“The learner learns what the learner wants to learn,” was the message I was given during my early days of working with people.
Clarifying the learner’s agenda made it more likely to be able to help them to achieve their goals. So it was vital to make clear contracts with people when doing a one-to-one session or running a workshop.
During my early days of running sessions on strengths and super teams, people seemed hungry to learn about the concepts. As the years went by, however, they wanted much more customised attention.
During the breaks it became more frequent for people to approach and say something like the following.
“I understand what you said in the session, but can I ask you a specific question?
“What do you do if …?”
People had always asked questions, but these enquiries were at a different level. They knew the theory, but now they wanted a much more customised answer. They did not want a commoditised, off-the-shelf, answer.
One Managing Director explained this in the following way. He said:
“I have been on many leadership courses and know lots of theories.
“What I would like to know, however, is how to work with a particular person in my team.
“I have tried lots of things, but I need some practical ideas that work.”
The MD was aware of many leadership concepts. He wanted something practical, however, that he could apply to achieve concrete results.
Good educators make learning personal, practical and, in the widest sense, profitable. They make sure that it relates to the person’s agenda. They then provide practical tools that help the person to achieve their picture of success.
If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to look back on your life and do the following things.
Describe a specific situation when somebody clarified what you really wanted and then provided relevant knowledge or practical tools that helped you to develop.
Describe the specific things they did to connect with you and provide customised development.
Customisation is relatively simple if you can make clear contracts with people before or at the start of a session. Let’s explore ways of doing this in various kinds of sessions.
When facilitating a mentoring session you will create an encouraging environment and make the person feel welcome. You may then ask them some of the following questions.
Bearing in mind the results the person wants to achieve, you will then explore ideas and pass on knowledge they can use to achieve success.
Clear contracting is crucial when running a workshop. Imagine you have been asked to run a session for a department. You will probably meet with the key stakeholders ahead of time and ask some of the following questions.
Bearing their answers in mind, play back your understanding regarding the goals for the session. Make sure everybody is agreed on the desired outcomes.
You will then design the workshop to make sure it is relevant and rewarding for the participants.
When starting the actual session, it will be important to make clear working contracts with people. You may say something like:
Welcome to the session.
Today the aim is to provide practical tools you can use to continue to achieve success.
Bearing in mind the overall organisation’s goals – and the challenges you face in your work – some of the topics we aim to explore today are:
How to …
How to …
How to …
My role is to provide an encouraging environment and practical tools that work. The role I would like you to take is to encourage each other and also apply the tools in your own way.
Bearing in mind what I have outlined, are there any other topics you would like us to explore?
If appropriate, you can also add other topics that will contribute towards people achieving success. People often say, however:
“That sounds enough to be going on with. If we do those things, then we will be well on our way.”
Good educators make sure that the learning relates to people’s personal or professional goals. They then provide relevant knowledge and practical tools that people can use to achieve success.
To A Specific Question
Let’s return to the situation where a person comes up to you during a break, for example, and asks how to tackle a specific challenge.
You will listen carefully, provide a starter answer, but then ask for more details. One approach is to go through the follow stages that focus on clarity, creativity and concrete results.
Let’s return to the earlier conversation when the Managing Director asked how to work with a particular person in the team. After getting a picture of the situation, I asked about the real results he wanted to achieve.
He began by talking about how he wanted to understand the challenging person. After a few minutes, however, he explained:
“I have tried lots of things to get the person on board, but he causes lots of collateral damage.
“Looking ahead, the real result I want to achieve is to build a successful team.”
Bearing this in mind, we explored several options he could take:
To communicate the team’s story, strategy and road to success.
To build a positive culture in which motivated people could achieve peak performance.
To give clear messages to the difficult person regarding the professional behaviour that was required if he wanted to contribute to the team.
The MD and I had an informal follow up meeting a week later to focus on the specific steps he could take to build a successful team. This included the positive back up plan if people chose not to contribute in a professional way.
Customisation often results from somebody saying: “I know about the theory, but what can I actually do?”
People often grow by going through the stages of awareness, application and achievement. If you work as a coach, mentor or trusted advisor, for example, you may be judged by your ability to help people with application.
One business leader expressed this sentiment in the following way.
“Many people are aware of the guiding principles for leading a business or running successful teams.
“People can surf the web and see these principles repeated time and again. There are thousands of experts on organisations, for example, who want to market their latest idea.
“What leaders pay for, however, is application. They want people to be helped to apply the ideas in real life situations and deliver success.”
Commoditisation is sometimes necessary when passing on general concepts, but then comes the personal touch. Customisation is often about helping people to apply the relevant learning and take the practical steps required to achieve their goals.
Looking ahead, can you think of a situation where you may want to provide customised development for people? You may aim to do this when helping an individual, team or organisation.
What can you do then to connect with people and clarify their agenda? How can you pass on relevant knowledge and practical tools that help them to succeed?
If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.
Describe a specific situation in the future where you may want to provide customised development for people. This can be for a person or a group of people.
Describe the specific things you can do to provide customised development for them.
Describe the specific benefits of providing this customised development.