Real Life Learning

Category: Client Relationship

Adult Learners and Choice – the Snow Question

Any trainer will tell you that when snow starts to fall in the UK your training plans are likely to get put under strain.
Initially there are the messages checking that the course is still running or telling you about delays expected to journeys. Once having got people to the session the next challenge is to keep people focused on the content and not on the snow outside.
One of the things that constantly amuses my European colleagues, particularly in places like Austria and Ukraine, is how a few centimetres of snow can put the entire country into a severe state of emergency. Holding a training session in this context can be a real challenge.
I was faced with this situation in two sessions recently during the January Big Snow event. My client had left it up to me to decide on whether to continue or not as the snow continued to fall outside. I decided to give my groups choices. I explained that I was able to stay until the scheduled close time and was happy to do so but that I knew some of the group would be worried about getting home. I explained what we were going to cover in the course and how they might catch up on this content in other ways. I then simply handed them the choice. They could check in on the transport advice on their phones at breaks and make their own decisions about when they wanted to leave.
I was really conscious that if you are stressing about your journey home you are unlikely to be learning so I explained to the group that I did not want them to feel stressed but equally I did not want them to miss out on the learning from this session. I made it clear that it would be ok if they needed to leave and that this was a choice that they could make for themselves at any point during the day.
On both days the sessions finished at the normal time with the whole group present. Our groups left the building in eerie silence as it seems we were the only groups who took this choice to stay. In other sessions in this period the various organisers made the decision for the group and announced an early finish. This could have been of course because the organisers needed to get home but I wondered how much of it is because we feel we need to “look after” our learners and forget that the principles of adult learning is about giving the learner responsibility for their decisions. Our role is to support, encourage but not to take over. The snow example showed me that learners can often surprise you when you pass over responsibility to them. I really didn’t expect that all the learners would choose to stay. That they choose to stay reinforced how valuable these group sessions are to the learners.

How to Engage your team without footballing millions!

I am a fan of Guiseley AFC a team that plays in the UniBond First Division. The players turn up for traning and to play games for an amazing sum of £100 a week! Their manager is not able to engage by huge bonus payments or by a complicated internal promotion system. What seems to engage the players is the quality of the manager and the team environment which is created.

At a club like Guiseley it is going to be the little things that will make a difference and sometimes this gets lost in some of the work on engaging employees. What interests me is not big bold employee engagement programmes produced by an organisational development consultant but the tiny things that managers do day to day with their teams to create an environment which is engaging and supportive.

This quote always focuses the mind of managers I work with:
“Over 70% of people leave their jobs because of the way they are led.” Norman Drummond, Motivational Speaker

So what can managers do to create a work place that encourages engagement. Recent research by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer collected diary entries of employees in a variety of companies. The diary enteries were used to map the relationship between the individual’s mood and the activities at work. The conclusions were that little things made a big and lasting difference. The small wins were important, these are some small wins that I have observed making a difference in workplaces I have been involved in as an employee or as a freelance trainer.

3 Small Wins for Engagement

Listening to complaints and responding

People moan all the time and as a manager it is easy to dismiss this as “just moaning” but if you really listen you will start to pick up themes about what really irritates people. Right now a big issue is the difference between words and actions. A lot of companies are focusing on keep costs down and have not been doing any wage rises. People get it, but what does not make sense is when they see money being wasted by the top managers on a bonding event at an expensive hotel.

Easter Eggs and Ice-Creams

I can remember being thrilled to find an Easter Egg on my desk from my boss one morning when I got to work. It wasn’t the value of the gift but just the unexpected nature of it. Likewise the ice-creams one of the managers popped out to get one really hot day (and they do happen sometimes in Leeds)

Training, Coaching and Investment

Giving people the chance to develop their skills, and I don’t mean just running a lot of generic training courses. It is about really taking time to find out what people need to learn and finding interesting ways to help them learn it. One of the best customer service training I delivered involved sending people round the shops and services of Leeds for 2 hours and then asking them to present their findings about what they had learnt about customer service to our management team. This bit of training costs nothing, just a bit of imagination from your training team, and the willingness to trust that your employees will use the opportunity wisely.

Customer Journey Mapping: a large group intervention

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping is a method of identifying the main processes that a customer meets when they have an interaction with an organisation. By spending time mapping the journey a customer actually takes organisations can make changes to their processes which are based on real customer requirements.

Completed map

Customer Journey Map Sample

There has been a lot of work done in the UK about mapping customer journeys and the Cabinet Office website is a great place to explore different types of journey from the physical journey of customers using Eurostar through to the virtual journey of someone apply to enter the UK as a worker from outside the EU.

My project involved the careers team from a large University in the UK who wanted to know more about what customer journey mapping was about before they could decide whether to use it in practice or not.

The activity I designed was based on some fictional student profiles. These were designed so that the team could explore the journeys of those students who were not current users of the careers service so that they could identify if there were opportunities that were being missed by the service.

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Ditch the Pitch




here has been a growth in requirements to formally tender for work, particularly in the public sector. This is usually through the format of a written document, followed by a request for a select few to attend a presentation. The presentation requirement can be set out as a “20 minutes presentation on your proposals followed by 15 minutes of questions from the panel”.  The presentation will often be refer to as a pitch and can be regarded as an opportunity to sell to the client. Unless the tender is about presentation skills it is unlikely that the client wants to assess the suppliers’ abilities at PowerPoint and therefore the word “presentation” can be a trap for the unwary. 
Purchasers don’t want to listen to glory stories or watch amazing slide transitions, they want to assess if the suppliers are the right people to work with their organisation and there is a short period of time to make this assessment.  


 Each organisation is unique and although it is very tempting to assess a situation and make links to similar projects with others clients, this route can lead into the dangerous territory of assumption making. Reading their website, talking to people who know the organisation and searching for articles which reference the organisation will all help to build up an understanding of the organisation and their culture. An observation made by a purchaser from a global sports retailing organisation focused on the critical importance of service providers assessing the culture of the organisation and ensuring that it is actually a good fit with their own business objectives and style.

If there is a perceived mismatch between the cultures then it is better to acknowledge this than pursue a pitch which, if won, will cause a problem for the supplier organisation in the long term.

 One of the potentially fatal errors that suppliers can make is to just talk at the purchaser. One procurement panel member gave an example of two organisations who were invited to attend a pitch. The first organisation did exactly what was expected: they pitched at the panel, giving them examples of their work, talking about their abilities and reiterating all the points they made in the written documentation. The second organisation took a different approach; they started by asking the panel what they wanted to know more about from the written documentation. They entered into a dialogue with the panel and gave the panel the opportunity to pick out the issues which really concerned them. It was this more flexible approach which helped to secure the organisation the contract. Tony Barr, VP for Marketing and Business Development with BEUMER Corporation and founder of BrandReasonality (a brand innovation and growth strategy consultancy), makes a similar point when he comments that “when I feel I am being pitched to I tune out pretty quickly”. The supplier needs to demonstrate that they have an ability to listen to the concerns of the client and to respond appropriately. Tony Barr  also observes that when an organisation wants to engage a supplier it is for their specialist skills and insights and these insights can only come

“through careful, deliberate discovery driven by purposeful questioning and determined listening”.

However this approach also requires that purchasers are flexible too. During the research examples were provided of situations where the supplier wanted to have a dialogue approach but the purchaser insisted that they just made a formal presentation to them, with no opportunity for discussion.

The majority of the time allocated for the pitch should be given over to finding out more about the issues the organisation are facing and providing relevant responses to the concerns which they seem to have. The pitch is an opportunity for both organisations to reach a mutual understanding of each other so that both can assess if a good working relationship will result from the project. Developing a dialogue changes the power dynamic into a more equal relationship between an organisation with a problem and a supplier who might be able to provide a solution, both parties can each reach a mutual agreement about their suitability.

 The procurement process has a desire for equality at its heart and therefore will seek to ensure that each organisation has an equal chance in the process. This means that timescales can be very strictly adhered too. An example of the application of this process in practice was provided by Steve Goodwill, Director of Goodwill Training, from an early experience of a formal tender process. Steve’s colleague presented first and was picking up very positive reaction and became enthused and as a consequence slightly overran on the time, when she handed over the presentation continued to go well with a good reaction from the panel. “However suddenly one of them asked me to stop, announced our allocated time was up and we were virtually thrown out of the room”. The feedback given was that the tender had not been won by the team because they had not managed their time. As Steve comments “it could be argued that they were pedantic and inflexible, but it is a lesson to be remembered!”

 Often clients have some flexibility with their timing but they will appreciate awareness from the supplier of the constraints on time. A recommended strategy was to set a discreet alarm to go off 5 minutes before the allocated time is over so that there is enough time to summarise and answer any final concerns before leaving.

 One of the most consistent comments from both providers and purchasers was the importance of honesty. “Being accurate in your detail, transparent and honest will secure credibility of your proposals” observes Andrew Hobman from Capstone HR.

Clients don’t want snake oil salespeople who try to manipulate and persuade by their clever use of smoke and mirrors. They want to find the organisation that will be able to do a good job for them for the right price.

As a purchaser from the regeneration sector commented “we want to know what we can expect to get for our money”. So the pitch is the time to be honest about what can be done do instead of an opportunity to for the supplier to hype their abilities and imply that they are able to do anything that the purchaser wants them to do. Eric Edie from e.Edies elaborates on this further, “way too many consultants go in overselling, adding too much or saying that they are an expert in areas that they are not, just to get the work. Most companies find it refreshing to hear plain old honesty. This will make you stick out in the crowd”

 The importance of honesty was also stressed by a number of respondents when handling questions. The temptation for a supplier to make up an immediate response to a question is very high. However the purchasers are adept at spotting an answer that is not coherent and it would be far better for the supplier to be honest and to say that they don’t know and then to promise to find out the answer and get back to them. This builds a good relationship of trust and integrity.

 Serious questions need to be asked about the appropriateness of Powerpoint Presentation to a dialogue based presentation. The problem with Powerpoint, Gabriella Hauser from Validus Engineering observes, is that you can “become a slave to a well rehearsed sales pitch”  and to follow the familiar route through the slides instead of responding in a flexible manner to the questions and comments that the client is giving.

Having a Powerpoint presentation pushes you into a position of being a monologue situation instead of dialogue and makes it much more difficult to change tack to meet the emerging concerns.

 Another trap for the unwary is when the supplier already knows some of the panel, perhaps when they are re-tendering for work. Observations from clients indicate that sometimes the supplier adopts a more informal approach and this can come across as unprofessional and inappropriate.

Suppliers can sometimes be fooled by an informal company culture, just because the panel are wearing jeans and trainers doesn’t mean that they adopt a casual approach to figures and margins. They still expect their suppliers to treat their issues with serious intent.

 Pitching is an expensive business and in these challenging times for business strategic choices need to be made about whether to invest the considerable time that doing a pitch really well will demand. Rory Sutherland, President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising questions whether some of this effort is worthwhile and whether instead of chasing every pitch it would be more effective to be more selective and to put the rest of your time into “making your existing clients happier and more valuable to you” ([1])

 For both suppliers and purchasers the tendering process could be enhanced by focusing more on a mutual exploration of the issues and the ideas. The construction of a dialogue process instead of a formal presentational format would greatly assist both parties to reach this shared understanding and increase the likelihood of the most appropriate solution being selected.



 Rory Sutherland Interview,Guardian Media, 16.02.09




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Clients buy consultants time to help them to address problems. It is really important that the supplier is clear what the problem is from the client perspective. In some situations this can be easily achieved with a phone call to clarify the brief with the client.  However some procurement processes forbid contact with the direct client and suppliers will have to comb through the procurement documents to ensure that the requirements have been fully understood. One obvious point, which is often neglected, is highlighted by Andre Keyter, Executive Manager at Key Business Solutions, who observes that suppliers need to “make sure that you understand the problem that you intend your product or service to address and that the solution is in fact a solution”.

 The procurement scene is littered with examples of where the client doesn’t know what the problem really is and where the wrong solution has been consequently been purchased. Suppliers have a responsibility to contribute towards a better understanding of the problem, even if this may be at a cost to their own business in the short term, it will avoid a mismatch of needs and the negative impact that this has on the supplier’s reputation.

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