#117: 5 Things I learned about building an organization from teaching a college class

My career in the P&G organization gave me exposure to some of the best training available, and I like to think that as trainers go I was reasonably effective, but since January, I learned you’re never too old to improve.

Organization, Class

For the past 17 weeks, I was privileged to teach a class in Sales and Sales Management at a local university. I taught the same class last year. That group of 18 students was dwarfed by this year’s class of 33.

My class this year taught me a lot about effective training and development that has direct application to how we train and develop employees.

Here are five things I learned from the class this year that will help you build your organization:

1) Size matters. One of the important objectives in my class is to have a high level of student engagement in the form of questions and discussion. Last year’s smaller class had a couple of people who tended to start discussions, and that led others into engaging. However, with the larger class, it was much more difficult to get the level of engagement I desired. Even with a couple of outgoing people, it wasn’t enough to open the discussion floodgates.

Lesson for us. If you are leading a group of people, and you really want to engage your employees in a robust discussion, do it in smaller groups. You may have to have several smaller group discussions to engage with everyone, but it will lead to far more robust discussions, and that will help you build your organization.

2) Lectures are boring. The class is three hours long. In the average class, I spent about 90 minutes in lecture time covering two chapters, with a break in-between chapters. The rest of the time is taken up with a quiz and case discussion.  As brilliant as I am as a lecturer, covering the same material as they read in the textbook, led some students to disengage. The one thing students did appreciate was stories and examples from real life that underscored and reinforced the teaching.

Lesson for us. People don’t learn when they are bored. If you are leading a training session in your organization don’t be boringly repetitive like I was. Make your lecture time stand apart and reinforce the learning. Tell stories or give real-life examples to bring the academic to life.

3) Practice is fun. The feedback from the class indicated that some of the most helpful times were when we conducted role-playing exercises designed to put into practice some aspect of the teaching. The entire class would observe as students took turns in a role play. That brought real meaning to the teaching; they suddenly had to do what they had read in the textbook. There is a big difference between reading about handling buyer objections and actually doing it!

Lesson for us. If your training involves an action you want employees to learn, then find a way to let them practice. Even though it is just a role-play people will learn far more from practicing. I’m going to add a lot more role-play practice into my class next year.

4) Some people are more determined to succeed than others. The first night of class I asked every student to fill out a card with some basic information including what grade they hoped to achieve in the class. Part of my job as their instructor is to help them achieve their goal. Not surprising the vast majority of students hoped to earn an “A”. Not everyone achieved their goal grade.

Lesson for us. In every organization, there are employees who will step-up and do what it takes to succeed, to achieve their goals. The hard truth is as much as some employees want to climb the ladder, they aren’t willing to do what it takes to earn it. As a leader, the best thing you can do is help people find work opportunities where their passions will help them reach the level of success they deserve.

5) Be sensitive to special situations. Several members of the class were faced with very difficult personal situations over the course of the semester. Some were athletes in the midst of challenging competitions. Some were involved in other activities that helped them grow as individuals and leaders in their field. The point is people have a lot on their plates, and yes, you could be hard-nosed about your company and your work being more important than anything else. But really, what will you gain by being a jerk, versus what will you gain by supporting people who are dealing with personal difficulties encouraging? What will you gain by encouraging people to develop personally and professionally?

Lesson for us. In a group of any size, there are bound to be issues that affect some employee’s personal performance. Be sensitive to their needs. Be understanding and help an employee through a difficult time. Encourage them to grow and develop. The end result will be better, more loyal employees.

Join the conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Which of these five lessons resonates with you? What advice do you have to increase the effectiveness of training?

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Category: Skills | Human Resource Development

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4 thoughts on “#117: 5 Things I learned about building an organization from teaching a college class

  1. Ron- I’ve taught a couple of college classes before and can relate to your observations. I move around quite a bit as I speak and would single different students out and ask “What do you think.” You’re right though, engagement can vary. Small groups are easier. Also, I loathe poorly done power points. Folks who put up a lot of text and bullet points. I learned from a coworker the value of using images, interesting quotes, short video clips to illustrate a point. We live in a culture accustomed to entertainment and social media. Reaching them requires some facility with media. Thanks- great post.

    • John,
      You and I have the same opinion of poorly designed Powerpoint. You should see some of what is provided that goes along with some of the textbooks! I’ve reduced the word count, and removed dozens of the corniest graphics – I missed correcting a slide or two and the class laughed – they are a bit too sophisticated to be engaged with corny graphics and motion paths!

  2. Good one Ron…this is so true in business as well. I had very similar experiences training managers at P&G. If they’re bored, they won’t engage, if they’re entertained, and put in a position where they have to take an active role in the training (roleplaying) they will enthusiastically engage.

    • Mark,

      You would think I would have learned these lessons along the way, but I keep finding new ways to reapply those lessons. I will do a lot more role play next semester – and would love to have talented guests (hint) whenever they are in town!