Bespoke Training Design and Consultancy


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Want learning to deliver? Join the dots

Yesterday I attended my third ‘Unconference’ with fellow L&D professionals from a wide range of backgrounds. It was (as always) a very thought provoking day where many issues were discussed and some solutions identified!

One of the sessions focused on empowering learners and engaging managers in learning. It was a very insightful discussion that considered how much training is VALUED in organisations, whether we are defining the right objectives (and whether the right people are involved in that process) to the metrics that we use to measure training (we decided that most metrics favoured by senior management were largely irrelevant to the measuring the effectiveness of a solution).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, line managers were identified as one the biggest obstacles to effective transfer of learning. L&D teams may offer great opportunities and solutions, individuals may be motivated to learn, but when managers won’t ‘release’ them from their day job (proof if ever it was needed that learning is something extra, not related to the real work for which they get paid), when no-one takes an interest in what has been learned and how it has been applied, when no-one is helping them to see the link between learning and job performance, it all tends to fall a bit flat.

Lots of meaty things for internal L&D teams to implement, but also for external providers like me to address, and I came away feeling that some really practical ideas had been shared.

Now fast forward to my evening: My daughter was practising her flute. She’s hardly touched it over the summer and for the previous 12 months, her interest has waned. She wasn’t improving, despite having lessons at school and us encouraging her.

We decided to try one last approach: a private tutor. Wow! What a difference to her motivation and to her ability in just 3 weeks. You may think I’m going to suggest that all formal learning should be replaced my coaching, but I’m not. That said, coaching can of course be an excellent way of developing skills for many people, and it should certainly be part of any L&D mix.

The thing I think that has made the difference is the fact that her music tuition is now more ‘joined up’. We didn’t know the music teacher at school, they didn’t know us, we never got any feedback, and our daughter had to be ‘released’ from ordinary school lessons to attend which didn’t always happen in a timely way. With the private tutor, the lessons aren’t an interruption to anything else. Because they are at home, we can hear what is happening in the lesson, we can give our daughter specific (and immediate) feedback and encouragement. The tutor also shares the goals she has set for her in the next week and what we should be doing as parents to help her to achieve them. We want her to succeed, so we take our role very seriously.

In this scenario, we are the line manager: we are now much more involved in the learning: We selected the learning solution for a start! We have regular conversations with the tutor (learning provider) and understand what is being covered and why. We can provide targeted help to our daughter (the learner) and can give specific feedback. We can also challenge both parties (this piece is too hard, we need to re-arrange the lesson, or why haven’t you practised? Do you want us to find that piece for you to listen to?). Of course, we also have a vested interest as private tuition costs more than school lessons!

The message for me is clear: the more we can engage ALL stakeholders in the design and delivery of learning, the better the outcomes will be for everyone as everyone has a vested interest. The challenge for me as an external training provider is convincing stakeholders in the organisations I work with, who may just want someone to come in and ‘create some training’…No matter how well I write it (and I will write it well!), it will have limited effect unless it’s joined up with other elements.


Skin and Bone: Soft and Hard Management Skills

Last weekend I went on a day’s family bushcraft course (thanks to Komaru Outdoors for such a great day!). Our day was more about having fun than serious learning, but the owners do run more corporate and social sessions with more emphasis on learning and development.


Often, their clients are used to living in a black and white world: right and wrong, love and hate, my way or the high way. They learn about collaboration, team work and problem-solving and can then take these new inclusive skills into their workplaces and communities.

The course leader and I were chatting. He assumed that (in my role as a training consultant) I was dealing with similar issues. The fact is, we are dealing with total opposites: He works with people who have all the ‘hard’ skills they’ll ever need – in fact, in many cases, these hard skills are over-done and over-relied on. They need to be balanced with what’s traditionally be termed ‘soft’ skills, but really it’s about people skills. They know WHAT to do, but they only have one way of doing it, which may not always be the best way.

In my small part of the corporate training universe, most of the clients I work with have got managers who are very good at the ‘softer’ stuff (which is actually the hard stuff, because it’s intangible, but that’s another blog!). They coach, listen, include, have regular conversations BUT making difficult decisions, following processes and giving clear instructions is harder for them. That’s why my work for the last 12 months has been about focussing on WHAT managers need to do, rather than the HOW.

No matter what the environment you need both. People are made of skin and bone, and we need to be managed with a bit of hard and soft stuff: I appreciate that if you work in a hospital or on a construction site for example managers need to be decisive, know the procedure (rules) and have a no tolerance attitude to deviation. But even in these environments, some things are better managed from a more collaborative approach. People need to feel the security that their manager knows what they are doing. They need to trust their decisions and feel confident that doing as they are told is the right things to do. On the other hand, we also have a strong need to contribute, to be recognised, to develop and challenge/innovate.

If you need a bespoke approach to getting the balance right in your organisation, please get in touch and we’ll see if we can help.

The Customer waits for the Fish

On Friday, by some fluke of nature, both hubby and I were working at home. We decided to treat ourselves to fish and chips from the local chippy at lunchtime.

I went in and placed the order “One large fish, chips and peas please” (It’s plenty for 2 – especially at lunchtime). Despite it being 12.30 and with no-one else in the shop, I was surprised when the cook started to batter up a fish to fry.

“Haven’t you got any ready?” I asked.

“No. I only cook them when they are ordered. The customer must wait for the fish. The fish doesn’t wait for a customer. That way they are fresh and crisp.” I was told.

fish and chips

And I realised that I apply the same principles to my business.

Recently I’ve been sent lots of training requests. All great opportunities, but none of which I can take advantage of. Each opportunity is like a shopping list:

  • The vendor must have role/industry-specific experience
  • The provider must have a course ready
  • The ‘syllabus’ must meet XYZ standards
  • The course must be accredited with this body or that body
  • The course must cost X and be able to be delivered in Y town on Z date
  • The trainer must be called Bob and have a dog

OK, so I made the last one up, but you get the gist!

As a small business, I can’t for the life of me understand why any training provider would write a very specific course or programme and then HOPE someone wants it. Why cook a fish in the hope it will sell? It’s madness. And from a client’s point of view, I can only imagine that finding a ready-made solution that ticks ALL the boxes is very difficult.

That’s why I would much rather find out what a client wants and then create it for them (and coincidentally why I never work with the Public Sector – you aren’t allowed to have those conversations!). I get to know their industry and business and find out exactly what they want before I start. Yes, it’s going to be very bespoke, but at least I’ve got a buyer. I can include whatever models they want, ensure it meets whatever standards/accreditations they want, provide detailed or ‘top-line’ materials, include loads of pre-work or none at all, create follow-up assignments (or not) make it more or less active, shorter or longer in duration. It’s like magic! And, like my fish and chip shop you place your order and it will be cooked for you.

I’d far rather spend a week creating something that someone wants than spend a week writing something that may never sell.

In addition, the client gets something that is totally relevant to them, not forced to fit, and not including elements that they don’t need because they were already included in the ‘ready-made’ course. We create it together, and the price is probably about the same.

The customer waits for the fish: The fish isn’t waiting for the customer.

Balancing Expertise with Active Learning

Last week, I got involved with social learning on Twitter via #LDInsight – a rare treat as the school run takes place at the same time!

The question was ‘How do you balance the need to be an expert with facilitating access to learning?’.

expert v facilitator

My immediate (and typically blunt) response was “I don’t”. I don’t set myself up as an expert. When delivering training I make it clear that everyone in the room has knowledge, experience and good practice to share: I’ve noticed that this immediately reduces any resistance to learning that may be present. Those experienced, competent people in the room inwardly give a sigh of relief that they aren’t going to be ‘told what to do’.

When designing training, I add value around the learning process and in particular by harnessing accelerated learning techniques. The nitty gritty of the content is often added by an internal expert.

In fact, my last three big projects followed this model. I’m not an expert in finance or HR, but I have been able to create great workshops on these topics by working with internal experts. The key is not being precious about ownership. It’s about using people to their strengths.

With a national charity, I worked with a very knowledgeable finance professional and we respected each other’s expertise. He knew what people needed to know and do in terms of financial management, and I trusted his knowledge and judgement. In return, he recognised that he wasn’t a trainer, and trusted me to put a structure and activities around these core issues to bring them to life so that people would engage and learn. It worked.

With a global food manufacturer, I’m currently part way through writing a series of half-day ‘Manager Fundamental’ workshops that will be run by internal experts. Again, I’ve added value through the exercises and discussion guidelines. The expert needs only a prompt to talk about policy X and procedure Y, they know more about it than I do, but they don’t know how to bring it to life.

We must also bear in mind that knowledge quickly goes out of date. During (possibly Series ‘K’ of) QI, Stephen Fry commented that half the things they told us to be true in the ‘A’ series have now been found to be false! Yesterday’s expert may not be tomorrow’s expert, so when relying on ‘experts’ to deliver training, you need to be sure that they really are!

Which brings me to perhaps the best example of being an expert versus facilitating learning, which is with another of my clients, a growing bank. We have written (with input from them) 7 HR workshops, which we are now delivering. The trainers are qualified, experienced and knowledgeable HR professionals. They stay up to date with employment law. ‘Black and White’ is clear to them, but what about the shades of grey? Every company takes a slightly different approach and attitude to things like lateness and sickness. Every company does its performance review slightly differently. Every company has a unique recruitment process.

Here, the trainers (myself included) know enough about the subject to facilitate the session, ask relevant questions and know which contributions to encourage and which to challenge. But we are NOT experts in their recruitment system, their bonus scheme, their occupational health programme and so on. Nine months ago when we began the training, we did our best to learn all the detail, but of course things evolve in organisations and, being external to it, it’s easy to get left behind. So, each workshop is co-delivered (for part of the session) by an internal expert. It works incredibly well and the delegates get the best of both worlds: An experienced facilitator who manages the session and can guide and encourage their own learning, and a proper ‘expert’ who can give a definitive answer to specific questions, but wouldn’t be able to facilitate an interactive session.

So, maybe the question shouldn’t be ‘How do you balance being an expert with facilitating others’ learning?’ but ‘Why would you want to?’ – Let each be an expert in their own way and let those learning reap the benefits.

For Performance, Conditions Matter!

I’m writing this on my ski holiday. Today I have finished early because the conditions aren’t great. Light snow is falling and visibility is poor. Even doing ‘blue’ runs has been a challenge.

Yesterday I skied from one end of the skiable area in Andorra and back again. Mostly on the harder ‘red’ runs which I found relatively easy. Yesterday the sun was shining, the air was clear and the runs were in good condition.


My ability on skis hasn’t changed in one day, but my performance certainly has! It’s all down to conditions…the environment in which I can use my skills.

It really brought home to me how vital conditions are for people going back to work after training. If the conditions are good, i.e. Supportive and in line with what’s been trained, performance will surely follow. Skiing in good conditions is easy…and I’m willing to push myself. Skiing in poor conditions is hard, and I have to concentrate to do the basics.

As a training provider, I can help to create great training programmes, as indeed can internal L&D teams. That on its own isn’t enough. Managers, HR departments and organisations in general need to make it easy for people to apply their training and perform to the best of their ability.

So the question is, are we investing enough time, energy and thought into making the conditions to transfer learning the best that we possibly can? Or, are we creating conditions that make people want to give up early?

Capital Training?

Last week I went to central London to deliver some training. It’s a rare trip for me – usually southern-based workshops are run by our southern-based trainers, but on this occasion, it was me.

London Gherkin

I get quite a buzz out of going to London: the sheer size, pace and diversity fills me with awe. I love to be a part of it…for a little while anyway. London is so unlike anywhere else in the UK. Yes, Manchester, Birmingham and even my home city of Liverpool can feel busy, metropolitan and multi-cultural but they don’t feel like London, or work the way it does. The underground system is simply amazing in it’s efficiency. ‘Boris’ bikes – brilliant. The sheer diversity of restaurants and eateries is mind boggling. Even the clothes that people wear are somehow different (I’ve never seen a man in his mid-thirties wearing skinny jeans in Liverpool and it looking normal, yet in London this somehow worked!).

And this is why I love to visit: It’s so different to my home town. The difference is striking. What works in London would seem bonkers up here. What works here wouldn’t work in London for a whole host of reasons. A small village on the outskirts of Merseyside has different needs to London. The people are different: our situations, expectations, needs and  preferences aren’t the same as our city-based friends.

The same is true of companies. Everyone seems to hold the likes of Google, SAS, River Island and Nissan in the highest regard when it comes to defining what great HR and L&D looks like. True, they do wonderful things, but that suits THEM: THEIR industry, THEIR culture, THEIR goals, THEIR people. What suits THEIR company probably won’t suit YOURS.

So whilst it may be tempting to do what Google does, you won’t get the same results. Every company needs to find it’s own best practice: it’s own way forward and to define it’s own L&D strategy. It may not be cutting edge (but then it might be); It may not grab the headlines (but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring); but it will be right for you and your organisation… and that’s why I love working with businesses to create their own bespoke learning and development programmes. Every project is an adventure. Every brief a challenge. Every outcome unique.

It’s elementary my dear Watson

Last night we were treated to 90 minutes of TV perfection: Perfect script writing, perfect casting, perfect acting, perfect shooting, perfect editing. I am of course, talking about ‘Sherlock’. Delighted to be given such a treat, but also devastated that it will be at least a year before we are treated to any more. Back to the brain-dead ‘choice’ of TV programmes involving so-called celebrities doing pointless things, or ‘talent’ shows that don’t seem to encourage talent that can’t be immediately exploited for a fast buck.

For me, Sherlock is the best thing on TV by far: Intelligent, entertaining, and just a little different to everything else. It’s also proved to be a ratings winner for the BBC. But why does it tick so many boxes?

Well, for a start, it’s based on some timeless classics written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; stories that have stood the test of time, and appealed to generation after generation. Secondly, it has been adapted and re-written by two amazing people, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, who have respected the original stories but made them fit today’s society. Thirdly, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are great actors who play their roles of Sherlock and John to perfection. As do the supporting cast. The result? The best TV programme you can get (in my opinion).


But how does this link to training? Quite directly actually!

Firstly, great training is based on tried and tested theories that have stood the test of time, and are relevant from one generation to the next. Secondly, it is ‘translated’ by people who can make those theories relevant to people in specific roles in specific companies, and can use a range of techniques to ensure they can be applied in the real world. Thirdly, the training is delivered by great trainers who respect the origin of the training, and the interpretation, but are able to bring it to life and make it their own.

I’m still amazed at how many training ‘professionals’ refer to the design phase of training as an ‘add on’ service. They don’t want to spend time on it, and clients don’t want to pay for it. I know I’m a bit of a broken record on this subject, but it is fundamental to success I don’t think the BBC, the TV viewing public or Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman see Messer’s Moffat and Gatiss’ input as ‘optional add-ons’ not worthy of investment. Without their input, there simply would be no show.

In a nutshell, great training relies on solid foundations, great design/adaptation and great delivery. It’s elementary my dear Watson.

(Note: This blog was originally published on TrainingZone) 

Training and Development: Walk before you Run

I’m reasonably active on Twitter and for quite a while now, the view of the more progressive thinkers is that as L&D professionals we should stop ‘providing’ training for people. We should instead help people learn how to learn and encourage them to curate their own learning from wherever they feel it is appropriate.

Whilst I agree with this in principle, I’ve always had a nagging feeling that it’s not quite right.

I think that’s because I spend a lot of time working in financial services, manufacturing and retail where much of what people need to do is still relatively process-led. Of course, to execute processes well you need a wide range of (what’s traditionally termed) soft skills at your disposal… and each of us have different strengths and development needs here. Each of us operates in a different context so we need to apply our skills differently. So there’s clearly a need for self-driven development.

But this development needs to be built on a solid foundation of doing the basics right, consistently and to the required standard. Even professionals need to be trained in using the in-house HR system, how to present their reports and yes, do the soft-skills stuff if they’ve never done it before.

ALL the companies I’ve ever worked for and with want people to the basics in a certain way. There are some rights and wrongs. This is where training is essential. And by training I mean the stuff that is provided/delivered by a company to its people. You simply can’t have every sales person reporting back in a different way; Complaints can’t be handled in a random fashion; You can’t have every line manager taking a different approach to performance management.

Training – whether it’s delivered face to face, via e-learning or coached in one-to-one, is still essential. I believe that employees expect their company to train them to do their job. It’s a company’s responsibility to provide training so people can meet the requirements of their role. Surely if individuals were left to find their own solutions, there’d be a lot of dissatisfied people out there and a lot of underperforming companies!

Once people are able to perforwalking on pathm in their role to the standards required, THEN we can start to think about development: About doing things better, about stretching ourselves and growing our knowledge, skills and confidence. Learning to innovate and move with the times. NOW it’s a fantastic idea to let people curate and source their own learning. NOW it’s appropriate to let individuals drive their own development. NOW it’s personal and shouldn’t be spoon-fed or ‘provided’.

There’s an old saying that we shouldn’t try to run before we can walk. I feel the same way about this. Organisations have a responsibility to teach their people to walk: Then encourage them to learn to run all by themselves. There’s a place for training that is provided, and a place for learning that is uncovered.


I’m with Richard Hammond

I was listening to Steve Wright on BBC Radio 2 earlier this week, and Richard Hammond was interviewed. I have no strong views of Richard Hammond. I can pretty much take him or leave him. Douglas Adams may describe him as ‘mostly harmless’.

But he did say something that resonated with me. He said that now, at age 44, he has realised that he isn’t a leader of men, but he is a bloomin’ good foot-soldier. He likes to be told what to do, and then he does it to the best of his ability.

That’s two things that Richard and I have in common then… well, as of next week 😉

Clients don’t use Keystone Development and Training Ltd to challenge the status quo. They don’t use us to be provocative, introduce something radical or to be told what to do. They use us as a resource boost. Our clients typically know what they want to do: they have confidence in internal leadership. Often they simply don’t have the resource to make it happen in a timely manner.

That’s where we come in. Because we don’t have a set training or development programme to sell or a leadership model that we stick slavishly to, we are happy to slot in as, when, where and how we are required. We are an extra pair of hands (or 4 or 5 extra pairs of hands if necessary). Give us a brief and we will deliver it to the best of our ability.

I’ve realised that like Richard Hammond, we won’t change the world. That’s OK. We need people who just get on with the work. What we DO aim to do is make the journey a little easier for those people we join for part of the way.

..and as photos of Richard Hammond are almost certainly all copyright, here’s a picture of a cute hamster.


Under Constant Surveillance

I was sent this image by Tim Scott as part of a #blimage challenge on Twitter. The idea is to use an image to provoke a blog related to learning/HR/management.


I’ve mulled it over for a few days, and my initial thoughts were to remember that like it or not, we are all being seen and judged by someone at all times. As a result, we need to make sure we are doing the right things right, even when we think no-one’s looking. But this isn’t L&D/Management enough for me. There’s no real message there – surely we all know that we should do our best at all times?

But then the message hit me in the face: It’s about constant surveillance in terms of keeping one eye on the broader picture; seeing what’s around you; looking out for things that might affect you.

I’ve been running my own business for nine years now (hard to believe). My main driver then (and even more so now) is flexibility. Although I pretty much do ‘full time’ hours, I need to be able to fit these in in a random pattern over a 7 day period. In August I reduce my hours: I spend less time ‘in’ my business, but I still spend time ‘on’ my business. I check my emails every day, I respond to voice messages, I browse my social media sites, I work on those ‘important but not urgent’ tasks that need to done. Yes, I have done a little client work, but this has been kept to a minimum.

Because I have continued to look at the big picture, I have been able to secure two small pieces of work for September/October, scope out a new offering, take advantage of a personal development opportunity and support my associates. This bodes well for the long term health of my business, even though I have done less actual work this month.

It’s a key theme in the Management Development programmes that I write and help to run too: many first time managers are so focussed on doing the tasks, they forget to take a look at the CCTV… until something goes wrong. They are unaware of the impact that constantly working ‘in’ their organisation has. They fail to look ahead, to put things into context, consider their place in the internal chain, or to prepare for what’s on the horizon.

I also see it in some trainers: They are brilliant in the training room – great facilitation skills (far better than my own) and totally dedicated to delivering a useful session for their delegates. Just occasionally though, what they deliver isn’t in line with wider organisational priorities/approaches. For whatever reason, they’ve got too focussed on their preferred topic/approach or on making delegates happy which (whilst delivering great short term results and a favourable ‘Happy Sheet’) doesn’t always help in the long term.

It’s not a new message. We’ve long been told about the importance of setting aside time for ‘big picture’ planning. I tried to set aside one a day week for this a few years ago, and it didn’t work. I have since found that a small amount of time each day (which may range from 30 minutes to 4 hours) works better for me. Taking a daily look around me helps me to consider what I’m doing in terms of fit and congruence with my own business, and with my clients.

This picture really make me focus on the fact doing things right isn’t always enough…we need to do the right things and find the right balance between dealing with the here and now; the short/medium term future; balancing my priorities with my clients’. And that’s true whether you’re an internal HR practitioner, trainer, manager or if like me, you run your own business.

And if you like the idea of being ‘provoked’ into a blog of your own, try this image…


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