#1 training mistake companies make

Liquids don’t trickle up and neither does managerial skill development.

An effective managerial training project encourages skills transfer to help motivate employees to be productive and ultimately profitable. To be successful, all levels of the organization must embrace the concepts of respect and trust for creating buy-in.

So why, then, do some companies aim their skills training programs primarily at only the lowest managerial levels? Coaching and managerial skills training programs need to start at the executives to ensure a supportive environment as training rolls out to other parts of the organization.


It’s a waste of time to spend many thousands of dollars on a well-designed program if the trainees encounter resistance from their metrics-only supervisors.

We train managers to lead their teams by developing relationship while keeping a keen eye on their metrics or other measures of success. When the relationship between manager and employees is positive and strong, the employees will tend to want to excel at their jobs. It’s the difference between compliance and commitment.

Compliant employees do the minimum to meet the required success measurements. These employees may feel disenfranchised or disengaged. If they feel any loyalty to their employer, it’s very limited. Generally, the relationship with their management team is weak, unsupportive or negative.maybe-68482

Committed employees may feel a strong connection with their management team. Some are internally motivated regardless of their relationships with their managers but for
other employees, the way they are treated by their managers is the key to their performance levels.yes-68480

The best managerial and coaching training programs encourage developing genuine relationships built on mutual respect, trust and integrity.

This is a dramatic departure from the hierarchical approach of “just do it because I said so and I’m the boss.” This approach may have worked historically but it will not work with the new generation of workers.

No one wants to be treated like a metric.
It’s like being referred to as “the patient” instead of by name.

The point is to get to know the humans behind the metric. A good place to start is to:

  • Celebrate the good things they bring to the team.
  • Provide positive reinforcement while also helping close any skill gaps.
  • Build strong relationships beyond their money-making abilities.

All of this needs to start at the upper levels and trickle…. no, rain!… throughout the organization. Trainees need support and encouragement as they emerge from their programs. Avoid the #1 mistake and make sure your highest levels of management buy-in, and support, the principles of the management training. Train the upper levels first and ensure that their support for the training program is genuine.

Anyone can talk the talk but not everyone can walk the talk.

I’ve been an admirer of Herb Kelleher, Former CEO of Southwest Airlines, ever since I read his book, Nuts. He said, “Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.”

Virtual Presentations that Sizzle

Having attended countless online or virtual conferences (most of which I forgot immediately afterwards), I have compiled some cool tips to help you make your presentations sizzle. Well, at least these tips will make it more memorable.

Background design

  • Use a design to add visual interest but that doesn’t overwhelm your content
  • A busy design will distract your audience
  • Format the text and use keywords

Where do your eyes go first as you look at the examples below?

1Sizzling Virtual Presentations-Better 1Sizzling Virtual Presentations-Busy 1Sizzling Virtual Presentations Bland

The slide with the solid white background is boring and tells your audience it’s snooze time. Add at least a color to the background. The example with lots of grass is too busy and gives a cluttered impression. The pale green one features the title all on one line and adds a pop of color for visual appeal. However, the subtitle is too small.

When the slide has a lot of words on it what do you do?

You read the slide. If you’re reading you’re not listening to the presenter. A good rule to follow is the 6 by 6 rule.

  • No more than six bullet points and
  • No more than six words per bullet
  • Use keywords to jog your memory
  • Allow for plenty of white space or blank areas on the slide
  • Your audience will have to listen to you to know what these bullets mean

1visual crime   1Bullets 1visual elements clip art

Make it interactive

What do you do when the teleconference leader just talk and doesn’t involve you in a discussion?

The worst teleconferences I have ever attended were led by people who droned on and on. They did not involve the audience in the content. Within the first few seconds, I launched email or other project and began multi-tasking. I would tune back in to the monologue if it sounded like the speaker finally hit upon a topic of interest. I’m fairly certain the other people on the call were doing the same thing.


To avoid this unidirectional approach, add slides that pose a question to your audience. If time allows, involve them with chat or the visual aids available in most online conferencing tools.

I will add more ideas in future posts.

Caryn Colgan

Fast & Simple Team Building Activity

This is an easy and relatively simple way to build team relationships while finding creative solutions to organizational challenges. Involving groups of people in the decision-making process can be tricky. Different people have vastly different ideas and sometimes individuals become emotionally attached to their ideas. Here is a team building idea for making the activity fun and non-threatening.

Marker Idea Time The Activity

Time: 15 minutes but 30 minutes is better

Materials: Easel, easel paper pad and a variety of colored markers (best option for team involvement) or computer and projector where someone types and projects the results on-screen (less desirable option)

Size of group: Divide the group into teams of at least three people. It’s best to have no more than four teams. Too many teams can be difficult to manage and ensure everyone has input in the process.

Step 1: Brainstorm

As part of the decision-making process, brainstorming is often a good place to start. Brainstorming is the process of generating as many ideas as possible. This phase focuses on quantity and not quality.

How to brainstorm

  • Clearly state the problem or goal for which you want a solution
  • All ideas are accepted without comment or editing
  • Encourage participants to build on the ideas that are generated
  • No discussion takes place until later
  • Ensure everyone participates and louder people don’t dominate

To make it more fun, I offer a reward for the group that generates the most ideas


To playfully introduce the decision criteria exercise, I have them brainstorm what they perceive as a reward. At this stage I don’t introduce any constraints. I also tell them I will reward the team that has the most answers with a shiny sticker. For this stage I give them up to 10 minutes.

They will usually start listing things like money, promotions and benefits and eventually branch out into categories like food items, lottery tickets, etc.

After the allotted time, have them count the number of answers and write the total on their sheet. If I have time, I have each team look at the other teams’ lists and add any items they like. This is not an important step and can be omitted for time’s sake.

Step 2: Introduce the decision criteria

Once the teams have completed the brainstorming and stickers have been awarded, it’s time to introduce the decision criteria. What are the constraints? What are the available resources?

For this example activity I list the following criteria:

The solution must:

  1. Be readily accessible within a 5-mile radius of the training center
  2. Cost less than $20
  3. Be something everyone on your team will enjoy (e.g. candy may not be a good option for diabetics)
  4. Be legal and not violate company policy

I also tell them that I reserve the right to add to this list of criteria at any time.

The teams then eliminate any options that fail to meet the criteria. Once this is done, I have the groups consolidate the answers on one sheet of easel paper; eliminating any redundancies.

Step 3: Ranking the OptionsA team around laptop

Once you verify that they have properly applied the decision criteria, tell each person they have been awarded three votes or check marks.

They can spend their check marks however they choose. They can spend all three on one option or spread them out among various options. To avoid confusion, make sure each member of the team has a different color marker.

I prefer easel and paper because it’s easier for team members to interact and strategize about where to place their check marks. Depending on the topic, there may also be some entertaining negotiating and healthy arguing for certain rankings.

Count the check marks and declare the winner based on which item has the most votes. If there is a tie, again, depending on time, I may allow a spirited debate where teams or individuals can argue for their favorite option. Another variation is to allow them to determine how to break the stalemate; drawing straws, flipping a coin and rock-paper-scissors are a few stalemate breakers.

If there is a real organizational need to be addressed, you can use this process to explore solutions. At this stage, I will usually assign new teams so the individuals have an opportunity to work with different people.

Caryn Colgan

Tip #3: Coaching and the Happy Sandwich

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the good in a person and to, instead, zero in on the things that annoy us. To ensure we acknowledge the positive things about the coachee, it’s helpful to remember the happy sandwich. The happy sandwich is a process of starting with saying something positive, discussing areas that need improvement and concluding with something positive.

I call it the happy sandwich because it’s likely that you will remember it.

Coaching with respect means making a happy sandwich

Coaching with respect means making a happy sandwich

I’ve observed countless coaching sessions and have seen busy managers take the feedback shortcut. The feedback shortcut is when a coach goes straight to the things the direct report is doing wrong or otherwise creates an intimidating feedback session. As an observer, it’s like watching someone swinging a bat at a trapped piñata.  I’m guessing that’s how coachee feels.

If we want buy-in from the person, it’s better to show respect and provide positive feedback as well as the not-so-positive feedback. Buy-in is the difference between success and failure of the coaching session. It’s also the difference between compliance and commitment. Compliance is doing the minimum to get the job done. Commitment is going above-and-beyond the minimum because they believe in you.

When you praise them for the good things they do, they feel respected and are more willing to commit to their success. Have you ever had a boss you wanted to please? Did you have a supervisor that you wanted to be sure you never disappointed?

That’s the kind of boss you want to be.

The recipient of feedback doesn’t want to feel beat up by your words. Rather, the goal should be to let the coachee know “I Drop the ballsee you” which means you see the positive things as well as the areas for improvement.

If you use the Happy Sandwich approach you will never drop the ball on showing respect to your direct reports.

Caryn Colgan

Good Spirited Consulting Co

Tip #1: Assume you could be wrong

Tip #2: Name it

Tip #2: Coaching and the importance of “Name it”

Tip 2Preparing for a coaching session is the best way to promote a successful outcome. In Tip #1: “Assume you could be wrong”, I shared the importance of keeping an open mind. In this Tip #2, called “Name it”, I will highlight the benefits of clearly articulating the facts and observations.

Sometimes it’s hard to be direct with the issue. However, to give the other person a chance to solve the problem, a clear statement of the issue is the best approach.

When I introduce the topic of difficult coaching discussion during leadership training, managers frequently say hygiene is the most challenging. Hygiene issues are difficult because it is personal rather than business related.

I once had to have the discussion with a woman who was chronically plagued with things in her nasal passages. The entire office knew she had allergies and I fielded complaints on her issue several times a week.

I felt awkward about addressing it with her so I initially took a covert approach. I bought a box of facial tissue and left it on her desk with a sticky note that read, “Hope this helps!” I added a smiley face to soften the blow.

The next day it was clear the message had not been received and more complaints rolled in. As a new manager, this was my first time addressing a personal issue with a direct report. At first I circled the issue asking about the box of tissues, discussing allergy season and an embarrassing litany of other dodges.

After a few minutes I realized from her confused face that I wasn’t getting to the point. I finally said something like, “Your allergies are leaving visible evidence in your nose and I can see it.” She quickly grabbed a tissue from the box I had strategically placed on my desk and took care of the issue.

It was also my opportunity to ask her for strategies to make sure the issue didn’t reoccur. She came up with the solution of placing a mirror at her desk and checking periodically.

BehIt was hard to do but I had to name the issue. Putting words to the issue is the best way to give the other person a chance to fix the problem.

Over the years managers have expressed similar difficulties with peers and direct reports. Sometimes even prefacing the discussion with something like:

  • “This is a difficult topic but I want this information to be helpful for you.” or
  • “I’m sure you are unaware of this so I want to share something that I’ve noticed.”

Another way to use “Name it” is to put words to behavior you are observing during the coaching session. A trick some coaches have used is to answer questions with questions. It’s okay if they are seeking clarification but when it’s an attempt to avoid answering a difficult question then the behavior has to be addressed.

When you observe this, or other unproductive behavior, name it. Say something like, “Hmm, I’ve noticed that every time I ask you about what happened this morning you ask me a question. I would like you to answer my question, what happened this morning?”

It sounds easy but in fact, in my early coaching days I walked away from more than one session and realized that I had answered all of the coachee’s questions but had not received answers to my questions. That doesn’t happen anymore.

As a coach, prepare for the session, know the outcome you hope to achieve and be fully conscious so you can name the issue you want to resolve. You can also use “Name it” to identify unproductive behaviors you observe during the session.

Caryn Colgan
Good Spirited Consulting Co

Tip #1: Assume you could be wrong

As a manager preparing for a coaching or feedback session, maintaining a level of trust and respect is crucial. In order to get buy-in for any solution we hope to achieve with the direct report, it’s important to keep tip #1 in mind: “I could be wrong”.


Coaching Tips

Of course, the feedback session should use facts as a foundation, but humans tend to fill in the gaps with assumptions and judgments about what the facts mean.

Here’s an unfortunate example from my management past.

I was a new manager who, at that time, had no managerial training. I managed my team with many of the same techniques I had experienced from my past managers. Not all of those techniques were appropriate or effective but it’s all I knew at the time.

Fact: I saw-let’s call him John-approach his coworker Tracy’s, cubicle, look around and then remove a $20 bill from her desk.

What assumption would you make? When I tell this scenario in my Coaching classes, and ask, what assumption would you make? Invariably students say, “He stole the money.”

Well, that’s the assumption I made too. I wish I had assumed I could be wrong!

I did what my previous managers had done, I took immediate action! I promptly asked Jim to come to my office and asked him why he had taken the money. He looked at me as if I had slapped him.

He told me the group had gone out for drinks the previous night and he had paid for Tracy’s drinks. They had decided she owed him $20. She had told me that she would leave the money on her desk and if she wasn’t there, he should go ahead and take it.

Where I had assumed he was looking around to see if anyone was watching, he was in fact looking around to see if she was nearby. Where I assumed he was an opportunist stealing money from a coworker, he was collecting on a debt.

I violated trust and respect that day and I never made that mistake again.

It’s natural for humans to fill in the gaps with assumptions and interpretations for what a fact or behavior means. We do it all the time. Being aware of this short-cut to daily interactions is step one to ensuring a respectful and successful coaching session. Look at the facts and then ask questions with an open mind. You may learn that the assumptions you made on the facts you gathered are incorrect.

If you assume there could be another version of the truth, you will give the other person a chance to tell you what happened and why they did what they did. It’s a lesson I will never forget.

In Tip #2: Name it I’ll share another helpful coaching idea.

Caryn Colgan
Good Spirited Consulting Co

The art of PowerPoint

Does it just seem easier to use one of the standard templates available with the program?

Don’t do it. Chances are, your customers have already seen that template gobs of times before. If you don’t feel all that creative, at least change the color of the background or add a subtle gradient.

I’ve attended too many presentations but competent professionals and been distracted by boring, overworked PowerPoint presentations. Sometimes the poor presenter ventured off the template path and used colors that clashed horribly. Red text on black or blue backgrounds is extremely difficult to read. Please don’t do that to your audience.

If you are sure about the color choices, have a trusted colleague for feedback (preferably not a subordinate who may feel threatened to give you honest input).

Find some presentations that you like and use the appealing elements in your design. Add your logo and branded colors. Avoid tried and worn clip art. Incorporate photos of your products, employees or other identifying images.

What do you do to make your presentations sizzle?

Do creative projects help you be more creative in other areas?

Here is a one-question poll. We will report the results periodically as readers respond. Thank you.

Color pencil art by Caryn Colgan

Color pencil art by Caryn Colgan