Some lessons learned from sustainability and CSR training

After a few years designing, organising and delivering training workshops on corporate responsibility in various countries, here’s a few thoughts below on making CR/sustainability training work well.

Mostly it’s based on things I have got wrong. But that’s how I learn.

I find success doesn’t teach you much, other than complacency. 

These are lessons learned from leading and attending workshops for a variety of managers, from CSR and sustainability, to compliance, quality assurance, marketing, strategy, operations and communications.

I’ve also taken a few from my teaching at Birkbeck, University of London, where I teach postgraduate working students from 25-80, many of whom are corporate executives.

The below tips are a mix of experiences from both offline and online training: 

  1. Less is more

    The old adage of “tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them” is a useful one to remember.

    In my experience, you can only get a few core messages across at most, even in a couple of days.

    Trainees get more out of it if you help them develop ways of thinking rather than lots of facts.

    There’s an old teaching cliche about the teacher learning, not the students. Important to remember that one.

  2. Stories and examples work best

    The case study is still a vitally important part of any training. We all love to hear about big brands, and what they have got right, wrong and then sometimes right again.

    But stories of individual managers or how a team managed an issue are really important and more useful. In my view a mix of the two works best. Here’s a related book suggestion.

    Whilst the ‘brand story’ is always compelling, the actions of the people involved helps us understand what we might or could do in similar situations.

    I use a technique that operates like this: “here’s a real life dilemma, work out a small group plan to tackle it. Then let’s talk about what really happened”. It works really well.

  3. But real life managers work better….

    Lots of training doesn’t utilise the power of the present individual.

    By that I mean a guy or girl who has really done it, and who is happy to talk about what went wrong, their own mistakes, and how they and others, managed to fix things, or sometimes didn’t.

    It’s hard to find people confident enough to be this honest, they need to be older usually, but when you find them, they are worth their weight in gold.

  4. Pictures are really important

    This is a truism. But lots of training materials I have seen fail to utilise them properly.

    There’s nothing like a full screen picture of something compelling, people-based or otherwise, to build a narrative around and to make a simple point stick with an audience.

    Using pictures only, as in this presentation, or this one is scary for the presenter. But when you learn your lines to accompany them, it’s really powerful.

  5. Too much sitting back doesn’t work

    I’ve made this mistake many a time in the past. You think a morning of presentations followed by group work in the afternoons, for example, will do the job.

    I’m no longer sure that’s true.

    People start playing with their phones after 20-30 minutes these days. Modern technology has provided too much choice and it is affecting concentration levels badly.

    There’s a simple solution here for face to face training: Break up the programme and change things every 20-30 minutes to add in some interaction.

    When it comes to online, that’s harder. I currently run an online training course with 70 managers taking part, and solving this problem is a constant conundrum.

    We use discussion fora and assignments, combined with short videos, but further innovation is definitely needed.

  6. Too many stats/figures/charts don’t stick

    Graphs, charts, Venn diagrams and the like, are all useful tools to communicate. But their effectiveness is limited.

    Use 1-2-3 of them carefully, and you can make some interesting and useful points that may have some “stickiness” in the minds of training participants.

    Use too many and your audience may well forget all of them. Less (fewer) is definitely more.

  7. Most eLearning platforms/programmes are fairly weak

    This is the point I would most like to be wrong about. So please tell me if I am.

    Having looked at a variety of eLearning systems this year and last, most seem poor to me.

    Many seem to use audio and powerpoint at most, followed by some multiple choice questions.

    Some use video. Others use live discussions and webinars. But I’ve not seen anyone mix these elements effectively, and add in assignments and action plans. It’s hard to do, we are making some progress here, and here. Time will tell if we can do it all/better.

  8. Progress logs and Personal Action Plans are essential

    These are important tools. The progress log helps a participant log their progress over a day or a couple of days.

    The action plan helps give them direction on what to do next, and when/whom with. They offer structure and personal meaning to training, but are harder to do online.

    We’re attempting to use them in our forthcoming online training courses. I’ll report back soon on progress.

  9.  PowerPoint is not your only option

    PowerPoint. Useful but much derided. You do have other options, but you have to put the time in to learn about them and play around with them. Here’s a useful summary of what else is out there.

    My tip? If you don’t have that time, and can’t do all pictures (you can’t always) then here’s a really simple rule to stick to: Three bullets per slide minimum 20-24 point font, with an accompanying image that helps tell your story or illustrate your point.

  10. Small group work really helps but one person often dominates

    We all know groups of three or four are ideal for workshop training, and perhaps even for online learning too. Less than that and there’s a lack of ideas and dynamism, more than four and you get the “passenger” problem whereby people can sit back and not engage.

    Even with the perfect numbers, there is always the problem of the dominant person who makes it all about them, and their ideas.

    The solution here is early, polite intervention to point out that all participants must contribute. That helps the dominant person see that leadership is not just them talking. Not a perfect solution but it can work well.

  11. Individual assignments are vital

    Some people are better at thinking things through alone and then writing them down without the pressure of being in a “live” group. So assignments are vital, particularly for online training.

    We ask participants to write at least a page, so whilst you may not have time to grade them, you can see they have put some thinking into their responses.

    Assignments are tougher to utilise with face to face training, but there are ways, particularly if you have an ongoing programme.

I’ll stop here. I hope some of this has been useful and I’m happy to discuss any of this on the blog or via email.

My knowledge is a work in progress, particularly with online training.

We are training more than 100 managers world-wide in CR/sustainability in 2013, and learning as we go.

Here are some courses (which we can adapt/build on for your internal training easily) to take a look at:

Getting to Grips with Corporate Responsibility: General Course

Getting to Grips with CR and Sustainability Communications – Short Course

Getting to Grips with CR and Sustainability Reporting – Short Course

For more information, just contact me or email my colleague Stefan on: Stefan.Jensen@stakeholderintel.com

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