Ton Voogt’s speech on specific way of Training of Schouten China

I am honored to be able to speak to you today at this conference. You have come here to acquire a better picture of the training methods that Schouten China has applied, and continues to apply, with such success. Today, five of the people who have successfully completed the course will be presented with a certificate proving that they are now qualified as Soft Skill Trainers. The IRCES certificate confirms that their names have been added to this register, which can be openly accessed on the Internet.

What are the key features of the Schouten training method?

From the social sciences we have learned that all people’s actions are always driven by two basic motives. First, everyone is motivated to fulfill his or her talents, to achieve certain specific goals. Second, everyone is motivated by a desire to ‘belong’.

In pursuing these basic goals, people develop habits. Habits that are sometimes effective and efficient for a while. But then, they may outgrow their usefulness. Schouten’s training focuses on these habits at that stage in time.

Schouten China bases its work on fundamental values: it appreciates people’s efforts to find personal happiness; it seeks to contribute to organizational success and harmonious societies. We find it important for people to be able to choose for themselves between a selfish, ‘winner-takes-all’ mentality, putting others first, and sharing advantages. Each unique situation calls for a specific choice. In principle, there is something to be said for each of these choices. Everything depends on the situation and the rules. Doing business is about winning, and the winner does ‘take all’. But in a team, if each of the members is going after his own self-interest, the results of the  team as a whole will suffer. On the other hand, putting others first all the time will leave you empty-handed.

Schouten China’s training courses help to strengthen self-respect. We set out to expand social skills, helping people to build up relationships in which people respect each other without giving up their own self-respect. We work for individuals, and with individuals. We engage with their values, their attitudes, their self-confidence and their skills to express themselves and to improve their relationships with others.

Why does this matter so much? Let me tell you very briefly how we look at people and their habits. People develop habits. These habits help them to act efficiently without  spending too much time and energy weighing things up and reflecting. And they continue to be effective as long as the results continue to be satisfying. But what happens when they are no longer satisfied with the result? Or when others make it clear that they are not satisfied with the effects of these habits? People often respond by making resolutions: “I’m going to do things differently from now on”. They may say, “You’re quite right, I’ll change the way I do things.” But often, it just doesn’t happen. Why not?

The efficiency of a habit comes from the fact that it is internalized; you act without being conscious of it. It’s like a reflex, which takes effect before the conscious mind even has time to notice. We say, “I did it without thinking” or “I’d already done it before I became aware of it”. We often feel bad about admitting this: we prefer to think we have everything under our conscious control. But habits don’t belong in that area. Habits take effect before we become conscious of what we’re doing. Conscious control doesn’t work, however much we might like to think it does. That’s because habits have become ingrained in our  emotional and physical constitution. This has very important implications for the kind of training that is needed to change habits. Schouten China is geared towards changing habits. So it has to use special methods, which are effective in changing habits. If all we were to do would be to make people aware of their habits, encourage reflection and new resolutions, make recommendations and encourage people to copy others – that’s not the way to achieve permanent changes.

Since habits are anchored in people’s emotional and physical constitution, they are highly resistant to changing influences. A habitual response takes place independently of the situation. Habits are anchored with feelings of fear which arise if the habits can’t be applied, or if they’re blocked. Fear of negative repercussions, fear of negative reactions from other people, fear of failure. On the other hand, they’re also anchored with feelings of relief or satisfaction which arise when these habits are applied.

Take the following example. Some people have the habit of avoiding the anxiety and stress they feel when they have to stand up and speak in front of a group of people by avoiding the situation altogether. But this means that they miss out on an opportunity to show that they have good ideas. As a result, their own career may stagnate, and the company does not get the benefit of their ideas. This in turn will make them feel very dissatisfied. So they make a new resolution: next time they will grab that chance. But then they often discover that they don’t have the necessary tools to avoid the feelings of anxiety and stress. So they end up avoiding the situation again and achieving a temporary sense of relief, and as a result, their sense of self-worth is eroded still further.

The methods applied by SchoutenChina involves first inviting participants to formulate some precise goals. Then we encourage them to break the old habit in very stressful situations. We encourage them to go through the stress and display more desirable behavior. After that, they can repeat it dozens more times – not just in training sessions, but in real situations too: in shops, in the street, or in the office. People gradually learn which specific techniques work for them, and practice them.

The people who take part in Training for Trainers realize that as prospective trainers,  they too have habits they need to break. Habits that may be much valued in everyday life, but which are not useful in a training situation. In everyday life, the ability not to put people under stress is valued very highly. It is considered good not to confront people with stressful situations. In normal life, challenging so-called ‘normal’ views is not appreciated. But trainers have to be able to create difficulties and put people in situations that are stressful. They have to be able to create uncertainty and to make their limitations visible. They also learn how to create an environment in which people feel safe enough to dare to confront their own weaknesses.

Cross (X) or Cross (–>), it’s up to you!

Many people find it difficult to communicate in a cross-culturalenvironment. Some people always hear the beep sound with a big red (X) sign; some people manage to cross in between cultures with ease. What’s the secret? How can I see through the pair of deep blue eyes?

Recently we went to our HQ in the Netherlands for a ten-day professional training. We had a wonderful time with our trainers and colleagues from Holland, Germany and America, a nice mix. And I also witnessed many cultural differences. One of the incidences really caught my attention.

On the third day of training just after lunch, one of my Chinese colleagues suddenly burped in the class, quite loudly, all the Chinese colleagues just ignored it like nothing had happened. But I noticed that three of our foreign colleagues reacted differently, they were shocked and then quickly had a little chat together, “Oh my god, that was so rude!” they whispered, and I overheard.

It is not a very polite thing to burp loudly in public, but is it fair to label that behavior as being rude when the person had neither intention nor idea about the impact it might has to others? Nevertheless, I do, too, understand that it’s natural to be shocked when one is coming from a culture where certain manners or behaviors are very much noticed, valued and appreciated. So here comes the misunderstanding of communication in a cross-cultural context. The sender sends a message unintentionally in a non-verbal form (a loud burp could mean for Chinese people I just had a satisfactory meal), but the receiver received the message and decoded it as being disrespectful, there is obviously a huge gap between the intention from the sender and the effect received by the receiver.

The saddest thing is that the misunderstanding is not known to either side. Doesn’t this happen all the time for people in cross-cultural communication? It’s like your American coworker is very angry about you and has been acting weirdly, but you don’t know anything about it, or vice versa. How frustrating and ineffective is that?

Back to the story, the question raised now: how to make the misunderstanding known for both sides so that wrong interpretation will not last or being reinforced when the same thing happens again?

The answer came out the next day.

The following day, I was chatting with my German colleague Claudia in the class after lunch, suddenly my Chinese colleague sitting next to us burped again. This time Claudia hesitated a bit, then she stopped our conversation and went to my Chinese colleague and said to her with a smile “Dear, I have to let you know that in our culture burping loudly in public is considered impolite to others, we normally control it and cover our mouth with hand, or if it really came out unexpectedly we will say sorry or excuse me to the people around us. How is that perceived in China?” My Chinese colleague didn’t quite understand in the beginning, but she eventually did and received it as a constructive feedback from another culture. I admired Claudia for her courage and authenticity. I said to her that I really appreciated her feedback to clear the misunderstanding, I also told her in a joking way that we Chinese don’t like them blowing nose at the table too, it can be very de-appetizing! We all laughed and went on to talk about all kinds of taboos in different cultures. It feels so much better to discuss all that in the open air!

So how to reduce misunderstanding in a cross-cultural context in general?
Notice how Claudia did it in the next day, as a receiver, when she felt uncomfortable (affected by the value in her culture), instead of having some negative inner voice, she decided to give feedback, and she did it in a very effective way because of the following:

1) She smiled, this small behavior created a friendly and relaxing atmosphere. (Non-verbal)
2) Her feedback focused on behavior, not the person. (D.I.E model)
3) She checked to see if the behavior is perceived differently in another culture. (I.I.YOU in cross-culture context)

Feedback is sent by the receiver to make clear to sender the impact on him/her (also known as the Effect in the communication model) and then check if it’s inline with the sender’s Intention, in the context of cross-culture communication, the intention might be very much influenced by culture. Effective feedback skills can create transparency and open dialogue without offending others. Feedback is very essential (the receiver to sender) in the Checking process.

Since Checking is two-way street, it’s not done by just the receiver. The sender can also take initiative in the communication to avoid misunderstanding from happening by checking the receiver’s feeling when sender notices the unusual behavior of the receiver, usually non-verbal. Or even check before communication to understand better of that culture, e.g. special taboos. This kind of checking can be helped by google.

There are still so much more about communicating more effectively in a cross-cultural context, but most importantly remember : Checking before Judging! It’s for all communication, especially when you are a culture away.

You can cross (–>)!

Opening Speech at the MLP2 Programme for DSM China

We hear lots of talk about the power of managers, about how highly they’re valued and their big salaries, but the bottom line is that managers are powerless. No manager can achieve the results he has in mind, the results to which he is committed, by himself. He has to rely on the work of other people. You are totally dependent on other people for your success.

One of the instruments you have at your disposal, when you are persuading people to sign up to your goals and objectives, is yourself. Your own behavior. Behavior that is personal, in the sense of being attached to you, as an individual. You are the one who behaves in a particular way. How you behave is an important factor in helping you to achieve your objectives. In helping to persuade other people to make an effort, to dedicate themselves to achieving the goals you have set.

You will be getting to know yourself better over the next few days. You will be looking at things from a new perspective, colored by a specific view, and looking at yourself and others from this unfamiliar vantage point. You will see similarities and differences. Other people will also see you in the similarities and differences. You will get a better understanding of yourself and of the others around you. So what comes next? Then you find yourself facing the real puzzle: ‘Given your own predisposition, your own inclinations, how do you deal with people who have a different nature?’

The point is that given your own nature, you don’t immediately understand what makes these other people tick, since their natural

reactions are not the same as yours. But luckily, thousands have people have faced this puzzle before you, and have found ways of dealing with it. Not that there is a standard solution that you can simply learn and plug in, that you can apply to every person you meet. Unfortunately, that doesn’t exist. The puzzle will always be there. And with each new person, you have to find a new key to open the door to communication. In fact, you even need to do so with people you already know. After all, they carry on developing. And meanwhile, you too change and develop. You become more mature. You understand more as you grow older, especially other people.

And here comes the really tricky part: a solution you may have found today for dealing with the person called Smith doesn’t work at all with the person called Jones. Worse still, tomorrow it doesn’t even work with the person called Smith, since you have changed in the meantime. But fortunately, things don’t get as bad as that in practice, since you make routines. You disregard some ways of behavior and focus on a spectrum of variations. Your standardized solution fits inside that spectrum of variations. Totally effective and efficient. After a while, the routine turns out to be obsolete, it no longer works, and you have to start again, devise a new solution.

Since as managers we are so dependent on our staff to achieve success, every step we take towards modern self-knowledge must help us to acquire a better understanding of what makes individual members of our staff tick. The better I understand my staff as individuals, and the better I understand myself, the easier it will be to find the right solutions.

The main thing I had to learn when I was having difficulty getting my staff interested, getting them enthusiastic about particular goals, or to perform tasks in a particular way, was not to use my power over them to impose my will. Not to deprive them of rewards or to punish them indirectly by ignoring, excluding or humiliating them. It just didn’t work. In fact, it always produced the opposite result. It made my staff into slaves: when I was there, they did what I wanted. As soon as I was out of the way, they did nothing. I didn’t achieve my goals, or only barely. They would give me one excuse after the other for everything that went wrong. It really got me down.

So what’s the right way to get things back on line?

The idea of myself as an instrument in achieving success as a manager was not always easy. In fact, it proved an obstacle at least as often as it helped me. I wish you more luck with yourselves that I had dealing with my own character. I still have to work really hard to behave in ways that are useful and effective. To find ways of persuading others to sign up to, and to strive to achieve, objectives that I have defined. Luckily, there’s hope even for me. And of course, there’s plenty of hope for you!
Thank you very much!

Four Cornerstones of Effective Cooperation: Selfishness, Competitiveness, Giving and Alignment

Fours Cornerstones of Effective Cooperation: Selfishness, Competitiveness, Giving and Alignment
— Speech at the Opening Ceremony of Schouten China Shanghai Office

Ton Voogt 16th November 2010

I should like to invite you to join me briefly in some reflections on cooperation. After all, one of the reasons we have come here is to see if we can step up our cooperation. Allow me share with you some of my own personal experiences.

When I was 5 years old, I decided that cooperation did not exist. I was a child, and adults made all the decisions. That was perfectly obvious.

On the outside I conformed, and meanwhile I created my own world. Carefully protected within my own body. A haven where I was different, more myself. On the outside I was someone who could cooperate well with adults. I did what was expected, and dreamed of later, when I would be able to make all the decisions myself.

When I was studying to become a teacher, I could reverse the roles. I thought: “Now I’m free, and it’s me who decides how the children have to behave.” But in that pattern of thinking too, I absorbed the rules prescribed by the designers of educational systems, and complied with them: that’s called being “professional.”

Studying at university. A sanctuary for ideas, that was how I had imagined it. Finally I could follow my own ideas. But while it was true that I could experiment, I discovered a new norm with which I had to comply: I had to follow narrowly defined routes on the path to “the truth.”

The business world: Ah yes, that was where I could finally develop my own ideas, and do so 100% in my own way. However, it soon became clear that property relations determined much of what I could do. The laws of the market economy determine whether you succeed or fail. Once more I found that I had to subordinate my ideas to “objective” norms.

I got married, had children, played my part in the life of the community. I conformed to expectations that had been unknown to me before.

So the conclusion is that there’s no such thing as cooperation. Instead, there’s conforming and adjusting: following the laws of scholarship; the laws of market forces; the laws of management. The laws of marriage. My life is a successful story of constant conformity.

Before you start thinking that I have sunk into a deep depression and am about to reveal plans to put an end to all this misery, allow me to talk about the other side of the coin. For there is one. There is hope.
The other, secret, line nourishes me in the midst of all the conformity, extracting what I need. This line is not subject to rules and compliance. And it’s a line I keep secret. My “real life” is what I call it. Since I was 5 years old, in my real life, I feel and think quite differently. I dream distant journeys. Have encounters that truly move me, with people whose lives are utterly different from mine. And intriguingly, they’re always willing to share their wisdom with me, to initiate me into their world view. Life opens up for me. I still have that life today. In fact, it feels as though that’s where I live. Sometimes part of that life coincides for a time with the shared, cooperative life outside, but usually it does not.

I don’t know any way of joining these two lines, other than the way I’m about to describe.
One day – by then I was 45 years old – I read an academic article about “building up cooperation.” The subject made an enormous impression on me, quite unexpectedly. I still study it today. Since then, I have read everything that has been written about it. But how does it work in practice?

According to the accepted theory, cooperation is based on two basic principles. One is that the whole has priority. Everything has its own place, and if everything is in its designated place, everything will go well. All you need to do is to correct the deviation. I’m familiar with that: my secret life-line is my escape route.
The other principle revolves around individuals. Every human being pursues his own objectives, strives to develop his own talents, and because he needs other people for them, he forges coalitions. Sometimes for long periods of time, sometimes only temporarily. Every human being is driven by two basic needs: self-fulfillment and the desire to belong. These two needs lead him to forge cooperative links with others. This was a helpful idea. I started to think: “How can I build bridges and forge cooperation with others, from the premise of my own dream world?” I felt liberated from the dilemma of having to choose between subordination and exclusion.

How could I live according to this new, liberating concept? I was, and am, a perfectly well-adjusted man, the ideal employee, son-in-law, father. A model member of society. How could it work?

Research turned up some simple rules of conduct. You want to build up a cooperative relationship? Then start by offering cooperation. The first gesture is “giving.” But here’s an important rule: if the other doesn’t take up your offer, don’t pursue it. Not interested? OK, then forget it. It’s their turn to act if they want it. And if they don’t want it, and leave me to my own devices? Hmmm. Will there always be people who will want to work with me? How many “no’s” can I bear, before I decide to conform? And another thing: what I show someone when I meet up with them – will that be interesting enough to persuade the other party to take up my offer?

Giving: that’s not a problem. But I do have trouble stepping back after a rejection. So I’m supposed to just shrug my shoulders and wait for a response? I’ve also discovered a weakness in myself: I’m afraid that if I don’t make the next move, I’ll remain excluded for ever. I forget who plays tricks on me, and continue to give to someone who is exploiting me. I don’t make lists of tricks that people play on me. Very unhelpful – for me in any case, not for those who know this about me.

Now I delve even deeper. What kind of behavior is needed, to produce good cooperation? Oh, that’s not so easy. I must be capable of selfishness. I must know what I want myself and what the other party wants. I must be capable of calling it quits if my goals are incompatible with the other party’s. I must also be able to draw a line when the other party expects more from me than I want to give. I have to brave the competition. Otherwise, others will always walk off with the prize. I also have to want to win, and to become good at it. And one more thing, the area in which I’m most vulnerable: I must be able to give without drawing any immediate benefit from it. I don’t like that, because I know that I have that tendency anyway, which means I’m easy to exploit. I can easily be induced to give.

But is there any point in learning these vulnerable kinds of behavior in a world, in companies, between companies, where competition is the norm? Where there is one winner, and a great many losers. A world in which someone may take everything you have and breeze off with a smile. Leaving me empty-handed. Only the strongest survive.

Can cooperative and altruistic behavior survive at all in a society based mainly on competition and selfishness? I’m happy to report that this question has been answered in studies that have “calculated” the consequences in computer simulations. So what did they discover? Even in a society that is based almost entirely (up to 95%) on competitive, selfish behavior, altruistic and cooperative behavior will survive. People who often apply such patterns of behavior will survive.

How? By seeking kindred spirits. By forging alliances with others who also favor cooperation – who see altruism and cooperation as valuable and useful kinds of behavior. People who have “calculated” the added value of such behavior to themselves and the other party. They’re not softies – they can be selfish when necessary. And in competition, they also like to be the best. They want to win, to cooperate with one another. They build up win-win relationships to fulfill all the important conditions of life. Caring for each other, helping each other, saving for each other. One may give now, while another will give later. They help out when necessary. Then it doesn’t hurt if they occasionally miss the boat in a competitive clash, or if they are occasionally exploited by self-seekers.

The family may be the pivotal alliance that helps to forge these relationships.
There is a challenge for organizations here. The challenge of creating an internal culture that promotes the kinds of values and behavior that will produce a strong structure, able to withstand external competition. Forging alliances with clients who have the same attitude.

Of course, all this only works if it’s voluntary. I give and I take. I’m happy to say that when I look at the patterns of behavior within Schouten China, I see people frequently helping each other out. I see a lot of cooperation, and that makes Schouten China a strong, cohesive organization. Given that strong foundation, Chris, Joanne, Rocky, Lisa, Debra, Linda, and Jessica, with the support of [. . . alle andere namen] can forge and develop strong professional ties with you.

Thank you.

Inspirational stories can be an important tool for influential leadership

“In telling value laden stories from past experiences, organizational leaders and managers show their human sides.”
Powerful Tales I was recently invited to train high potential leaders at the talent summit of a large manufacturing multinational. This particular organization strives for a culture that encourages inspirational leadership. In the training, we invited the senior managers to tell stories that centered on the main cultural themes that the organization promotes.

The stories, based on their personal experiences, reflected the alignment between their personal values and those of the organization, and left participants feeling positive and inspired. Though there was confusion and anxiety at first among the Chinese managers (as storytelling as a means of influencing leadership is rarely used), in the end it was an exciting experience for them to experiment with this alternative leadership tool.
Influencing Both Halves of the Brain

As human beings, our brain has two halves: one for “thinking” the other for “feeling”. In attempting to influence others, managers are normally tempted to convince. When we influence others by convincing, we address logical thinking and make others use the “thinking” rational part of their brain.

However, we can have a more powerful effect when we can express inspirational messages that simultaneously address both the “thinking” and the “feeling” part of the other person. An inspirational pitch with stories, pictures and metaphors will spark the other person’s imagination. When we inspire others, we reach their hearts and souls. We create new and creative ideas and trigger positive feelings. An inspirational pitch is most powerful and effective when there is alignment in what the speaker thinks, feels, and says.

Authenticity and Connection
The organization we worked with stresses connection with people in leadership behaviors. Part of the connection comes from authenticity. Consequently, in our training with the high potentials, we focused on training authenticity and being real so that the senior managers could learn how to connect with their employees in a personal way.

In telling value-laden stories from past experiences, organizational leaders and managers show their human sides and demonstrate to their employees their deep-rooted belief systems, and the things that touch them the most. Thus, connections with people are built naturally through presenting the authentic self to others. And storytellers guarantee their authentic effect on the audience because they are not performers but are themselves part of the story .

The Synthesizing Mind
Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard University, describes five mind-sets that are important for the future. The most important one is the synthesizing mind, which connects and combines things. This synthesizing mind is not only reflected in the way that it incorporates the ideas of the speaker, but also in the way that it incorporates the ideas of those being influenced so that people feel they are being involved. Dr. Gardner concludes: “stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in the leader’s arsenal.”

Storytelling as an inspirational pitch is particularly effective when it is linked with organizational visions and cultural themes and used in times of organizational change. In effect, it is a good starting point for getting all stakeholders involved in a dialogue. Influencing through inspiring is based on building rapport, a harmonious relationship characterized by mutual trust, respect, and understanding. When personal and organizational values are subtly transmitted in stories of personal experiences and presented in an emotionally charged way, the impact can be immense. It is a less forceful way of gaining buy-in from others and people are naturally aligned and willingly inspired.

The importance of listening cannot be over-emphasized

“Good listening skills focus more on the relationship and feelings side of people and therefore complement our efforts to convince others to our way of thinking.”

Influencing without Authority in on of our training programs, Influencing Without Authority, I have observed many recurring patterns and pitfalls that are shared by the various different groups of functional managers, project managers, and sales people who have gone through the training.

One pattern in particular is that people often equate influencing with convincing. However, convincing is a more self-centered way of communication.

For example, I recently trained a group of middle level managers at a large multinational company in the energy sector. The manager of the pricing department expressed challenges in winning support from the GM of the sales department. He was invited to roleplay his talk with the GM. In observing the conversation, we realized that both sides were busy and effective in presenting strong arguments related to their departmental interests and concerns. However, there was really no “interaction” between the two because there was no overlap in the contents discussed and neither was “listening” to the other. The result was that both were good at convincing, but no influence happened.

Good listening skills play a critical role in helping to connect two conflicting parties and open up the opportunity to solve a problem together. Without good listening, a stalemate between both sides will be the most likely result.

Here are a few reasons why using good listening skills and influencing without authority are just as important, if not more important, than being able to use verbal power to convince someone to meet your needs.

To influence is to understand
Many organizations in today’s fast-paced world have a results-driven culture. When it comes to communication, a results-driven style also becomes the norm. Values such as being direct, clear and logical with hard facts and figures are encouraged when interacting with internal and external clients.
Nevertheless, in real life situations, for influence to happen, no matter whether you are selling a product to an external client or trying to overcome a conflict with an inter-departmental colleague, understanding the other’s needs and concerns becomes critical to influence them to buy or to change opinions. Exploring a customer’s needs and challenges, or the concerns of a colleague from a different functional department, is often required if one wants to influence them. Without communication behaviors geared towards understanding of the other, efforts to influence tend to be pointless. All in all, good listening skills are the tools to use to open up, explore, and to understand our targeted person/group before making any attempt to influence them.

To be understood, first try to understand
We often hear people complain about others being too “pushy”. Constantly sending messages in hope that others will accept becomes pushy and communication becomes one way. On the other hand, listening is a sign of showing respect and is an invitation for two-way communication. Instead of pushing, we pull the other to our side. When we want to influence someone, we expect to gain their acceptance first. By practicing good listening skills we understand and show respect to others’ viewpoints first, before inviting others to listen to us. Others are more likely to be receptive to listening to us after we have listened to and respected them.

Building connections
We tend to focus on the content and rational side when communicating with others. However, building connections is just as important. Though logical arguments and strong statements backed up by hard facts and numbers can be necessary in resolving differences of opinions in organizational settings, these behaviors sometimes create distance between people. Good listening skills focus more on the relationship and feelings side of people and therefore complement our efforts to convince others to our way of thinking, and succeed in our influencing.

When we face a world of diverse employees, who each possess a different personality, being able to touch both their rational and emotional side gives us more flexibility in influencing others in the organization.

Assertive behavior creates personal and organizational effectiveness

“A work environment in which assertion is the norm will be one in which unnecessary and destructive interpersonal tensions are reduced to a minimum.”

Encourage Your Employees to Speak Up it is a fact that many individuals, for whatever reason, are not naturally assertive. They either fail to communicate their needs in a straightforward fashion, or do so in a way that is unhelpful to others. In conflict situations, they have a tendency to lose control, or alternatively, say nothing and swallow their feelings. Being assertive means standing up for oneself without unnecessarily offending others and helps create a positive and more effective workplace.

For Chinese employees working in multinational organizations, practicing assertiveness may be especially challenging as it means they must dare to speak out and express their individual thoughts and opinions when facing people in higher positions. A real-life example of this dynamic occurred while we were training the R&D managers in the Chinese office of a major US telecommunications company. Several managers expressed the wish to try new behaviors and challenge themselves to speak up in public. Coincidentally, a global director from the company’s US headquarters happened to be visiting China and a town hall meeting was scheduled.
The global director had reservations about meeting with the Chinese employees because previously they had been reluctant to express themselves. He had even decided not to mention the company’s new strategic plan at the meeting unless asked about it, as he did not expect they would offer any input or feedback. At the meeting, he was surprised to find the Chinese managers behaving assertively – part of their homework from the training. The global director was so impressed by the Chinese managers at this meeting that a year later he moved the company’s global research center to China.

Encouraging your employees to speak up is only the first step in assertiveness training. Since many issues in the workforce are caused by communication failures, it can be an important part of overall staff development.

A work environment in which assertion is the norm will be one in which unnecessary and destructive interpersonal tensions are reduced to a minimum. For this reason, many organizations now integrate assertiveness training into their mainstream management development programs. Behaving more assertively makes one more effective in one’s job. Assertion tends to breed assertion, so people are more likely to work with an assertive colleague, rather than against him/her. In turn, this makes it easier to get satisfactory outcomes. We believe assertiveness can benefit one’s personal effectiveness in many ways:
A Better Chance of Your Needs Being Met: If you behave more assertively, you state more clearly what your needs, wants, ideas and opinions are. This increases the chance that your needs will be met and your opinions taken into account. At the same time, assertion is not about ignoring or dismissing the needs of others; instead you encourage others to make their own needs known. When needs conflict, then we believe assertive behavior helps individuals find solutions that are acceptable to both people.

Greater Confidence: In some instances your needs may not be met. The important point here is that, should this happen, because you made your needs or views known, you are more likely to feel ‘okay’ about yourself and the situation. This increased confidence about yourself helps you to recognize and accept the strengths of those who work with you or for you, rather than being threatened by them.

Taking The Initiative: If you hope to influence the environment in which you work, it is important to take initiative. These initiatives may be small

— for example, putting forward an idea in a meeting, or large — such as changing the flow of work through your department. If you behave assertively you are not afraid of failure or making a mistake.

Energy Savings: When you are no longer preoccupied with not upsetting others or losing out, you will save yourself a lot of nervous energy, and experience a reduction in stress and tension associated with getting results. Decisions become less stressful because you will be less concerned with what people think and the fear of making a mistake. This allows you more time to work productively in other aspects of your job.

Rethinking Training Effectiveness: from the Perspective of Trainees’ Motivation to Learn

Lately, I have been giving a lot of thoughts to the longstanding question that bothers almost all training managers, that is, how to make trainings effective? Of course, our warm hearted training managers and specialists tend to exhaust themselves in their attempt to create conditions for effective training. In this article, I want to first differentiate different types of motivations that could affect training effectiveness; secondly, I want to call attention to conditions/sources of motivation that are often the most critical to learning effectiveness but are oftentimes ignored by training managers and specialists; lastly, I want to briefly explain why brain based learning is oftentimes not as effective as the experiential way of learning when it comes to adult learning.

It is useful to check beforehand where the motivation of the participants stems from. The most attractive participants are those who are motivated to attend the course ‘from within’. The participant actually does not need an incentive. This form of motivation is called ‘intrinsic motivation’. If a participant is motivated by others, this is called ‘extrinsic motivation’. A new job, a possible dismissal or a raise can be the incentives that motivate the partici¬pant. In addition, one may also have to deal with ‘conditional motivation’. Participants are motivated by all kinds of pleasant circumstances that may occur during the course, such as social contacts, etc. In addition, motivation can be influenced in a positive way, when the participant sees a meaningful relation between the learning material and what he is going to do with it. The relevance of the learning material has to be clear to the participants. The gap from theory to practice needs to be as small as possible.

What I would like to stress is that while we oftentimes recognize how external factors, such as a pay rise or a promotion opportunity can help to motivate organizational employees to learn, the ideal participants are those who are internally motivated. In reality, when identifying training needs and deciding sending whom to what training programs, HR practices can include HRs or functional managers subjectively nominating participants to attend certain learning programs. Referring back to the above mentioned motivational factors and conditions, clearly when that happens, individuals are not internally motivated to learn; neither is the participant likely to see a clear goal of the learning—the meaningful relevance of the learning. In other situations, organizational employees are sent to certain training programs due to negative performance review in certain areas (according to their direct managers) or gaps between individual competency status and competencies required for a given job according to organizational competency models. Clearly, when participants show up in a training program for the above mentioned reasons, they can be very much goal driven and can see clear “meaningful relevance” of their learning. Nevertheless, they may not be internally motivated to learn. That is, if their managers or others (say, people who are the 360 degree feedback givers) believe they should improve in certain areas, the level of motivation on the participants are still not the same as when the participants themselves recognize the needs. Therefore, only when employees are very much involved in the process of identifying learning needs and gaps and are consulted with before being sent to a training program, can they be internally motivated to learn. Clearly, the more attention we give to this step of learning preparation, the more effective we can expect the learning results to be.

Becoming internally motivated is not only relevant to the process of identifying learning needs, it is also relevant to the process of learning itself, that is, the training methods. It is not difficult to imagine, for example, a participant who is very much motivated and eager to learn comes to a very boring and didactic style training program, his/her enthusiasm for learning is immediately dampened by what is actually happening in the training site. So their internal motivation needs to be sustained in the training as well, which has a lot to do with how training is actually organized and conducted.

Traditionally, training is trainer-centered and brain-based. First, in terms of roles that trainers and participants play in training, one option is that trainers are the “stars” occupying the central stage. They are supposed to be experts that have solutions to all problems that their trainees might have. The type of training can be effective when the participants can see clear relevance to their real work situations, they cases that the trainers give can be transferrable to their work settings, and that they believe that the trainers’ knowledge and experience is relevant and helpful to their problems. Alternatively, the internal motivation of the participants can be better secured through making them the center of learning. That is, trainers are coaches and facilitators and the content of the training is from their real work and life experiences of the participants (sometimes they get help in training periodically while they are engaged in real projects). First, adults learn best or are the most motivated to learn through self awareness and self reflections. Coaches thus play the questioning role most of the time. The trainees consequently drive the process of learning with their own problems. In my opinion, this latter way of training, what we call, the experiential way of learning, fits the characteristics of adult learning much better in many situations, as they are more trainee centered (coaching/facilitating style versus didactic style) and are more directly related to application (action and behavior based versus brain based). I devote the last part of my article to an explanation of the difference between brain based training and the experiential way of learning.

Traditional training and education focuses often on the left brain (aiming at ratio, logic, analyses, language, with as result automatisms based on insight). it assumes too much that learning is made possible by the logic of the new information. The logic in itself should bring forward learning. Features of these interventions are: instruction/demonstration, systematic practice and giving feedback. At the most this kind of learning leads to the fact that the learner can tell what he has learned but in fact does not use the knowledge in his daily practice. As a result there is asynchrony between what employees think (their theories and conceptions) and what they actually do (their daily routines).

To activate the right brain part (feelings, experiences, associations, images, with as result experience based behavior), trainers should work more with imaginative language, powerful metaphors and behavior instructions. With telling how to act, without very much explaining why, it is expected that workers will act in the desired way and that insight will follow behavior . When you use a more explaining way of instruction (selling) it is expected that the logic will convince the worker and the new insight will trigger the behavior. Clearly, the linkage between theory and application can be much closer in the experiential way of learning.
To summarize, in this article I call for new perspectives and new ways of thinking in terms of guaranteeing the effectiveness of training. Training managers have been frustrated by looking for solutions to ensure the effectiveness of training. They may be happily surprised if they start to focus more on the internal motivation of the participants, not only from the perspective of identifying training needs, but also from the perspective of identify the right training methods. We can create all favorable conditions for our participants by selecting brand name vendors, by providing pleasant training environments, by developing complex competency models and elaborated process of performance appraisals, but in the end, the people who we want to train have a more decisive impact on the result of training. Only when we give sufficient attention to their motivation to learn, can we have a better chance of being effective in training them.

The Linkage between Training Effectiveness & Organizational Goals

According to a recent survey done by Universal Ideas Management Training corporation, one overarching issue that bothers HR and training managers the most is the linkage between training and the strategic/practical goals of organizations. A related issue, of course, is the recurring question of how to make training programs more effective. I want to briefly address the two issues in this article and a more elaborated article will follow later.

Regarding connecting training needs with the strategic goal of organizations, overall, I suggest that organizations don’t think of training companies as shops for specific products that apply to all problems under a given name, instead, they should think of training companies as solution providers, who can work within organizational contexts. I witness that organizations are now moving towards that direction through the following means:

 To develop a competency model and identify expected competencies for each job position. Identify gaps between each job position and competencies of individual employees filling in the job. When training needs is identified in this way, training can be oriented by specific goals. The measurement of training effect can also be connected with required competencies—whether expected knowledge or behaviors have been successfully added/improved as a result of the training.

 To connect organizational values and behavior expectations with training. When organizations are very clear and specific about what behaviors they expect from the employees, training can be used as a tool to promote organizational expectations. Similarly, training can be used a tool to promote organizational change including culture change.

 To partnership with training companies in developing long term talent/leadership development program. Instead of using training companies on case by case basis, organizations can best take advantage of their professional knowledge and expertise through jointly exploring needs and developing organization-specific programs that are oriented towards long term goals.
A follow up question, then, is how to make training effective? I propose the following thoughts:
 To give more attention to the characteristics of adult learning and make our participants the owner of their learning process. Adults can only learn when they are internally motivated through self awareness. Learning can be more effective when the participants feel active in the process.

 To make the learning process driven by clearer goals, including both organizational goals and individual goals. When the goals are specific, visible, and recognize by the participants, training can be more result-oriented.

 To focus more on behavior level training and action-centered learning. While general knowledge can be helpful, the real challenge lies in behavior change and connecting knowledge with real work.

Organizational effectiveness is achieved through personal effectiveness. When individual employees feel that they are truly respected in learning, coached in a way that can facilitate their personal development, and they can easily see performance improvement after training, they are more motivated to learn. Similarly, when individuals are performing at their best, organizational results can be maximized. Finally, organizational strategies and changes only take on real meaning when they are reflected in individual employees’ everyday behaviors, which then become trainable. The linkage between the two still takes some time to be explored and realized, but at least, we are moving towards that direction.

“Story of the Stone” by Ton Voogt

What a nice surprise. Reading the “Story of the Stone” also known as “The Dream of the Red Chamber”, the number one famous Chinese novel written by Cao Xueqin about 1760 management advises that I like to pass on to you.

Xi Feng is asked to take over the management of an other household (company) immediately. The lady of the house died unexpectedly. Before entering the job she made clear agreements with the master of the House about the results and the lines of command. Who to report to; the freedom to make decisions. The rules of communication and support. All in one page and so clear. I hope every manager can tell that in five minutes.

The evening before she shows up in the household she asks herself: “What will be big problems in a household that cause most trouble?” People do not take responsibilities originating of no clear division of labour and responsibilities. People are constant dissatisfied because they do not have clear output agreements. Problems are not solved because nothing has consequences: no rewards and no punishments related to the performance. Probably a lot of money will be lost: no one is responsible. The cooperation will be very poor when everyone is focussed on his own benefit. Probably no serving attitude to each other.

Her first act early in the morning is to set clear responsibilities, output standards and communication (report and support) rules. And she says: “do not make the remark: this does not fit, here we do things differently. Now all is done in the way I tell you”. May be look for “a Xi Feng” to handle your company.

Coaching: the real change instrument for the manager

Coaching differs from other important activities in an organisation.

Managing is about designing a structure for an organisation; a strategy to set targets by combining the market and the unique products and services of the company.

Training is learning specific new behaviour or the unlearning of unwanted habits.

Leading people is getting commitment on goals and organise the work of the people.

Consulting is giving advice about the best way to do; the best organisation; the best…

Lecturing is talking about theories, practices, ideas, and models.

All these activities are necessary. They are used for the proper goals.

What can be the proper goal for coaching?

A story. A manager in a rather new company wants an assistance that can do all the practical contact with clients, visitors. She makes a detailed job description. Talked with ten candidates and those one that had experience.

She thought: “Nice, I solved a problem, now I can go to my real work.” She went out of office and did not look at the assistance for ten days. Then one day she heard the assistance talking with a client in a way she did not like. She made a note of it. Three days later she overheard a phone conversation and some sentences she did not like. Four days later she saw the assistance dressed with clothes she thought are not proper. Two days later she saw a letter the assistance had written. She did not like the layout. The volcano in her burst out. She called for the assistant and told him she was totally dissatisfied with his behaviour and he was fired at the spot.

Confused the assistant reflected silently on his behaviour. “How to better understand a manager?” He looked for a course on “mind reading”. The manager too reflected: “How can I better select?” She enlisted to a very expensive course on “improving your selection skills”

Both choices are probably without the desired effect. Why? Because the training actions they choose do not fit the real causes.

The real causes are (a) not having agreed in the beginning on the detailed expectations of the manager; (b) the manager did not give any feedback; (c) she did not ask for feedback by the assistant.

This might not have happened when both had reflected on their behaviour in a coaching way. Guided by another person. What are the coaching activities?

A short statement: coaching is not doing what the person himself must do; the person must focus on the ways he solved or wants to solve a problem. Asking questions starts reflecting on behaviour.

Coaching can be done by the manager or the leader. The leader must be able to distinguish his leader actions from his coaching actions. He must know when to switch and how to switch. When the manager assigns a specific job and the person asks “how can I best…?” or “what do you advise me….?” “Tell me what I….?”.

The leader must choose. Leading actions, lecturing, giving advice or coaching. When he chooses for coaching he asks questions like: “what is you goal?”” What do you think you are going to do to reach the goal”; “ what do you think the effect will be?”” Is this the effect you really want?” When talking about the past he asks for detailed descriptions of the behaviour. He invites to reflect on behaviour. In coaching you do not solve the problem. The coach puts the other to work. A person can try to avoid thinking and experimenting himself. When he does what the master wants and it is wrong he is excused:”the master told me…” In coaching the aim is to let a person decide and act independently.

Effective coaching actions fulfil three requirements: the relation is based on respect; the method is proven in scientific research and the coaching person adds understanding to his actions.

In organisations two behaviours are often changed with coaching. One is too independent behaviour and the other is too dependent behaviour. Coaching to more independent behaviour is done by rewarding all revolting, initiative behaviour and punishes hiding behind others. Neglect asking for permission and accepts mistakes.

Managers need special reflection on their behaviour. They are mostly the people who get less comments on their behaviour. They often have nobody to talk to. Nobody gives them direct feedback. Most difficult for managers are: motivating people. For themselves they have big problem in handling emotions as: disappointment; annoying and impatience.

Managers can coach each other when they act coaching.
Coaching is contrary to the general high valued act of helping. Sometimes coaching provokes someone to solve the problem on his own. This is a long-term positive contribution to the problem solving ability.

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