Real Life Learning

Tag: communication

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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Steps in Facilitation 2 – Images and Metaphors

Preeti distributing image cardsFor the second of my mentoring sessions with Preeti I decided to keep with the subject of data collection and explore a more sophisticated technique to the standard Post It sort we had used in the previous session.

The brain dump onto Post It notes works really well when everyone can easily articulate their thoughts but sometimes you want something deeper to be explored and the conventional brain dump can end up being a mass of slightly meaningless unconnected words.

We explored using visual imagery as a trigger to an initial dialogue and looked at how you might use this in different settings. I used a set of visual cards from St Lukes Resources.

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Facts, Myths and Misunderstandings in Facilitation and Training

One of the most depressing elements of being involved in the facilitation and training profession is the tendency to over focus on great design skills, making things fun and interactive and a lack of really disciplined critical thinking.

 There is a heavy reliance on “pop” research and this is used without thinking by trainers and facilitators when they are working with groups and when they are training others in their professional area. I have come across a number of facilitators who based their designs on accommodating the four different learning styles identified by Honey and Mumford. Their designs include activities which will appeal to the four different styles. What is concerning about this is that this was not the intention of the learning styles approach in the first place and secondly there is very little researched evidence into the validity of this tool or others that are similar. To read more check out the Learning Skills Network site and download their document:

 Another good site I have come across is Roger Greenaway’s site which is packed with research on facilitation and learning topics. I came across this page when I was preparing some materials for a workshop where we are going to critique the issues of learning styles. This page gives a summary of Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle and then explores critiques of Kolb.

 One of the really exciting elements of my new project to develop an academic pathway in facilitation is the need to do a literature review in the field of facilitation and start to separate out some of the myths from the well researched and documented data. I know this is going to make my practice stronger and I hope will influence others.

Linked In Learning

Using Linked In for Learning

 I joined Linked In about four years ago and have found it a helpful way of developing my social network in the business world. I have also found it a really valuable learning tool and I am often surprised how under used it is by the managers I work with as a way of increasing their knowledge and skills.

The most obvious learning from Linked In is how it can work as a social networking tool. It is not as “in your face” personal as Facebook and the connections that you generate will be work orientated connections and you are unlikely to be updating with information about professional contacts’ drinking habits!  For people who are nervous about on line communities I think it is a good entry point application.

I have blogged previously about using group forums for questions

The Linked In Questions element is worth emphasising. The great thing about Linked In is that you can ask a question to any of the groups you are a member of, you can ask a question just to your own network or you can broadcast a question to the whole of the Linked In membership. It is this variety of options which I think makes Linked In such a valuable tool for learning. If you want to get replies which are more personal in nature then sending a question to your own network will often generate some really insightful comments. You can choose whether you want to send it to all of your connections or just choose the connections you think may be able to contribute some useful information.

The benefits of asking a question to everyone on Linked In will be the range of responses you will get . I find these responses help me to think about the question in a wider manner and can help prevent “silo thinking” that can so easily happen when we get locked into our own little world of reference points. The insights which others may share can challenge the thinking you originally had on the topic. This happened to me when I was asking some questions about customer service with non native speaking customers.

Joining groups in Linked In can also be a good way about learning about current themes within your professional and interest groups. There are thousand of groups and one way of finding relevant groups is to explore the groups that your connections are already members of; this may also help you to find areas in common.

The other areas where Linked In can help individual learning is through the recommended book link. You can sign up for this free application and it means that you can recommend books you are reading to others and can get the insight of others on books you are interested in reading.

I would be interested in hearing from others about how you use Linked In to help  your own learning?

World Cafe – Real Conversations

This week I have been exploring using The World Cafe method with a number of different groups. I love The World Cafe website, it is a great source of good practice examples. There are photographs so you can see how different groups have organized their cafes. There is even a group in Russia who are using a real café for a regular exchange. The site has resources you can download. It is all maintained by volunteers and through donations:

 I have used the method with a variety of different groups and in different situations. The biggest cafe event was in Rome for a group of 150 senior executives. The cafe format fundamentally changes the environment of the average conference room from the formal seating useful for listening to expert speakers to a more democratic, informal setting which is much more useful for listening to each other. In the ideal world there would be the perfectly formed small circular tables and comfortable, easily movable chairs so a group of 5 people can easily talk to each other across the table.  The group size is important, if you have more than 5 then it is less easy for most groups to self facilitate, this tends to mean that more dominate people get more air time and the less extrovert participants will not get a chance to input.

 Having established a cafe type of environment the next task is to get people talking and listening to each other by the use of a carefully worded question. An interesting open question is enough to start the process of dialogue. In a cafe environment the focus is on the quality of the conversation and not about coming to a set outcome. It is a model of facilitation where the emphasis is on people talking openly with each other about a topic which is important to them. If the question is good enough then the conversation will flow.

 Rotating the groups is one of the great assets of the cafe style, and the rotation is organised to ensure that everyone gets a change of people to talk with so that they can explore the question from some different perspectives.

 What is great about hosting a cafe session is that you can watch the changes in people. At the beginning everyone is a little hesitate and uncomfortable with the changes in their usual environment. There is a degree of discomfort in having to actively create conference content instead of passively listening to an expert speaker This is all evident in the tense body language in the room and then something happens as the process starts. During the first rotation I will notice people smiling, listening intently and starting to become more animated. By the second rotation the groups are leaning forward, animated conversation begins and the volume in the room increases. It is a very satisfying process as I know that real conversations start in these groups which follow on after the cafe has closed.

 The World Cafe format is a fantastic format to encourage networking and practice sharing. Far too often events have time set aside for “networking” but it is essentially free time and for the more introverted participants this can be a very nerve racking time where they dread being trapped in a corner by a talkative salesperson, with no chance to escape.

 I hope that one of my conversations this week will result in our team of facilitators being asked to run a cafe in my home town of Leeds. One thing we need more of right now are ways to help people to connect, to share and to find ways out of the mess that some of these great experts have got us into. We need to turn to each other to find our solutions.

Learning in Ukraine

Last week I was in Ukraine running a leadership programme for software engineers. The programme I ran was based on a programme I had run for the company in the UK and so one of the challenges was adapting this programme for a younger, less experienced group of leaders and where English would be the second language. The common challenge would be that they were a group of intelligent engineers who were now taking on a leadership role and would be leading teams of talented intelligent engineers so it was important that the materials I used were not too basic or designed for simple instruction giving styles of management.

 As I wrote and rewrote the materials I realised how often we use idioms when explaining concepts in English. I also realised that my standard handouts were not always clearly written in the best grammar! It took me many hours to get each handout to an acceptable standard and even them my client in the UK was able to identify further improvements to the grammar and sentence structure so that we could ensure clarity of understanding!

 Working with the group was a wonderful experience, from the beginning the group were willing to get involved and to communicate with each other. They valued the participative nature of the workshop. It would seem that their previous experience of training was based on listening to a talk given by an expert so my approach, which is much more facilitative, was totally unexpected. It was the first time I have returned to my room at lunchtime to find participants excitedly showing other colleagues their work on the walls of the room.

 One of the challenges for me when facilitating the groups was that when they worked on activities they would naturally communicate with each other in Russian. This meant that I missed overhearing some of the discussions which they were having. It did make me aware how much we pick up through non verbal communication, I could usually assess if a group needed help before I asked them. I also wished I had learnt more Russian, my basic phrases were helpful in navigating the city but more words would have increased my ability to pick up concerns early on in the process.

 At the end of each day I made sure that we reviewed the tools we had used during the day. This was an interesting experience as it gave me some insight into the tools that they felt they could apply, and not just what I thought I had “taught”. Using visual imagery was a tool which they felt that they could use to influence their teams and I was impressed about how they were able to use visual images to express a vision for team meetings.

 There was a real sense of sadness when we finished the training and a marked reluctance to leave the room; this was a contrast to some sessions in the UK where there is a speedy walk to the door as soon as you have completed the workshop closing statement!

 Lots of my friends and contacts have been very curious about the experience of actually working in Ukraine. I was based in the east of the country and I had very little knowledge of the country before going out there and had never worked or visited further East than Prague. I realised how many stereotypes I had absorbed without realising it and how I expected the people and the place to be very different to the UK. In fact what I observed on this limited visit was a lot of similarity and some differences.

 The emerging nature of the nation grappling with its infrastructural investment was clearly evident; the roads are in a bad condition in the city. The walking experience was much better than in some more “developed” cities. The walk back to my hotel was along a major duel carriageway, something I would avoid in the UK but it was really pleasant due to the wide nature of the pavement which was tree lined on both sides. The park was full of life and was a hub of activity with all different generations represented. Again the amount of trees was beyond my expectations; somehow I expected a more Soviet style grey uniform.


Another useful insight came one evening over dinner. I was talking with two of my Ukrainian colleagues about the need for courage in the business world. I often use the tale of “The Emperors New Clothes” to illustrate this point. My colleagues had not heard of the tale of the Emperor but when I explained it some more they knew it as “The King’s Clothes” and their story involved a rather stupid western King, I realised that our story involves a rather stupid Eastern Emperor, and this realisation that it was the same but different was a good insight into our joint understanding.

The Power of Learning in On Line Communities.

 In a traditional training situation there is a knowledge exchange between the participants and the trainer. It is often expected that the trainer will give their expert input and this will be discussed by the participants. This approach can create a spoon feeding type of dependency from the learners who expect the trainer to have the answers. It also puts the trainer in a dangerous position of being an expert in subjects which they may not have sufficiently researched. I have seen a number of trainers use the same old material which they reshape into the different topics they are training. A typical example is the “fact” about the proportion of communication that is due to body language, tone and words. This is a distorted modern myth based on some context specific research done in the 1960s and yet in the past year I have seen it used by 5 different trainers without referencing the research but just giving out the information as a fact.

 I think we need to be more honest about the extent of our knowledge in the training and learning field. We are not usually in-depth subject specialists; our skills are about taking some concepts and making them meaningful so that individuals can apply the learning into their work. We are experts in the process of getting groups to communicate with each other and in facilitating problem solving activities. We cannot keep up to date with everything we need to so this is where the on line communities can help us and help our groups.

I was facilitating a group who wanted to look at how to reduce the number of complaints they were getting from their customers. We had a half day session and then a follow up session three weeks later. One of the questions they ask was about how to handle calls where English wasn’t the first language of the caller. The suggestions I had on this topic felt insufficient and so I used the time between the two sessions to pose this question on the Linked In Answers Forum.

The answers I got were fascinating. I shared my findings with the group who were amazed that people from Canada, America, Brazil and Netherlands had listened to their concern and given feedback. For a group of workers in a city council this made them feel really important and valued. We reviewed the answers provided, along with my input and the group were able to identify some possible options to take their service forward.

The second way of using the communities is to ask the group to generate a question they might ask about the topic we are focusing on. This activity can not only highlight their knowledge needs but can also highlights interesting issues about how to ask a good question! I then set participants the challenge of finding a suitable forum to place their question and to come to the next session with an analysis of their results. By doing this the group are developing some life long learning skills about the value of on line communities. It is also a way of assessing the advice given.

Another approach I used was with a group of law lecturers.  We were exploring some employment law questions on a forum and designed an activity for students which would require them to analyse the advice given and compare this with the advice they might give based on their understanding of employment law.

 The forums I like to use are the CIPD, Linked In, TrainingZone and Training Journal.

Learning Technologies – Using Photographs to Enhance Learning

One of the requests I hate to get from events is “can you type up the flipcharts?” This request means that I have to carry lots of paper with me and then balance it on my desk as I try to type it into some kind of coherent order.  With the aid of Google’s excellent free on line photo album, Picasa ( I no longer need to do this.

 As I facilitate a group I take photographs as we go along of any “outputs” This could include activities involving sticky notes, it could be group activities where each group has written their own flipchart and it could be flipcharts I have written in response to suggestions from the group.

 When I get back to my office I upload the photographs into Picasa on my computer and I can crop the photographs to eliminate bits of door, window which are unlikely to enhance the learning. I then upload the photographs to the web albums and create a private album for that group. I can put captions and messages with the pictures so that they give more explanation if needed. I can put the photographs in an order which helps make sense of the learning.

 I can then send a link to the album in a follow up email to the participants. If individuals want to use the outputs in a report they can either insert the photographs or they can use the photographs to make their own transcript of the event. Only the recipients of the link can view the photographs and I do stressed this when checking at the beginning if they are ok if I take photographs.

 One of the additional benefits to keeping on line albums for each group is for my own professional development. I was reviewing some of my albums last week and I could see themes emerging in the way I was working with groups, over the last 2 years my outputs have become more visually orientated.

 I presented a conference last year and it was sponsored by 3M. This introduced me to the world of the Large Post It note, some of the ones I was given were A6 size.

They are in amazing vibrant colours and really do stick to the walls. I think having these in my tool kit has opened up some different approaches to team facilitation than the old style “brain dump” onto Post It Notes.

 I have also been using image cards from St.Lukes Resources which are beautiful and enable groups to explore visual metaphors. It is fascinating to see this change in my portfolio so I recognise that the Picasa albums are part of my Continuing Professional Development log as well as being a great way of helping groups to keep a visual record and from enabling me to politely say “no I don’t type up flipcharts but I do provide a visual record”. to see some of my albums

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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