the way it does, the standardized look and feel, the ease of all of the new navigational features we’ve added. And I’ll do it in my standard left to right top to bottom approach of the screen in front of them. We’ve been communicating to and working with these different groups for weeks, but as we move closer to the cut-over date, we want to make sure they see their own stuff in the new platform and make it real for them. I present to some participants who are in the room with me and some who are on the phone and following along via webcast. I start off with a PowerPoint presentation and then “get into the system” to demonstrate how the new platform looks and works. It’s also a good time for me to build relationships and understand better what this group does. I’ve seen them on the floor and said hello at various meetings and functions, but I don’t really know what they do. One person in the audience asks me if I thought of updating something that’s not clearly visible, but still used in the old platform. He walks me through where it is and how it was missed the last time content was migrated. He also knows who created it and can help me take care of it. Thankfully, my project team has also brought this to my attention as part of our cut-over discussions, so I’m on it. But now I know that this person is tech savvy, has been here a while, and willing to help. I know the next time I have a question, I’m contacting him and he’ll be able to give me backstory and point me in the direction of who can help me get it done.
In the coming weeks, I’ll also train a select group of “site champions” on what they need to know to maintain their micro-sites once the migration is complete. This again will be focused on walking them through a particular set of tasks they’ll need to get done, but it also means making them feel good and reassured about this new responsibility. It’s part selling my new-fangled pod coffee machines when I was Odd Job Ph.D., it’s part having done the research and created something and defending the way it looks now, and it’s part creative-problem solving together. It’s not a perfect or immobile platform. It’s a live site and it’ll be an iterative process to improve and update it. Since they all have specialized expertise in their groups and with their materials, this new community will help drive the platform in a whole new and unknown direction. I’ll be participating in it, but more as a kind of guide. And that’s what I always enjoyed about being in the classroom whether as teacher or student. Having a seat at the table, exchanging ideas, and seeing what comes out of the journey.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PwC.
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