Applying Learning in the Real World : Part 2 : What does it take for the magic to happen?

Meenu Iyer

Meenu Iyer

A Consultant at Vyaktitva. She jokes that she has turned grey doing Instructional Design. Her passion is to design and deliver Leadership programs that make an impact. In her books, learning should be fun and light, with serious outcomes.
She is best at working with a team and is also adept at building personal connects with learners in her programs. Singing her way through the day, baking and having a good time with friends and family are her go-to stress busters.

With all the “drama” going on in the confines of the room – the fear of change, resistance to give up comfortable and successful ways of working, the cynicism, the “know it all” attitudes, the low or absent ambition, the comfort in how things are, and more – can a facilitator hope to make some impact? The answer is a resounding yes. I use the word “drama” consciously though it may sound flippant; a facilitator can and must rise above all the invisible but omnipresent dynamics; and humour plays a great part here. Look at it as natural human drama and you don’t feel riled or impatient, you listen with an open mind, and respond with respect. Almost like being in a Nirvana state, right? Well it is not like I don’t feel anger or impatience with close-minded participants, but I’ve learned to not let it show. Doing that will be the death of any possible inroads I can make with them. And knowing who is sitting with what kind of mindsets is half the battle won. 

In fact, the possibility of influencing people to change begins from the moment a Learning Consultant starts engaging with the audience of a program and that is before the program begins. Analysis discussions are a great opportunity to identify the mindsets of the audience viz-a-viz learning, change, professional growth and personal drive. A Learning Consultant will do well to surface or seed discontent in a participant’s mind about his/her current professional development or abilities, and build anticipation, hope and excitement around the possibilities that the learning program will offer to the individual. These – anticipation, excitement and discontent – are powerful in opening the mind of the learners prior to the program. 

It would also be extremely beneficial to get the organization’s leadership to communicate about the learning opportunity as an important investment being made for professional growth of individuals and the ensuing expectations from learners. The “investment by the company in them” is a phrase I pull up whenever I feel I need to remind participants of expectations the organization has of them after the program. 

A lot can be said about the importance of setting up the program well with the audience. I spend good time on ensuring that my audience is reminded of the difference the program can make for them. I get them to identify their real leadership challenges that they would like to chip away at to become better leaders. I make their challenges the focus of the program, and that helps bridge the gap between knowledge and real-world application. These strategies have always given a huge dividend – i.e. the growing interest of the audience through a compelling “WIIFM” for every individual. 

I have found that reflection is an important activity in growing one’s capabilities. About 95% adult learners in my programs do not have a habit of daily, weekly or even monthly reflection. This is a habit worth kicking off in a learning program by a simple reflection activity at the end of every session that focuses on “What can I apply to deal with my challenge? What should I stop doing? What should I continue doing? And what difference will this make to my leadership?” Follow this with voluntary sharing by a few or (time permitting) all participants. This inspires the passive or cynical learners at some time in the program. And before learners leave ask them to identify three significant actions from that long list, they may have created during these reflection activities. Doing this creates a commitment to self that many people then go back and act on. 

The one ability of an inspiring facilitator is that he/she makes the content – the tools, frameworks and methods – talk to the real life of the participants. I’ve learned to make abstract content real by throwing in enough contextual examples where people can apply the constructs and sharing my own or other’s experiences of using the tools. I don’t limit the application to the workplace. I talk about and encourage thinking on how the application can happen in the world outside. Chances are many learners will get inspired to start using new learning at home or in their social lives outside the workplace and that’s a good enough start. Good habits will automatically flow into the workplace. 

When faced with that odd naysayer, close-minded or cynical learner, or that “I know it all” I’ve used different approaches to get them to open up. At times, I get their peer learners to present or share perspectives. I use lunch or tea breaks to connect with them one-on-one and influence them. I’ve encouraged them to think of a small thing they can start to do. There have been occasions where I’ve finally called out when a learner does not respond. 

A few final thoughts… 

The first is that opening my participants’ minds to accepting new ways of being a leader that may be contradictory to their current behaviours is absolutely essential. I talk about the need for being a lifelong learner to stay relevant to organisations. Setting up some key rules of being a lifelong learner is a ritual. These rules create a behavioural expectation from the participants. And as a facilitator, when faced with that odd naysayer, I pull these rules into the discussion. I’ve learned that doing the setup of these well is as important as having breakfast every day! It determines the health of the program. 

The second and perhaps the most important is to make it clear to your audience that the responsibility and ownership of making a difference to their lives is theirs and theirs alone. You are just facilitating the learning process and creating an inclusive, participative and fun environment. The onus of taking away learning to the workplace is on them. 

The final one is – show your own belief in the relevance and usefulness of every single piece of learning that comes up. Show respect for the insights that participants share. Do not invalidate any personal takeaways. This encourages people to think and share more. And this influences those sitting on the fence. 

I’m sure there are many other techniques that my colleagues and friends in the Facilitator fraternity would add to this list. These are my key ones. I hope some of my thoughts resonate with you dear reader.

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