Posts Tagged ‘training’

If you are working in a sizable multinational company, or have the experience working in one before, chances are that you have already undergone countless number of company prep talks on corporate culture, employee welfare, and training sessions on change management, handling virtual teamwork, and last but not least, team building activities and outings in all shapes and forms.

Pep Rallies

Such trainings and workshops are undoubtedly beneficial and inspirational for fresh graduates when they are new to the corporate world. However, are you still pumped and excited over these sharing and physical activities when you have sat through eight of them across various employers in your career? Furthermore, as your experience grows, you start to realize that nothing ever change after every motivational prep talk or initiative. People fall back to their original bad habits, and because of normal attrition everyone need to take the refresher talks to keep the new joiners up to speed. The worst of course, is if you find yourself forced to listen to pointless motivational speeches by what you label as hypocrites in the workplace. Alright, that’s politically incorrect, but face it, they are everywhere.

How to sit through these workshops gracefully and attentively while trying my hardest not to roll my eyes is probably my biggest accomplishment over the years.

Please Make Us Better

How about those anonymous employee surveys? I completely respect my human resources colleagues and their profession in designing and collating the results and meanings of these surveys. There is indeed a scientific backbone to all this. Though after all these surveys done every quarter or so, I find that I can’t feel anything anymore. I don’t want to be perceived as a whinny weasel who complains about anything. When I sign in to a job, I know what I am getting into and I seldom ask for more other than proportional recognition of my work performance. If I find my job or my company starting to fade away from my aspirations, in whatever means, I will make it clear to my superiors and consider my options if the gap can’t be bridged. I really don’t believe any anonymous venting can bring about substantial changes. No matter how comprehensive the privacy measures are carried out and announced, most survey participants are still apprehensive of the consequences. To flip the coin to the other side, you may also find it frustrating to see your work being criticized by anonymous comments of other colleagues that are borderline hateful. Why do we now have to resort to using surveys to replace face-to-face discussions in a civilized, dignified manner? We all better “man-up” for our opinions as well as mistakes. It’s gutless to hide behind a survey.

Want Fun?

The team building activities have changed color progressively. It started with gut-wrenching physical stunts like those you would see in “Fear Factor”. We are supposed to learn how to face our fear, unleash hidden talents, build inner-strength, and develop trust amongst team members during the exercises. Then slowly because of cost constraints and the increasing trend of virtual teams across countries and continents, such activities become less viable. In some cases a few teammates of the same office are given a certain budget to conduct their own team building activities. Nothing stereotypical here, but in Asia it often means eating it away. Okay, perhaps we will put on same colored shirts while we are at the dining table, take a few snapshots, and e-mail them across the global team, as proof that food brings everyone together.

Freebies Anyone?

Since the dawn of very high-profile survey of “best companies to work for” in America, all major companies have put employee welfare as one of their high prioritized goals. Staffs are sometimes “encouraged” by their management to “vote” for their company in the annual survey. The better companies also make it an effort to establish company-wide social clubs, or nicely labeled employee engagement committees. I have the privilege to be invited to join or even chair a few of these committees across several of my employers in my career. It is no easy work. It takes us literally weeks to plan every activity, from the most popular annual balls, spring dinners to bowling or mahjong tournaments, open days for kids, charity visits and auctions, to distributing free t-shirts, windbreakers, umbrellas, breakfasts, lunches, so that there is always some kind of giveaway or activity for the staffs every month. To be honest, this sounds more like bribery to me. I enjoy my time working with my fellow committee members, but at the end of the day, all of us care most about getting satisfaction from the jobs we do and paid for. Getting a pat on the back for a job well done by my boss beats getting a free mug from the office safety club, hands down.

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You see them staring at you on 5-storey high billboards.  You see their dashing smiles and authoritative poses on the city’s buses.  You see them on full-page newspaper ads where they are pictured with hundreds of students holding up their straight-A report cards.  Yes, they are the city’s star tutors, though they dress and behave like your TV and movie idols.  This, is a multi-billion dollar industry.

When I grew up there were a few tutor schools where we got ourselves enrolled to brush up for upcoming public exams.  Those were usually a few sessions only for each subject and the fees as I recall were nothing like what students today are paying.  The star tutors today have evolved to almost replace the normal daytime schools that students go to.  Their curriculum is tailor-made to survive public examinations, and hence the star tutors spend a considerable amount of time researching the latest examination trends and marking schemes.  Many of them possess enough star qualities to lure aspiring students.  They are well-groomed, articulate, and hardly much older than the kids themselves, making them extremely relatable and approachable – comparing to the day school teachers.  They hire assistants to help them prepare fancy notes and even run errands because their tutoring schedules are so hectic from running around several tutor centers in the city, usually on a daily basis.  They hire image consultants together with professional make-up artists, photographers and designers to make sure they are marketable in this lucrative business. 

I am not here to criticize whether these star tutors have twisted the idea of education, or whether it is unethical to make money out of young kids.  In fact, this is a common trend of fast food mentality of Hong Kong where everyone focus on only the results rather than the means.  The blame is with everyone.  I just see this as a classic example why training and teaching techniques need to be evolved according to times.  Everyone can find subject literature in books and over the internet, and they need no one to simply read to them and repeat case studies from textbooks. 

Students want to hear relatable material so that it helps with digesting and understanding the subject at hand.  In my field of strategic procurement training, we always make use of real life case studies to illustrate the theories we advocate.    Public sector case studies are often popular due to their wide coverage over TV and newspapers.   On the other hand, the trainees also don’t want to be preached  like young school kids.  They want to feel that they are also contributing to the class and hence we are often moderators instead of trainers.   I like the idea that the star tutors are organizing social activities to help bond with the students.  I know, you may argue that they are in fact sucking up to their paying customers, but if the students do not feel that the classes are enjoyable and effective, there are tons of other tutors out there.

I dream of the day that there will be similarly inspired tutor centers some day where we can offer consulting advice to working procurement professionals, whether it is in terms of career progression advice or anonymous yet real life work issues.  As the next generation of public-exam-tutors, will there also be star tutors for new career professionals?  Come to think of it, the “rules at work” are even less scripted and way more challenging.

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Elevator Speech

It was about 12 years ago when I attended an intensive 2-weeks graduate training at ExxonMobil Chemicals.  A group of us from around the region literally lived and studied together inside a hotel in Singapore.  The training was indeed a survival course of corporate culture, business line introduction, management techniques as well as a whole bunch of soft skills training.  One topic which I still vividly remember until this date, is conducting your elevator speech.

A typical elevator ride in your office building will not last more than 15 to 30 seconds.  If you happen to ride with your friends and colleagues, you normally exchange polite and casual remarks on the weather, workload, and where to go for lunch, dinner or drinks after work.  What happens when your General Manager or the company CEO steps in?  He or she is smiling at you while introducing themselves.  What else are you going to say aside from your name?  Are you just going to report your department or to whom you work for, hoping the executive will ask follow-up questions afterwards?

In the training we were taught to make good use of this brief elevator encounter, and we were asked to draft our 15 seconds elevator speech.  The objective is to make an impression without making a fool of ourselves.  In today’s corporate world, the trainer told us that every word and remark counts, and how confident and humble we are acting in front of everyone is a clear statement of how we want to be perceived and remembered. 

The key to drafting the contents of the speech is to think of the recipient.  What matters for the CEO?  The speech needs to be timely as well because the priorities of the CEO changes day by day.  Merely reporting what team or department you work for isn’t going to make much of an impression, but hearing that you have been leading the transformation team of the most recent global outsourcing project may raise an eyebrow.  Obviously, my thoughts are that it is not a job interview.  I honestly think it’s going be a bit awkward if I start to throw out numbers and accomplishments in an elevator.  It will appear a bit too scripted and inhuman. 

Again, I think personality stands out.  The elevator conversation should be able to help project a lasting impression of what you do and your personality.  If you think you can articulate an idea accurately through your words and gestures, it’s okay to exert an opinion on a task or project at hand even if it is not mainstream.  Of course, if you know you will get easily nervous in a timed scenario, forget about it or you will be remembered as a weirdo or even a whiner.  Leaders love to see how composed and relaxed their employees are, because that is critical management material.  After all, I think preparing an elevator speech isn’t really about the details of the contents.  If you have envisioned this day to come anytime in the future, you will be less nervous if the CEO comes out to shake your hands asking how things are.  You will be more relaxed and composed, and more often than not, your natural charisma is going to come out and dazzle everybody.

So what is your elevator speech going to be?

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While there is no one perfect sure-fire secret to conducting trainings, I have always been holding on to two main principles in my heart.  Namely, make it fun, and be as humble as I can be.

How many times have you attended training seminars and got totally annoyed by how boring or pretentious the speakers are?  Again, in Part One of this series, I am speaking about grown educated audiences and not school children.  We all have our opinions, and we all have different expectations why we are there.  Some want to learn, some want to challenge, so are curious, and so are just forced by their bosses to be there.  The last thing I can do is to bore the hell out of these people and be condescending.  After all, I have no grounds at all since usually my audience is way more experienced than I am in their lines of work.  Who am I to speak and for them to be chained to a classroom for 3 straight days?

Some readers shared with me their answers to the few scenarios I put forth in Part One, and I really appreciate your feedback.  Here I am going to share mine.

1. Dozing Off

You don’t need me to tell you that this is a really bad sign.  Something is seriously wrong, so I better take it as a cue to adjust my pace.  In many cases this is not really linked to the class but with the individual’s sleep-deprived work and social life.   Yet, don’t fool yourself.  If my class is captivating enough, I would wish that even the dead would jump up for joy.  I better do something quick, or it will be very infectious.   Usually, I will start asking questions.  Once the folks around the poor soul start to speak and I can successfully stir up a headed debate, they may hear all this commotion and realize they are missing out.  I then ask for his/her opinions.  Hearing one’s voice is the best way of coming out from any dream – hopefully.

2. Seemingly bored and kicking himself thinking why he was forced to come in the first place

This is not easy.  There is no way to really turn someone around if they are already fixated of the outcome of the training.  Again, I don’t mind having a few stubborn people around but they cannot be in the way of other more eager students.  The best way is for me to identify who they are BEFORE I even begin the training.  I can then deploy tactics to split them up and mingle them with other participating students so as to make the discussions more heated.  Most trainers ask their students to tell everyone what their expectations are of the training course, one by one, and have the key points drawn up on boards across the classroom.   This works.  I can tell whether they actually mean it, and I can usually assess their levels of experience by that exercise, so use it wisely.

3. Extremely argumentative and outspoken which is interrupting the progress of the class

They are the necessary evil.  I love them since they bring opinions and viewpoints which make the class so much more fun and exciting.  Everybody laughs and claps and boos and roll their eyes.  When I see people rolling up their sleeves and sometimes even walk around in the room, I sense energy, passion and frankly a side which they seldom present themselves in day-to-day office routines.   However, note the second part of this scenario.  If one or two are overshadowing the others and hindering the progress of the content of my class, I need to do something quick or I will lose everyone.  When people see me as weak and that I fail to contain the situation, I would have lost my credibility and the whole training. 

Tactic?  Easy – I just apologize and tell them the way it is.  “We need to move on”.  “I want to hear more differing views”.  “I feel that some students are not getting enough air time.”  “If we have time at the end of the training we can come back to these interesting topics”.  It’s always more respectful for adults to hear the true reasons rather than ignoring them.  Show them my job is not easy and that we have so much to cover in so little time.  They will usually be sympathetic and won’t be that hard on you.

4. Stone faced and authoritarian, maybe even feeling insulted from listening to a younger trainer

You will be lucky to have them in the class.  Seriously.  It can actually help you take a bit of the pressure off.  Why?  Although he seems serious and cynical, there may be questions from the floor that sometimes you just have no clues what the answers are.  If you can sense that there are a few senior members in the class, try forwarding the questions to them.  Of course, do not embarrass them.  If they see that I am respecting them and actually keen on hearing their advice and feedback, they feel dignified and will be a lot more engaged in the rest of the class.  I try this again and again even in answers I already know in order to give recognition and status to the ones who are so in need of it.

5. Fiddling with his blackberry or laptop the whole way through; and 6. Receiving and making calls as pleased

Every trainer starts off with house rules at the beginning of the training.  No phone calls, no computers or blackberries.  If you have to do it, do it out of everyone’s sight by leaving the classroom.  The fact that you can afford to miss the class does not give you the warrant of interrupting others who cannot.

I however cannot yell at them like some 4 year olds.  If I see people still doing that, I will continue speaking while slowly walking behind them as if nothing has happened.  Everyone’s eyes will follow me and naturally onto the naughty soul in front of me.  They will usually get the cue and stop.  If not, I will pull them aside quietly during break times and break the news to them.  Mobile calls however, need to be taken care of right away by me pointing them to the direction to the exiting door.

Sorry.  I need to protect the rights of the rest of the class, and I am paid to do just that.

There you have it.   Until next time, I need to doze off for a few minutes from all that typing. Whew.

Feel Safe Personal Trainer Button

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The American dollar is so weak right now that it makes me think twice about traveling abroad.  Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the USD meaning that as long as I stay in between these 2 places, I shouldn’t be too less well off.  Wrong.  The recent quantitative easing round 2 by the Fed is pumping $600 billion artificial money into the US economy to stimulate business and creating jobs.  It however has a gigantic ripple effect to the global economies and I can already see huge inflation in this region ranging from grocery to property prices.  With all these uncertainties in personal purchasing power and a could-be volatile stock market, I better be more cautious about my vacation traveling plans.

Like most people I love to travel.  I particular have a thing for traveling on company trainings.  No I am not attending training seminars, but delivering them.  I never knew I had this passion of being a trainer until I was in consulting and a big part of my job then was to teach corporate clients how our reverse auction applications work.  Usually these are one to two-day workshops with not only technical transfer but also strategic procurement contents.  Then soon after I was asked to deliver purely knowledge courses specifically on the topics of strategic procurement, commodity and supply market positioning, project management and communication planning, negotiation skills, opportunity assessments, and the list goes on.  These trainings are by far the most fun and rewarding because they are highly interactive and engaging.

Conducting trainings is not all about getting messages across.  I see incredibly talented professionals who cannot present themselves or their ideas across precisely, not alone chairing workshops.  Making use of a room full of industry experts with varying levels of expertise and experience is exciting and challenging.  I love the challenge and I love to turn the floor over to get more participation.  It’s the sure-fire way to get everyone in the mood from just another boring seminar to one candid sharing and learning sessions which is about them and not about me.

I travel to many cities of Mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, India, Vietnam, Philippines and Korea to deliver trainings and I get excited every single time.  The people are different every time and if you add-on the different industries and cultures to the equation, I have to constantly adjust myself to make sure the scale is even.  It’s about playing the part well and playing the part based on people and circumstances that you can hardly prepare for until you are at the training hall at 8am.  It’s like waiting for the curtains to open and you have no idea whether the audience is a bunch of 80 year olds or die-hard heavy metal rockers.

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment.  What would you do if you find your training audience:

1. Dozing off

2. Seemingly bored and kicking himself thinking why he was forced to come in the first place

3. Extremely argumentative and outspoken which is interrupting  the progress of the class

4. Stone faced and authoritarian, maybe even feeling insulted from listening to a younger trainer

5. Fiddling with his blackberry or laptop the whole way through

6. Receiving and making calls as he pleases

Sounds fun huh?  Remember these are not school kids.  They are on average in their 30s to 50s and rank high in their organizations.  They usually come together as a team so the leaders may want to exert their authorities throughout the training.  Similarly the subordinates are shy to speak up with their bosses in the room. 

I’ll let you ponder over the above scenarios for a while and please share your comments with me.  I shall continue with my stories of each of these scenarios in my later posts.  So stay tuned…

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