Friday, March 16, 2012

The Trainer as a Change Agent

I would like to relate a story about some recent classes I have had and analyze how they reflect the challenges of the trainer as a change agent in the company.

Twitter in my Classroom

Over the past few weeks I have taught variations on a social networking debate lesson.  The activities and performance tasks varied depending on the group, but the basic elements were the same.  First, we discussed the term social networking and what it means.  Then we changed perspective to that of a company, and discussed why a company would want to engage in social networking sites.  Next, I presented how their company used social networking by bringing up Twitter and Facebook on the projector.  Then I showed them how JetBlue, an American airline uses Twitter with 1.6m followers in its CRM.  Finally, groups were formed to develop possible pros and cons for a company using social networking and they debated their findings.

From @Jetblue
What happened in every single lesson was that I spent much more time than planned explaining how Twitter worked and they debated amongst themselves how horrible it was.  Not one single person was able to see the customer relationship benefit from using social networking.  In fact, one participant even questioned why the company would ever need more than print ads in trade magazines and targeted emails to spread company information, while others in the class nodded in agreement.  I honestly didn't know what to say.  I had expected that Twitter would be new, but not that it would be seen as evil so quickly.  So, in the end, one side had to assume the pro role and with my help find possible benefits. 

This relates to my recent post on the BESIG World Blog, which I was so honored to participate in.  Special thanks to Claire Hart (@claire_hart), Carl Dowse (@carldowse) and Mike Hogan (@irishmikeh).  In the blog post I talked about how we need management support to bring about organizational change.  I use the example of trying to incorporate BELF into communication. 

So what does it take for the English trainer to impact change?

1.  We need a sponsor and a mandate

As I talked about in the BESIG blog, we need managment support and we need to know what they want to change.  A sponsor is worthless without a mandate and vice versa.  The most common change we will probably encounter is communication style.  This includes telephone calls, meetings, presentations, emails, etc.  If we are teaching BEFL, we are teaching a global standard of communication, not only in words and grammar, but also in style, register, and politeness.  This change requires support and understanding from management.  At an organizational level, this means we might be changing company templates and norms.

We also need to know where management wants the organization to go.  Where does the English program fit into strategic objectives?  Are we part of a push to adopt globalization?  Are we part of a program to accept new technologies and knowledge sharing?  If not, forget it.  Teach the lexis, grammar, skills and go home.  If so, how can management support us?  Can they come to the lessons?  Can we include them in email distro lists and blended learning sites?

This means our training needs to be sold as a means to strategic objectives and advertised to the participants as a rounded communication training course.

2.  We need to know how much change is possible

Within any change management program we need to know where we are compared with where the participants are.  We are taught that within any random sample, the results will have a normal distribution and create a bell curve.  Matching this with the Law of Diffusion of Innovation, we should have early adopters, members of the majority, and laggards in the class.

But this is not true because recruiting, company culture, and stagnant diversity mean that most participants will belong to one group.  For example, Google hires only innovators, This means there will typically be a disconnect between the trainer and the participants.  I think that bringing the participants forward one level in the adoption of innovation is great step.  We should realize that rapid change is not possible.  It must be step by step.

3.  We have to understand our participants perspective of change

Individuals typically go through several stages when adopting change.  Normally, they are:
  1. Shock
  2. Denial
  3. Frustration
  4. Depression
  5. Experimentation
  6. Decision
  7. Integration
Depending on the level of change we are involved in, we need to understand where our participants are in this process.

Some general rules I have found:
  • Participants/Organizations normally order an English course as a transition from depression to experimentation.  Our performance in the first several lessons makes a huge difference.
  • When learners are confronted with the concept of learner autonomy, they oftean enter the shock phase based on their previous training and expectations.  The trainer must then understand that real autonomy will begin later.  They must then recognize and support the experimentation phase.
  • Talking about technology, we need to assess the company culture, recruting, and diversity to understand which topics will cause difficulty in the classroom.  For example, my story about Twitter (at innovator stage in Germany) was too far for the department (late majority).
  • When using technology in the classroom (m-theory, Prezi, blended learning, etc.) we have to understand how willing the organization will adopt it.
  • There is generally low cultural self-awareness and the learners can benefit from seeing how their culture communicates compared to international methods.  Because culture (general and office) affects the rate of adoption, it helps to tell them where they are and use benchmarks (like the Jet Blue example).
Are we ready to change?

So, assuming we know these three things, we can build change into our syllabus.

First, ask for the sponsorship and mandate for change.  Sell our qualificiations as communciations and cultural experts as well as language teachers.  Build the relationships with management.  Ensure they know what we are training and how it benefits their company.  Talk to management when we see organizational communication problems.

Second, understand the organization and it members.  Assess where the participants are on the innovation curve before establishing course plans.  Embrace early adopters and use them as peer voices.  For example, ask the early adopter participant to give a presentation on how they use their smart phone/new software/process, etc..  Peer comments will go much further than what we say.

Finally, be sensitive to the various stages of change.  Help the learner get through the depression stage as fast as possible.  This is also the part when they are most likely to drop the course.  Disguise change strategies as English lessons.  Using my Jet Blue example... the homework is to monitor JetBlue and create a telephone dialog between a customer service rep and a customer about a case discussed on Twitter.

I belive that by selling and delivering change, we are offering a great value to our customers, improving our participants' communication skills, and driving better English fluency.

Back to the Twitter in my classroom story.  I think I tried the right thing and maybe I was even able to move one or two participants forward.  Using Jet Blue as a benchmark was a good idea, as was assigning pro and con roles.  However, from this lesson I do not think I created adoption.  The subject may have been a bit to far for the group.  In this case we have the mandate but sponsorship is lacking.

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