Be afraid, be very afraid

Company training days can be so formulaic they completely miss the
mark.  And if you recognise the scenario
below, you have already lost your audience, says David Firth

So here we are. It’s Tuesday morning (they say that Tuesday is one of the
best days for training because people have cleared the decks after the weekend
and haven’t yet got into the rhythms of boredom and cynicism and hamster-wheel
busy-ness of the rest of the week) and we’re sitting in the hotel’s third
smallest conference room reading Today’s Training Agenda.

And this agenda tells us that from now until then we’ll be looking at this,
and from then until thereafter we’ll be looking at another thing (we’re setting
expectations, you see, so that people can look for their outcomes) and then
there will be a coffee break, which will be nice (and when it comes rivulets of
caffeine and sugar will drain us all of what energy remains – no! Because we’ll
do a bit of a Wakey Heads Up after the break) and then some more and more and
more (11.35am to 12.15pm Breakout Syndicate Room B, Slough).

And then lunch, pick up your messages, do some calls, meet back in Chats
dining area for air sandwiches and deep-fried food [note: oil and carbohydrate
diet part of hotel’s evil plan to make people listless and uncomfortable during
afternoon sessions]. And so on, and so on.

So here we are, five miles from the office, but a hundred thousand light
years from the heart of business.

Everyone either hates the training or loves it for the same reason – it gets
them out of the office – and that can’t be right. Because this is part of the
company’s development plan. Because we’re training for skills when everyone
knows that 60, 70, 80 per cent of work – customer service, programming,
strategy, sweeping the floors – is attitude. Attitood.

Take a risk

Because this is all about answers when we never really decided what the
question was. Because what keeps a company driven and energised is driven and
energised people – who believe that they own their organisation, who understand
its commercial imperatives, who want to take a risk, who have the fearlessness
not to accept the weight of the past and the pressure of the status quo.

Because the MD should be here, explaining all of that and telling us how
this training made him what he is. And if he didn’t do it, what’s the point for

Finally, we’re a hundred thousand light years from the heart of business
because it’s all so planned. From 9am to 5pm, from expectation to outcome to
measurement (you’ll be able to tick the smiley face that best denotes how you
feel), from the first breakout to the final breakout, every minute designed for
a purpose, designed to support a learning objective, designed to eliminate
danger, designed to kill possibility, designed to murder the magic.

It’s 9.05 – time to get started. So. Can you each tell me what you’d like to
get out of today?

And someone says, "I hope it will be that I tried to change the
language of business. That I did my best to muster up a revolution of
creativity and courage within the business context. That I tried to redefine
work as a place of challenge and growth, not just a job, not just a
Monday-to-Friday sort of death. That I was able to let my ambitions fly – no,
that someone actually asked me to dream my ambitions into being. That I wasn’t
content to play small and play NOT TO LOSE. I want to be able to say that I
just stood up, took it personally and tried to change things." [Silence]

Well, gosh. Gosh! Thank you. So, here are your training folders. Don’t look
yet. Page 1 is the agenda. OK everyone, let’s do an icebreakerÉ

David Firth is the co-author, with Rene Carayol, of the best-selling
Corporate Vooodoo: Principles for Business Mavericks and Magicians
(Capstone/Wiley 2001, £14.99). Find out more at

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