Thursday, February 23, 2012


The people you will be training will be adults and will probably be from a variety of different backgrounds. This is an important point to make, as appropriate activities can be designed only when there is a clear understanding of the different approaches to learning adopted by adults.Adult learning is special in a number of ways. For example:
  • Adult learners bring a great deal of experience to the learning environment. This is an area that you can build on. Most participants will already have some experience of working in an organization, which they can draw from. Adults relate new knowledge and information to previously learnt information and experiences. Focus therefore on the strengths learners bring to the classroom, not just any gaps in their knowledge. Provide opportunities for dialogue within the group. Participants can be resources both for you and to each other.
  • Adults expect to have a high degree of influence over what they are to learn and how they learn. They also have a need to know why they should learn something. The adult has to consider it important to acquire the new skill, knowledge or attitude. Adults have a need to be self-directing. Engage the participants in a process of mutual enquiry. Avoid merely transmitting knowledge or expecting total agreement. Don’t ‘spoon-feed’ the participants.
  • Adult learners expect to have a high degree of influence on how learning will be evaluated. Adults also need to be able to see applications for new learning. It is therefore necessary to use methods that relate the learning experience to its application.
  • Adults expect their responses to be acted upon when asked for feedback on the progress of the programme.
  • Adults have pride. Remember that self-esteem and ego are at risk in a training environment that is not perceived as safe or supportive. People will not ask questions or participate in learning if they are afraid of being ‘put down’ or ridiculed. Allow people to admit confusion, ignorance and different opinions. Treat all questions and comments with respect. Avoid saying ‘I just covered that,’ when someone asks a repetitive question. Remember, the only foolish question is the unasked question.
As your participants will be adults, you need to take account of the issues noted above if your training is to achieve its intended outcomes.
The last of the key principles dealt with in this chapter relates to the cycle in which training should take place. This is referred to as the ‘training cycle’.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


When you try to learn something new, you will no doubt have realized that you prefer to learn in one or two particular ways. You may prefer to learn by listening to someone talk to you about the information, or you may prefer to read about a concept in order to learn it, or you may need to see a demonstration of the concept. Learning style theory proposes that different people learn in different ways and by understanding this concept, you can improve the learning intervention. ‘Learning styles’ is a term used to describe the attitudes and behaviours that determine an individual’s preferred way of learning. Because people learn in a variety of ways, your awareness of the four learning styles will assist you in understanding the learning needs of your participants. This information will enable you to create programmes that are effective learning sessions for all your participants, rather than just some of them.
Building on Kolb’s work on the learning cycle, identified four learning styles referred to as:
  1. Activist
  2. Reflector
  3. Theorist
  4. Pragmatist
Their work complements that of Kolb, as can be seen in Figure 1, where each of the learning styles can be matched with the stages in the learning cycle. Each of these is now explained below.
Figure 1: Learning styles

1. Activists

Activists take a ‘trial and error’ approach. They involve themselves fully and without bias in new learning experiences. They are open-minded, not sceptical. They tend to act first and consider the consequences afterwards. They enjoy the learning experience itself. They thrive on the challenge of new experiences. When dealing with activists remember that they learn best when:
  • involved in new experiences, problems and opportunities;
  • working with others in business games, team tasks, role playing;
  • being thrown in the deep end with a difficult task;
  • chairing meetings, leading discussions.
Activists learn less when:
  • listening to lectures or long explanations;
  • reading, writing or thinking on their own;
  • absorbing and understanding data;
  • following precise instruction to the le er.

2. Reflectors

Reflectors take a ‘wait and see’ approach. They like to contemplate about experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They spend a great deal of time and effort reflecting. They like to collect data and think about them carefully before coming to any conclusions. They enjoy observing others and will listen to their views before offering their own. When dealing with reflectors remember that they learn best when:
  • observing individuals or groups at work;
  • they have the opportunity to review what has happened and think about what they have learnt;
  • producing analyses and reports, doing tasks without tight deadlines.
Reflectors learn less when:
  • acting as leader or role playing in front of others;
  • doing things with no time to prepare;
  • being thrown in at the deep end;
  • being rushed or worried by deadlines.

3. Theorists

Theorists take an ‘I want to understand this first’ approach. They adapt and integrate observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step, logical way. They are good at making connections and abstracting ideas from experience. They tend to be perfectionists who like to fit things into a rational scheme. They tend to be detached and analytical rather than subjective or emotive in their thinking. When dealing with theorists remember that they learn best when:
  • they are put in complex situations where they have to use their skills and knowledge;
  • they are in structured situations with clear purpose;
  • they are offered interesting ideas or concepts even though they are not immediately relevant;
  • they have the chance to question and probe ideas behind things.
Theorists learn less when:
  • they have to participate in situations that emphasize emotion and feelings;
  • the activity is unstructured or briefing is poor;
  • they have to do things without knowing the principles or concepts involved;
  • they feel they’re out of tune with the other participants, eg with people of very different learning styles.

4. Pragmatists

Pragmatists take an ‘I want to try this out’ approach. They are keen to try out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions and enjoy the planning stage. They tend to be impatient with lengthy discussions and are practical and down to earth. When dealing with pragmatists remember that they learn best when:
  • there is an obvious link between the topic and job;
  • they have the chance to try out techniques with feedback, eg role-playing;
  • they are shown techniques with obvious advantages, eg saving time;
  • they are shown a model they can copy, eg a film or a respected boss.
Pragmatists learn less when:
  • there is no obvious or immediate benefit that they can recognize;
  • there is no practice or guidelines on how to do it;
  • there is no apparent pay back to the learning, eg shorter meetings;
  • the event or learning is ‘all theory’.
Honey and Mumford devised a questionnaire to assess an individual’s learning style, referred to as the ‘learning styles questionnaire’. Where possible and practical, allowing participants the opportunity to complete this questionnaire prior to beginning training will generate information that will enhance your ability to deliver effective training.
The third key principle relates to the age of the participants. This factor is important, as the employees you are training are adult learners; adults learn differently than children, implying a number of key factors which need to be considered when designing and delivering training programmes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


  • Concrete experience: In your role as trainer you need to provide suitable experiences for the participants from which they can learn. Practice elements within system skills training provide this type of opportunity.
  • Observation and reflection: If participants are to learn from the experience, it is important that they are given the opportunity to review the experience. We are o en too busy ensuring we complete all the material to give the time for participants to reflect on what has been learnt from the experience. You can use the following as prompts to facilitate this learning, particularly when you have completed a practice element with the participants: What have you just done? Could you have handled what you just did differently? Have you been in a similar situation previously?
  • Note to trainers: Consider using a camcorder for these exercises and allow the participants to critique the learning activity. If a camcorder is unavailable consider se ing up triads/small groups to reflect and discuss the activity
  • Abstract conceptualization: Participants then need to be provided with the opportunity to draw some conclusions from reviewing their experiences, if learning is to occur. Questions they can ask themselves include: What have I learnt from this? What could I have done differently?
  • Note to trainers: Consider conducting this as a flipchart exercise in small groups, where the group is tasked with the activity of highlighting the top three Key Learning Points that they have taken from the activity.
  • Active experimentation: In order to do things better the next time, the participants need to have a plan of how to put into action what they have learnt. You should encourage them to state what they would do next time.
Plan to ‘chase’ the learner round the cycle, asking questions that encourage Reflection, Conceptualization, and ways of testing the ideas formed during the experience.

Friday, February 10, 2012

THE LEARNING CYCLE | System skills training

The idea that people learn in different ways has been explored over the last few decades, by many researchers. Kolb is one of the most influential of these. His experiential learning cycle is recognized as being one of the cornerstones of understanding how individuals learn effectively. With his colleagues, he found that individuals begin with their preferred style in the experiential learning cycle (see Figure 1). Participants can easily become bored if the training approaches used during the session only tap into one learning style. Kolb’s research found that people learn in four ways, with the likelihood that they will develop one mode of learning more than another. As shown in the experiential learning cycle model, learning occurs through four key areas:
  1. concrete experience (doing);
  2. observation and reflection (reviewing);
  3. abstract conceptualization (concluding);
  4. active experimentation (planning).

    Image from book 
    Figure 1: Kolb’s learning cycle
This cycle suggests that there are four stages, which follow from each other. Concrete Experience, which is having an experience, is followed by a personal Reflection on that experience, or time to think about what just happened. This may then be followed by learning from the experience, or the application of known theories to it – Abstract Conceptualization. This then leads to the construction of ways of modifying the next occurrence of the experience, Active Experimentation; leading in turn to the next Concrete Experience. All this may happen in a flash or over days, weeks or months, depending on the topic, and there may be a ‘wheels within wheels’ process at the same time.
The four stages in the cycle are mutually dependent and in your role as trainer you can benefit by building time for each of the four elements into your training programme. Essentially, good learning design should ensure that each learning activity has i) an experience of some kind, ii) time for facilitated reflection, iii) time for facilitated conclusion and, iv) an opportunity to plan the use of the experience in practice.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Coaching tends to be a popular form of development for customer service representatives. The general methods of formal coaching and mentoring involve:
  • si ing alongside the agent listening to calls;
  • one-to-ones;
  • listening remotely or to recordings and providing feedback;
  • coach and agent jointly listening to recordings;
  • mentoring – a more experienced agent giving feedback;
  • a roving coach providing ad hoc feedback;
  • coach and team members all listening to recordings;
  • buddying;
  • peer coaching;
  • informal coaching;
  • self-coaching.

Sitting alongside the adviser

‘Sitting by Nellie’ is a term o en associated with coaching and teaching someone how to do a job. It enables the coach and the learner to observe each other and to listen in to calls. In other industries there is a requirement for physical proximity because of the need to observe performance; however, in contact centres, information and communications technology allows remote listening and feedback.

One-to-one coaching

Not all coaching should be provided in public spaces such as at the workstation. There are many circumstances where it is advisable to conduct the coaching session in private. The presence of other people can inhibit both the coach and the learner and prevent true rapport from being developed. There should be a dedicated coaching room(s) with the necessary equipment, furnished to make it a relaxed environment.
Listening to recordings helps to highlight things that may not be noticed:
A lot of the time it isn’t what they say, it’s the tone in which they say it. . . I play something and I’ll just stop it and say, ‘Shall we listen to that again?’, rewind it and then they’ll go, ‘I didn’t know I said it like that’. It makes them analyse themselves and really wake up to their mistakes.’ (Taylor, 1998: 93).

Listening remotely

Listening remotely to a call can be done with or without the knowledge of the adviser and its use will o en depend on work practices and culture. Some advisers will not be unduly concerned that someone is listening in to their calls while others may become so anxious that it may affect their performance.
Where this form of surveillance is used without informing the adviser it is hard not to consider it a ‘Big Brother’ tactic. If the purpose is to continually keep advisers ‘on their toes’, this suggests that the organization does not fully trust the advisers to produce a professional performance.
Where remote listening is carried out with the knowledge of the adviser it can be a very helpful means of coaching and encouraging performance. It is not intrusive to the customer and provides the opportunity for rapid feedback and guidance as soon as the call is completed.


Mentoring is o en undertaken between a more experienced senior person and one with fewer skills and experience. In many organizations the two people o en work in different departments and do not have direct daily interaction. In this way, the relationship can be more open and supportive than if one had direct operational responsibility for the other.

The roaming coach

Many coaches spend some of their time walking the floor and providing support at the advisers’ desks and this can be systematically timetabled as well as being impromptu. The benefit of the latter is that coaching and feedback can be directly related to a particular need, eg after a challenging call. Also, the potential for learning is high if it is close in time to a specific issue. Coaches ‘walking the floor’ also give advisers the opportunity to seek more informal assistance than arranging a formal coaching session.

Coach and team members listen to recordings

Coaching need not be purely one-to-one. Weekly team meetings provide good opportunities to listen to recordings as a group, with colleagues giving advice and recommendations about how to address specific issues, eg a difficult caller or problem. On the whole, it is better to choose incidents that have relevance to the whole team rather than one person.


Buddying is a popular and widely used form of coaching, with 75 per cent of centres using this method (Dimension Data, 2005: 209). It is also particularly successful with new employees who are sometimes paired with experienced advisers for the first six months of employment to provide advice and support. To increase motivation, incentive payments have been made to mentors if the new recruit remains with the organization for a minimum period of time (Income Data Services, 2004).

Informal coaching

Coaching can also occur informally and in many contact centres the CSRs sit in close proximity. This is o en in the form of pods, which consist of about eight to 10 people working in a circle facing one another. This physical structure enables less experienced operators to temporarily interrupt the call and seek advice and information from their colleagues.

Coaching oneself

Self-monitoring during a call is a skill used by all experienced advisers as a means of assessing how well they are conducting the conversation with the caller. Advisers can also reflect on a call after it has happened and mentally replay language, tone and fluency to identify what went well and what could have gone be er.
Recorded conversations can also be used by advisers to monitor, assess and develop themselves through listening again to calls and assessing their own performance figures. Visual computer analysis of calls can also be used to highlight where the adviser interrupts, speaks over the caller, etc.
The benefits of self-coaching are that it is less threatening and allows the learners to self-monitor, which will develop a continuous reflection of their behaviour. If this is carried out successfully it reduces the load on the team leader.
Making available call performance recordings and data to the adviser may at first appear threatening; however, if it is done in a spirit of learning and trust then this can be a very successful way of encouraging development.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Coaching is not criticism

Coaching is generally regarded as a form of constructive one-to-one development that involves identifying areas where performance is not up to the required standard and developing agreed solutions to address the performance gap. Unfortunately, coaching delivered in the wrong manner or through an inappropriate system can be perceived negatively by the learner. In fact, even genuine coaching can be interpreted negatively by the learner and so it should be approached professionally.
Another area of concern is the use of the term ‘coaching’ when what is actually meant is ‘criticism’. This use of the word ‘coaching’ as a so form of criticism or discipline corrupts and degrades the original meaning of the word and thus undermines those who coach in an ethical and professional manner.
It is essential to separate coaching from performance evaluation because the two processes have very different purposes. Coaching may involve an assessment of a person’s skills but the main objective is about development and improvement of performance. Performance assessment connected to salary or other forms of ranking should be completely separated from the coaching process.
The most satisfactory solution to this is to ensure that the person doing the coaching is not involved with performance assessment or grading. In this way the relationship is not compromised; however, in many organizations the team leader who provides input on performance is also the coach. Encouraging the team leader to be a coach is entirely logical and practical, but this structural arrangement may also mean there is a conflict of interest and roles.
The reasons for separating grading and coaching are obvious. For successful coaching to happen there needs to be trust and a true rapport between the coach and learner. If learners feel that their performance is also being assessed and that this may impact upon salary or other benefits they will feel inhibited about admitting limitations and mistakes, etc.

Coaching the coaches

In many organizations there are trained and dedicated coaches whose main purpose is to support and develop employees. But o en the role of coaching falls within the remit of the team leader or manager who may have extensive knowledge and skills but who does not necessarily have experience of coaching. The problem is that team leaders get promoted because they are good at their job, not necessarily because they are good at managing and leading. For these reasons, there should be general management training for team leaders and this should include coaching them how to coach. In particular, induction training for team leaders should include coaching skills.

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