5 Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Bury Instructor Led Training Yet

It has become a very popular hobby among L&D professionals to bash Instructor Led Training (ILT) at the profit of social learning, self paced learning or even individual coaching.

There is no doubt that new technology based forms of learning are great in the way that they allow learners to use new interfaces that sometimes fit their learning style and lifestyle  better. There is also no doubt that coaching is an extremely powerful, highly personalised development approach.However, this does not mean that our ancient ILT was never effective or “just doesn’t work for digital natives”(sic) or “goes against adult learning principles.”(sic)

When I read or hear this, I really wonder what kind of ILT people have been attending or have been facilitating. If done properly, ILT can be a very effective part of someone’s development.

1. ILT allow participants to share experiences with one another with someone to facilitate the exchange and help them debrief these experiences in order to identify learning points. They can also sometimes learn by listening someone else’s question, and subsequent discussion,that they had not thought of.

2. ILT allow participants to confront their perspective to others. Someone from the HR function might discuss empathy very differently than someone from Information Security and they will both build a better understanding of the business by being exposed to each others perspective.

3. Being exposed to different perspectives and mental models also builds can also be a good way to build acceptance of diversity of others but also assertiveness when debating with people with different opinions.

4. ILT are a great place to network. Participants often get a chance to meet colleagues they would never meet otherwise or meet peers from other organizations.

5. ILT can also be a good occasion for intact teams to step back from every day operations and spend time together developing skills that will enable the team to work better.

So, is ILT only way to develop new skills? No.

Are technology based learning systems useful? Yes.

Are other forms of development like coaching, group process facilitation and mentoring also useful? Yes.

The only thing I hope the L&D community moves away from is the either/or mentality. Effective development initiatives are the ones that understand how to blend different  methods in order to achieve real development.

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To Be or Not to Be…Reachable


I have been having this discussion more and more often recently, and reading quite a few more articles than before.

A lot of people I interact with today complain that they are expected to be reachable 24x7x365 by their employer and/or customers. My question to them is : “Why do you accept this, if you don’t want it?” to which the answer invariably is that not answering one’s phone on a weekend or late at night my result in getting poor performance review or losing a client. Is this a fact or is this an assumption people make?

My point of view on this topic is that of both an employer AND a consultant whose livelihood depends on building effective relationships with existing and potential clients in India and around the world.

Personally, I have never seen anyone being passed for promotion, or lose business, because they did not answer a phone call. The huge majority of employer judge employees by the quality of their results and customers judge service/product providers by the impact their service/product has of their business, NOT by the fact that one did or did not pick up their phone.

Most of the time, I am told that this is cultural. “It’s okay in the West as you have laws to protect your personal time, but Indian bosses/customers will consider not picking up the phone as a sign of disrespect.” Really? After 13 years in this country both as an employee and as an owner of a consulting firm, I can firmly say that this is not true. I have never lost business because I didn’t pick up a call on a Sunday or late at night. Once again, it might be culturally accepted for people to call each other for business purposes outside working hours but whether YOU pick up or not is on YOU, not your culture. It’s a question of being assertive enough to set the right expectations.

My assumption is that people feel the need to pick up the phone anytime to overcome their own insecurities. It makes them feel important and indispensable. I also think that for some people, they create this expectation of availability as a way to compensate for a lack of a fulfilling personal life that they can then blame on others.”It’s not my fault i am not free for family time, it’s my boss’ fault.” Isn’t it convenient to use work as a justification not to go to this distant relatives wedding or not to take the kids down to the park?

If someone answers all emails and messages within a five minute period, whatever the time of day or day of the week, of course that others will expect them to always be available. The same goes for calls at ungodly hours.

Fair enough, there are some industries that necessitate 24×7 availability to customers, like tech support or companies that provide critical infrastructure for other companies to run their business. However, these companies have answered this by making sure they have intervention teams working in shifts, NOT by asking its managers to be personally on call 24×7.

If you are one of these people who feel stressed out because they are expected to be reachable at all times, ask yourself these questions: “How did your company do before you had a smartphone?” “Would the business collapse if you forgot your phone somewhere for a day or if you were out of reach?” “Would I pick up if this was my wedding day and if not why is it different today?” “If your business needs someone to be operational 24×7, what can you do to make sure this load is spread evenly among different people or teams?”

The best way, in my opinion to handle this issue is to model the behaviour you expect. If you don’t call people on weekends, chances are they wont either, except in case of emergency. This also means that you must define what an emergency is along with the people you work with…and then define with them what is an emergency.

At the end of the day, people will not respect your personal time if you don’t respect it yourself. You reap what you sow…

Remember BUSY stands for Because You Say Yes.

PS: I just read that some companies actually disable email on all company issued smartphones from 6:30pm to 7:00am

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The Single Most Important Thing HR Must Get Right

Cartoon by Tom Cheney

Purpose. In my opinion, this is the single most important thing that HR needs to get right as the effectiveness of everything else it does depends on it.

Without a clear understanding of its own higher intent it is bound to remain an event management function organizing ad-hoc recruitment drives, training programs and irrelevant R&R policies.In my experience, this understanding of the bigger picture is very often lacking in HR departments, especially at the execution levels. This lack of strategic thinking often makes HR no more than a support function to the operations instead of being a fully participating business function.

What does the HR function want to achieve and why?

In a recent #indiahrchat with Debjani Ghosh, MD Intel India, on “Strengthening the relationship between the C-suite and HR“, a lot of participants were pointing out that the C-Suite rarely gave HR as much importance as it gave to Sales or Operations. My question is: “Who’s responsible for this?” HR can go on complaining about this or actually make the C-suite notice by becoming a strategic partner instead of just another cost center. And to do this, in my opinion, HR must know where it wants to go, why and how that aligns, or not, with the overall business strategy.

“Culture eats Strategy for breakfast” apparently said Peter Drucker. HOW the organizations operates precedes and sets a framework for WHAT it must do. If  we consider this true, then HR is responsible for engaging in, sometimes, difficult conversations with the business itself to help it realize some of its unrealistic expectations. But for this to happen, HR needs to understand its own purpose.

If HR wants to have a seat at the c-suite table and receive the same respect then the traditionally revenue generating functions it must be comfortable in the fact that they might not always agree. A clear sense of purpose can only help them in making their expectations clear to the business in order for both of them to define a way to work together that will validate the organization;s culture AND the business imperatives.

With a clear sense of purpose, the HR function will better be able to build and tell a compelling story that which will make it, hopefully, lose the derogatory nickname of (in)Human Resources.

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Assertiveness continued – Saying NO

Image courtesy of: https://seanwes.com

A lot of people apprehend saying no to other people’s request when they are already busy with their own important work, especially in highly relationship oriented cultures. The main reason quoted is that saying no is disrespectful to the other person or can show a lack of willingness to collaborate.

No can indeed sound rude if you actually have the time and expertise to help the person that comes to you for support. However, if you really cannot help the other, saying no is about setting boundaries, and it doesn’t have to be rude.

Here’s a simple approach too saying that I have been using for many years and that people in the different cultures I have worked with, all agreed can work without being offensive.

1. Listen

2. Appreciate them for thinking that you can help

3. Say no.

4. Explain why

5. Offer alternatives

Once again, it all starts with how well you listen, or not. If the other person feels – and remember that they are the best judge as to whether you have listened to them or not – you haven’t listened, the rest becomes futile

Here’s an example. One of my peers comes to my desk to ask me whether I could take the time to discuss with them some execution issue he/she is facing with project XYZ.

Me: ” If I understand properly, you would like me to spend some time with you to discuss this execution issue that you have with project XYZ, is that right?”

Peer: ” That’d be great.”

Me: Thanks for thinking that I could help you with that, I really appreciate it and I;d love to help out. However, I am tied up with a presentation I need to finish for client ABC before lunch, do you think we could sit down together sometime this afternoon?”

Now you tell me, reader, is this rude? Does this show an unwillingness to help?

I have asked the same question to groups in France, the USA, Germany, India, China, Singapore and Australia and they all told me that this was neither rude nor a sign of unwillingness to cooperate. So what is the problem? In my opinion, a lack of assertiveness because a lot of us think that if we put our needs at the same level as other people’s needs we will negatively impact our relationship with them.

Now, of course, this 5 step approach may not work when you need to refuse your boss as he/she usually knows what you are working on. The best way to deal with superiors that have unrealistic expectations concerning your capacity to deliver is to ask them to help you prioritize your different assignments.

Supervisor: ” Guillaume, could you please get me extract the performance data of project ABC and send it to me.”

Me: “Sure, would be glad to help. Before I  attend to it, I’d just like to understand how much of a priority this task is compared to the other 3 tasks that you have asked me to work on. Could you help me prioritize them, please.”

In my experience, this works with a huge majority of people. Most managers, know that there is only so many hours in a day and that if they want you to work well – remember their performance appraisal depends not only on the quantity of work you do but on the quality of the work you do – there’s only so much you can do in a day. I stress the fact that MOST managers are aware of this. Indeed there will always be a minority of managers that think that slave driving works better. According to my observation, this is a dying breed and they are rarely the most successful managers.

To conclude, I am not advocating for people to say no to each other all the time. I am just saying that saying no does not have to be a traumatic event in my relationship to others, if we have a good reason to refuse them.

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Assertiveness Across Cultures

ImageCourtesy: http://www.dilbert.com

Following my recent post on “4 Steps to Assertiveness? Not That Simple“, my dear friend and revered interculturalist, Dianne Hofner Saphiere  posted the following comment:

“Dear Guillaume, in my experience perceptions of “assertiveness” are extremely culturally relative and, thus, should be handled carefully. After working for years in East Asia, for example, my “proud and powerful” presentation stye was perceived by non-Asians as insecure, lacking in confidence and self esteem—which it was most certainly was not. I would add a caution that people not to jump to conclusions about someone’s self esteem due to perceptions of assertiveness. When we speak up, how, with what body language, are closely linked to respect values, harmony and truth values, collectivism and individualism values, as well as assertiveness. Thanks!”

Dear Dianne, as i was saying in my reply to your comment, I cannot agree more. Culture definitely has a huge impact on how people perceive assertive behaviors, body language and words used. So culture impacts HOW we can be assertive, but, in my opinion (and this might be the universalist frenchman and egalitarian blended culture person in me talking) not WHY we decide to be assertive or not.

If assertiveness is a consequence of the individual’s belief that his/her opinion, ideas, contribution is potentially as valuable as anyone else’s, assertiveness is personal thing. If we link this back to Geert Hofstede‘s 3 Levels of Mental Programming, culture will create expectations towards what is acceptable assertive behavior but personality is where assertive behavior happens , or not.

As Dianne so rightly says, there are different  cultural values that can impact how we can be assertive across cultures and the level of tolerance that certain cultural groups might have towards assertive behavior.

Individualistic cultures tend to give a lot of value to assertiveness.  I remember my father telling me when i was a teenager: “If you need/want something, say so, otherwise nobody will do it for you.” This does not mean that cultures with collectivistic values do not tolerate assertiveness but any expression of personal need that is not also linked to to the well-being of the group might be perceived as arrogant, especially if the the pronoun “I” is used too often.

Body language and communication style also playa big role in the perception of assertiveness across cultures, especially in high power distance ones. When I first started working in India I could feel that my habit of giving eye contact equally to anyone when greeting and speaking with them was often perceived as threatening and disrespectful by some of my more traditional bosses. What I have learned to do is to make my point in a less direct way and also by playing down eye contact and my hand gestures. The cultural expectations of the environment I was in had an impact of my style, not on the substance of my message.

Finally, I have to agree with Dianne, again, that what we perceive in others might not be a good gauge of how assertive people are or not as we might be reading things wrong and there might be a lot more happening that we do not see straight away when dealing with people that might seem passive to us.

As a guideline, I keep Dianne’s wisdom close to my mind all the time: suspend judgment, assume positive intention, interpret behavior with what you know of the cultural values of others and then decide how you want to deal with the situation.

Thank you Dianne for being such a incredible guru. What I have learned from you is key to my success. 🙂

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Join us for the People Skills Twitter Chat “Assertiveness and People Skills”


I am honored to announce that I will be co-hosting the next #peopleskills chat with Kate Nasser, next Sunday 6 October 10am EDT / 2:30pm GMT / 7pm IST / 9:30pm SST

The topic of this week’s #peopleskills chat, based on my latest blog post, is “Assertiveness and People Skills

Background on This Chat Topic

People often think of people skills as the opposite of assertiveness. Not true!! This belief may flourish when defining assertiveness as getting what you want. Well that isn’t what assertiveness really is.

Q1: What is assertiveness?

Q2: How do you feel around an assertive person?

Q3: What role does listening play in assertiveness?

Q4: How do assertiveness and aggressiveness differ?

Q5: Can we be assertive and compassionate? Pls. explain.

Q6: What impact does culture have on assertiveness?

Q7: What are consequences of too much/not enough assertiveness?

Q8: How can organizations benefit from an assertive workforce?

Q9: How can we practice assertiveness for great #peopleskills?

These are just a few questions to get us thinking before we begin the people skills chat this Sunday!

So bring your personal perspective, your favorite beverage, and join us from around the globe this Sunday Oct. 6, 2013 at 10am EDT / 2:30pm GMT / 7pm IST / 930pm SST— to explore Assertiveness and People skills.

– See more at: http://katenasser.com/people-skills-chat-assertiveness/#sthash.vKLA4tIS.dpuf

See you there!


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4 Steps to Being More Assertive? Not That Simple


In my (almost) 15 years of experience, I have conducted numerous interventions around the topic of assertiveness with different industries, different geographies and different demographics. In all these interventions the most common expectation I have heard from learners is “I want to be more assertive so that I can have my way more often.” And that’s what most people get wrong. Assertiveness is not about getting your way; it’s about being able to create a conversation with others in order to understand how you can possibly approach a certain issue in a way that meets everybody’s needs.

Assertiveness is not about the outcome, it is about having the conversation.

2 things are critical to understand in order to be assertive:

The first one is that one’s ability to be assertive is a direct consequence of your self-esteem. Do you truly believe that your opinion, mental model and/or point of view is valuable but also that everyone else’s opinions, mental models, point of views are as legitimate and valuable as yours. People with low self-esteem will often end up pushing their way, at the expense of others, to compensate or let others impose their opinions/ideas on them to avoid difficult conversations.

The second one is linked to how we communicate. Since people’s perception is the reality on which they base their behavior towards us, how we communicate is a critical aspect of how assertive we are perceived to be. There are a few simple things to keep in mind to communicate assertively:

1. Listen. If others don’t feel listened to, they will often think that you do not really care about their needs and could perceive you as aggressive for it. Remember that the best judge of whether listening happened or not is the sender NOT the receiver, so don’t hesitate to paraphrase or rephrase to show you have listened and understood.

2. Be specific. the more unambiguous your message, the easier it is for other people to understand what you need. For example the word “flexible” (possibly one of the most overused word in the corporate world) could mean very different things to different people. What flexibility do you need? Flexibility in working hours, flexibility in process, etc?

3. Describe behavior not people.  For example, “Could you please be more organized.” is a judgment on the person and will, most of the time, make others defensive. Whereas, “I would like to better understand your filing system so that I can find the relevant documents without having to bother you.” is not an attack on the person but a statement of your need.

4. Use “I” statements  when expressing your needs. Take control of what you say. Using “You” statements makes the other person responsible for the need you are expressing and , there again, will often put them on the defensive. For example, “I needed this document from you yesterday and did not get it. Did you meet with any problem? Is there anything I can do to make this happen as I need to send this out before lunch.” instead of “You did not send me the document you were supposed to.”

These 4 basic communication principles will allow others to see your willingness to take their needs into account while also making your needs to them explicit, which is the basis for assertiveness. However, it starts with step one: do you really believe that everyone, including yourself, is valuable?

Source for image: http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/

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Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water – Rehabilitating The Ego

Ego bashing has been a very popular sport for the past few years, and honestly, I find that a bit puzzling.

In my opinion, a person’s ego, when teamed up with a clear sense of purpose, is what drives to get up and get things done. People don’t get out of bed for the pleasure of it but because they are driven by their ego to achieve something that will make their life better, whatever that may be.


What I will concede easily, is that being too ego-centric, can be destructive. Just like anything that is TOO: too friendly, too data driven, too flexible, etc. At the end of the day, none of us work completely on our own and we sometimes need to put our own needs and desires on a back burner to enable others to succeed…because that’s what is going to make us successful too, but it doesn’t mean that we stop being driven by our own sense of purpose and our own objectives

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Handling Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations 2Pressed Difficult Conversations from Rory C Trotter on Something Different HR Blog

I agree with Rory that a managers’ ability to have these difficult conversations is key to an organization’s success. The thing is: easier said than done.

So how can managers, or anyone for that matter, approach these conversations in a way that will create a positive outcome rather than a negative one that could impact the relationship. The 3 skills below are taken from Doug Stone and Bruce Patton’s Handling Difficult Conversations book. The golden skills are no silver bullet, but if practiced regularly can become a very effective way to deal with difficult conversations.

Difficult conversations are usually made even more difficult because of a lack of specific information/data and because they often end in a blame game. At the end of the day, no one has the legitimacy, even at work, to judge me as a person. However, managers are legitimate in assessing my performance.

1. Inquire. Ask how they see the situation, using as open ended questions as possible. This will provide you with relevant contextual information about how the other person sees whatever situation you need to discuss. Moreover, it shows that you are care enough about them to be willing to include them in solving the issue.

2. Acknowledge. Remember that the only judge as to whether you listened to someone is that someone, not you. Acknowledging shows you care about the other person point of view, makes sure you have understood it properly AND reassures them that they were listened to. There is a perfect example about the importance of acknowledging. We have all attended important one on one discussions before where the other person is typing away as we speak. What impression did this make on you? Did you feel listened to? The thing is, the other person might have listened and understood you, but because of the lack of acknowledgment, you probably left the room unsure as to whether you message really went through.

3. Advocate. Now comes the time to actually say what you have to say. In my opinion, this is the one most people struggle. People are entitle to express their opinions but they must be careful not to pass these opinions as absolute fact. Saying that “we must do this” or “You have to do that” closes the door on any differing opinion from  yours, and literally shuts the conversation down. This is what makes these conversations even difficult. One person’s or manager’s  opinion is based on his/her observation and facts that they have access to. Nobody is omniscient so nobody has an absolute answer, especially when working in highly complex environments like today’s corporate world. A more successful way to advocate is actually to acknowledge this. “In my opinion, ….” or “Based on my observation/the facts I gathered…”

The timing of advocacy is crucial. the underlying principle behind these 3 skills is that others will, usually, be more willing to listen to you once you have listened to them first. However, and that’s where mindfulness is important, if you realise that people are not ready to accept your opinion yet, go back to Inquiry to open them up and to identify potential other issues that might be impacting your conversation.

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Diversity and Inclusion in Indian organizations

My IndiaHRLive talk show with Nisha Raghavan on Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. This was supposed to be a panel but Ester Martinez, Co-founder of People Matters, could not attend due to technical difficulties.

Posted in Business, Culture, Diversity, Diversity & Inclusion, HR, Leadership, Organizational Culture, Recruitment, Training | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment