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Tackling Tough Topics
Some elements of training are difficult, but you’ll get through them because you are a professional. You may be asked to facilitate a subject that is very sensitive, or could find yourself part way through a presentation and learn that you have struck a nerve and will need to adjust your material.
Tough Stuff to Watch Out For
Imagine that you have just been asked to provide health and safety training for your organization. You have never given this kind of training before, and in reality know little about it. However, there was a serious injury at the workplace two weeks ago that left one worker dead and another seriously injured. The difficulty is not just that someone died on the worksite, but also that you, as the in-house trainer, know all of these people very well.
What can you do to identify these difficult situations before training and be prepared for them?
Adjusting Your Material for a Sensitive Issue
Sometimes the unexpected can arise in an otherwise harmless training sessions. People can often be pre-occupied with unfinished tasks at work, family pressures, and many other things. If you are treading close to emotional issues, it is possible that you will strike a nerve with someone. In addition, sometimes we are addressing sensitive issues in training that people may react emotionally to.
The greatest tools for you in adjusting your materials come to light before your actual training takes place. If you have been able to do some pre-training survey work, or even just interviewed a supervisor, then you will uncover the issues before entering the training room, and be able to prepare yourself for what will follow.
If you do not have the luxury of pre-training interviews, then your flexibility at managing a classroom, dealing with change, offering support, and creating a safe learning environment will all contribute to the success of this training endeavor.
Dealing With Sensitive Issues in the Workshop
One way to deal with sensitive issues is to provide an attitude survey before a tough topic is discussed. This allows participants to put their thoughts and reactions on paper, and provides them with some thinking and adjusting time before the topic is discussed aloud among the group, or before other activities get underway.
Here are some tips for using an attitude survey in your training:
- It does not have to be called an attitude survey. Title it as something that makes sense and fits with your training plan. The term “attitude survey” is here for you to see, but might seem intimidating for participants depending on the subject.
- Participants may not want to reveal their answers to one another. Watch closely to ensure that people are not intruding on one another by forcing someone to reveal their thoughts.
- The attitude survey can be a good pre- and post-training activity. Participants can use the tool to monitor their own thinking or shift in perception throughout the training process.
It may seem straightforward to offer an attitude survey, but you need to watch your language. Make sure that statements are not open to interpretation or bias, by using clear and simple language. It also helps in our program design stage to have a colleague review the questions or statements with you so that you can prepare an effective survey.
In order to effectively evaluate each level of training, you will need a variety of tools. In this post, we will learn about some different types of measurement tools that can help you effectively evaluate results.
Individual goal setting is an excellent way to measure behavior and results. Trainees should set goals during the workshop and then evaluate their progress at pre-determined intervals afterwards.
In order for goals to be effective, make sure they follow the SMART acronym:
- Specific: Success coach Jack Canfield states in his book The Success Principles that, “Vague goals produce vague results.” In order for you to achieve a goal, you must be very clear about what exactly you want. Often creating a list of benefits that the accomplishment of your goal will bring to your life, it will give your mind a compelling reason to pursue that goal.
- Measurable: It’s crucial for goal achievement that you are able to track your progress towards your goal. That’s why all goals need some form of objective measuring system so you can stay on track and become motivated when you enjoy the sweet taste of quantifiable progress.
- Achievable: Setting big goals is great, but setting unrealistic goals will just de-motivate you. A good goal is one that challenges, but is not so unrealistic that you have virtually no chance of accomplishing it.
- Relevant: Before you even set goals, it’s a good idea to sit down and define your core values and your life purpose because it’s these tools which ultimately decide how and what goals you choose for your life. Goals, in and of themselves, do not provide any happiness. Goals that are in harmony with your life purpose do have the power to make you happy.
- Timed: Without setting deadlines for your goals, you have no real compelling reason or motivation to start working on them. By setting a deadline, your subconscious mind begins to work on that goal, night and day, to bring you closer to achievement.
Self-evaluations are effective at the first three levels of evaluation, and can be effective at the fourth level depending on the topic. Common types of self-evaluations include:
- Pre-workshop and post-workshop tests to assess learning
- Reactionary questionnaires
- Personal assessment quizzes
- Self-reporting metric systems
When measuring reactionary feedback, open-ended questions such as, “How did you feel about the training?” are fine. However, you should also include scale-based questions so that you can evaluate the group as a whole and evaluate the individual on an objective basis. When measuring learning, behavior, and results, questions that are objective and closed or scale-based are necessary for accurate assessment.
Peer reviews are an excellent tool for measuring behavioral changes. However, you must ensure that the assessment system is well designed to prevent bias.
One excellent tool is 360 degree feedback. This system is designed to gather feedback from all of the people around an employee – their co-workers, subordinates, superiors, clients, etc. There are many resources available that can help you design a good 360 degree feedback system. If the topic that you are training on has high value, it can be worthwhile to take the time to develop a peer review system to accurately measure behavioral changes.
Supervisor evaluations are an important part of evaluating behavior changes and assessing results. Like peer reviews, a behavioral evaluation system should be set up before the training. It should be ratings-based and include closed questions to help the supervisor stay objective. When asking supervisors to measure results, those results should tie in with the employee’s regular metrics whenever possible. This achieves two things: it ensures that the measurements are relevant to the employee’s day-to-day duties, and it minimizes the amount of extra work that the supervisor has to do. (Often, if measuring training causes more work for supervisors, they will often avoid completing the evaluation, or spend minimal time doing so.)
Two notes of caution about supervisor evaluations:
- The employee must know which metrics will be evaluated after the training.
- Like peer evaluation, supervisor evaluation can be biased. Develop your metrics accordingly.
Depending on the scenario, you may want to ask high-level executives in the organisation to complete an evaluation. This will typically reflect behavioural changes and or measurable results. They will be particularly effective at helping you determine if your training was effective for the entire group. Make sure that these types of evaluations are necessary, focused, and short.
As well, although company executives are typically not involved in the nuts and bolts of training, they may want to see a high level evaluation report, particularly if the training was expensive, required by law, or was expected to have a high impact.
When you are planning the training, make sure to gather expectations from these key stakeholders, including timelines for results and the level of detail desired. Then, use this framework to build a results report tailored to their needs. The report will typically reflect behavioural changes and or measurable results.
One of the best ways a facilitator can anticipate problems in a group discussion is to set ground rules. Ground rules orient participants with what is expected from them. Moreover, they set boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior during the discussion. For best results, ground rules must be set in a consultative fashion, with the rules, and sometimes the consequences of violation of rules, negotiated among members of the group and agreed upon by consensus.
When setting ground rules, it is important to both verify if the rules are understood, and if they are acceptable. Make sure too that a documentation of the ground rules is available for everyone, either as a hand-out or posted in a flipchart paper for everyone to see.
Ground rules in a group meeting can relate to:
- How to make the most of the meeting. For example: practice timely attendance, participate fully.
- How to make a contribution to the discussion. For example: do the members raise their hands and ask the facilitator for permission to speak; use I-messages.
- How members should treat other members. For example: “don’t interrupt whoever is speaking, listen actively to whoever has the floor, accept that everyone has a right to their own opinion, no swearing or any aggressive behavior.
- Issues relating to confidentiality. Example: all matters discussed in the group shall remain within the group. This is also the moment for the facilitator to reveal if the minutes of the meeting will remain solely for his or her reference, or will it be given to an authority in the organization.
- How violations of ground rules would be addressed. Example: the use of graduated interventions from warning to expulsion from the group.
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There are a several different ways that you can build some flexible time into your training. Having participants help to design the training (perhaps by selecting which objectives you will cover in the training), is one great way to do this.
Secondly, keep in mind that training is all about your participants. As trainers, sometimes we are so excited about the potential for growth that we cram way too much into the lesson design. Keep your materials content rich so that you have excellent training, but don’t feel that you have to incorporate everything that you know just because you can. Meet your objectives, be participant-centered, and design your lessons well.
The best way to build in some flexible time is to deliberately create a couple of spaces in your day that are light so that if you do need to incorporate something extra, or people get engaged in a particular learning opportunity, you won’t have to race to get through the rest of your material. This means that you have a couple of topics that are optional that will add to the training if you can include them, but can be left out if needed.
The following list is a handy reference of the types of activities that can be the right fit for your training. Although some of the headings may overlap, the definitions are here to give you a better understanding of the range of activities that can be used.
Game: A game is an exercise that normally has a set of rules and an element of competition. Games often include some kind of reward.
Icebreakers: Icebreakers are used as an exercise to introduce group members to one another (break the ice), encourage some energy into the beginning of a workshop, and lead into the topic material. They are an important starting point to your training session.
Energizer: An energizer is a brief pick-me-up activity designed to invigorate a group if energy in the room is waning, or to bring them back together following a break. Energizers are often about five minutes long.
Simulations: A simulation is useful to train equipment operators when the tools that they will use are either very expensive or dangerous. Simulations are designed to be as realistic as possible so that participants can learn from the situation without worrying about damage or financial cost. Flying aircraft, offshore emergency evacuation procedures, combat training, and driving all make use of simulation training.
Role Plays: Role-playing is a helpful way to understand how participants react to certain situations. They are a very useful approach for practicing new skills in a non-threatening environment, where a participant learns to apply behavioral techniques and gets feedback without fear of making a mistake in front of their own customers or clients. Role-plays are helpful in learning conflict management, counseling, sales, negotiating, and many other skills.
Case Studies: Case studies are stories normally extracted from a participant’s workplace or industry. They can also be written specifically to simulate a scenario. Case studies are often examined by individuals or groups and then analyzed to stimulate discussion or demonstrate aspects of training.