I approached my first day as a Corporate Trainer full of excitement and confidence. I ended my first day as a Corporate Trainer wanting to drive to the Golden Gate Bridge and fling myself into the icy cold of the San Francisco Bay.
The person “mentoring” me was an academic with no experience in the real world of business. His immediate task was to turn a raw, inexperienced novice into a first-class management trainer and enable said rookie to take over the Supervisory Development Program. He approached this task with diligence, a detailed action plan and a generous portion of anal-retentiveness.
I thought I was in trouble when I learned that the first task on his list was to teach me how to tear flip chart paper from an easel without leaving any rough edges or dangling bits of paper. I knew I was in trouble when I wound up spending the entire fucking morning tearing flip chart paper from an easel until I had mastered the technique.
Things went downhill from there. Rather than design an original training program that actually met the needs of the participants, he bought an off-the-shelf program that was in vogue at the time. This program was based on the concept of behavior modification, which taught that if you kept repeating something over and over, you would learn it and the skill would become a part of you.
It was also as boring as shit. The participants received a workbook of skill modules. The first skill module was Listening. There were three steps to listening. The participants wrote down the three steps three times in the workbook. Then they watched a video showing third-rate actors following the three listening steps. They watched the video twice more, then the participants wrote down the steps three more times. After that, they practiced the three steps in front of the class while my mentor verbally abused them if they deviated in any way from the three steps. When all of them had practiced, they concluded the module by writing down the three steps one more time.
Even without a lick of experience in leadership training, I knew that this was bullshit. If there was one thing I learned in the real world of supervision, it was that a leader had to connect with people in the form of a real, live human being. I couldn’t teach this crap!
I decided on day two that I had made a mistake and needed an escape strategy. Fortunately, there was a lot of empty calendar space between classes and those dreary mentoring sessions that I used that to explore the subject of organizational development. The possibilities in the literature excited me, for it spoke of the need for authenticity, for self-awareness and for encouraging fresh thinking in the workplace by involving people at all levels in decision-making. Inspired in part by my experience working as a drone where management barely considered me a human being (until they found out I had a degree), I decided this was an area worth further exploration.
I would get a Master’s degree with an emphasis in organizational development and save the working class from a lifetime of quiet desperation! Hooray!
In the meantime, I would start looking for a job in a field with a bit more stability and market presence than pure OD. I liked the people side of things (in part because I didn’t understand the technical side), so I started looking for jobs in Human Resources, despite my complete lack of knowledge and experience in the field. That combination had already led to two promotions, so how could I go wrong?
Sure enough, I found a nice company that met my basic criteria (they didn’t make things that blew people up) and a nice job as an Employee Relations Specialist. I knew nothing about labor law and nothing about employee relations. The VP who hired me liked my experience in manufacturing because this assignment was in their manufacturing plant. It also helped that I could talk a little about organizational development, a field in which the VP considered himself an expert.
He was anything but, but we got on well enough and I learned all kinds of things about the law and traditional HR practices, most of which I thought were total bullshit. More importantly, I learned a lot about human beings, how they derive meaning from the smallest of jobs and how they can learn and grow given a decent amount of confidence. I did get to deliver a supervisory training program of my own design and found teaching leaders and potential leaders both energizing and fulfilling. Better still, I traveled all over North America delivering training, resolving legal issues and visiting every baseball stadium within my reach. In the meantime, I completed my Master’s degree, which turned out to be the best educational experience of my life and gave me knowledge that I still use every day. Things were going good! Hooray!
Of course, it couldn’t last. What do you think happened?
a.) Everything went to hell in a hand basket.
b.) My boss got fired and my favorite colleague decided to move to Hawaii and become a jazz singer.
c.) Robert received yet another promotion to a job for which he was distinctly unqualified.
d.) All of the above.
To be continued . . .