5 training courses which have made a difference

I’ve just attended a couple of days’ training (pictured here) . Actually more of a workshop than a training course but it got me thinking about the training I’ve had over the years since I started working.

I’m fortunate that I’ve worked for companies which saw fit to send me on training courses. Too many people nowadays start work with small and/or cash strapped companies and don’t get this option but all of the companies I’ve worked for did their bit.

My first employer was Shell and as a raw graduate recruit it put me through a standard set of training programs to inform (indoctrinate?) me about the company and to give me skills to do a good job for them. Amongst the former was the Graduate Staff Induction Program which did what it says on the can and stretched over a week starting in the UK and ending in the Netherlands. It was my first introduction to what I really enjoyed about working for large multinational employees viz the opportunity to meet and mix with people of many nationalities and engaged in many different roles. It also involved my first air flight, London to Amsterdam and return.

Shell also put me through its Finance and Quantitative Methods course which comprised three modules in which I learnt the basics of decision theory, profitability measurement (including  Internal Rate of Return which it called Earning Power), statistics, finance  and company accounts. It was to  put me in good stead throughout my career and I was more than a little staggered in my last years at the County Council to come across officers involved in investment appraisal who simply did not understand how discounted cash flows work. That would be course number 1 in my list of five.

Shell also sent me on courses in Systems Development, Presentation Skills (long before the days of PowerPoint) and Linear Programming. This last one ran over 4 weeks and introduced me to Bonner & Moore, a consultancy in the US, which offered me a job which I did not take but which led indirectly to me joining Mobil Oil.

I worked for Mobil Oil for a little over two years and spent most of my time working with engineers  who seemed to talk a different language. To address this I asked to be sent on a couple of courses and enjoyed a week of Reservoir Engineering and two of Production Operations. Both courses took place in Maidstone and I tacked them onto the start of my home leave which meant a blissful break of six weeks from my office in Jakarta. The time was well spent and I remember, at a meeting with Pertamina soon after I returned, explaining the implications of the gas field in Sumatra being a ‘retrograde condensate reservoir’ for its yield of said product. After those two years at Mobil I was slated to attend a management development program in Australia but left to move to Hong Kong with Dow instead.

I worked for Dow for 16 years, first for 3 years in Hong Kong and then in Switzerland near Zurich. I attended a management development program in Hong Kong and then a two week course in distribution management at Cranfield when I moved to Switzerland.

I found myself as a product marketing manager in the mid 80s  with the responsibility of getting the most out of a sales team over which I had no authority and about whose activity I knew little. After all I’d never been a salesperson. A good friend recommended a course of sales management at Mercuri which I duly attended. It opened my eyes and what I learnt has been useful ever since as most of the jobs I’ve had have been similar and knowing how to manage and motivate sales people has been invaluable.  Core to the Mercuri approach is the concept of ‘platform’. Like all useful concepts it’s very simple and I’ve used it frequently since.  Subsequent to attending this course I arranged for Mercuri to deliver a half day seminar at our German distributor, Nordmann Rassmann, and to run a similar event at our European sales meeting in Malaga. Unsurprisingly this is number 2.

in the late 80s I participated in Dow Europe’s Management Essentials management development program. That was the first time I was introduced to psychometrics and was somewhat miffed to find that my communications style was ‘driver’, and not just average driver but at the driver extreme. That characterises me as being a ‘person who takes charge and wants solutions’.  I guess I wasn’t surprised but it did give me some food for thought and perhaps explained why despite being a consistently good performer my superiors always qualified their praise with words like ‘but you’re not very good with people’.

Management Essentials was wide ranging and introduced me to most of the management models that you need in managing people, either directly or indirectly. I’ve got the manuals which went with it and would often refer back to them in subsequent roles.

To address rather than simply observing my ‘people problem’ my boss in the late 80s sent me on a K Training course.  This was run by Training Käser International and was based on the ideas developed by Gustav Käser in the 1960s. He must have been one of the first people to address the challenges of getting the best out of people by improving the way that they are managed. I found it invaluable. One of its mantras is ‘what do you suggest’ which becomes a bit of a problem when everyone in the room has been through such training.

My managers persisted and early in the 90s I attended Skills with People run by P&R Gould, now Gould training. Again the focus was on individual improvement and my big learning from this course was to not assume that others working with or for me are quite so committed to the cause. They have other dimensions to their lives as well and if you can understand and accept that you’ll get more out of them. This would be course number 3.

I worked for FMC in the mid 90s and they sent me on their standard management training, MECA-M. This was my first encounter with heavy duty psychometrics and they put you though several evaluation methodologies. I remember particularly my Myers-Briggs profile, INTJ. There’s nothing absolute or right/wrong about these profiles of course but they can help you to understand yourself.

There was also a management philosophy which ran through MECA-M which was the notion of giving feedback. What I’d call ‘upfront frankness’. That’s fine as a principle but you’d better make sure that the recipient of such feedback is disposed to take it!

And that was it. Although I put myself on a short lateral thinking course when I was at Linx I had no more substantive training until I became a county councillor and potential group leader. Cambridgeshire County Council paid for me to attend the Leadership Development Academy (LDA) run by the  Innovation and Development Agency.

To some extent the wheel had turned full circle with the LDA. Whereas in my early, big corporate days, I enjoyed the experience of mixing with people from different countries and functions this time it was councillors from different parts of the UK, different council and different political parties. I don’t know what it’s like today but then we had no difficulty working together.

I got put through Myers Briggs again and once more scored INTJ although the I, more introvert than extrovert, was closer to the middle of the range. My NTJ scores remained firmly stuck to the buffers.

The LDA though was about much more than psychometrics and spent most of its time addressing leadership and particularly community leadership. As I was soon to become leader of the largest Lib Dem opposition group in the country that was invaluable. The LDA then would be course number 4.

Course number 5 is a bit of a cheat in that I didn’t attend it, I gave it. When I worked at Qi3 we twice managed the Research Councils of the UK Business Plan Competition. A part of that was upfront training and I did the module on managing teams based largely on the Belbin standard. I like Belbin, it’s grounded in a combination of common sense and good empirical observation (a little like Käser in that respect) and I’ve found it invaluable as a tool for both appraising individuals and understand team behaviour. I seem to remember that I scored high on ‘plant’, ‘monitor evaluator’ and ‘chair’ when I completed the Belbin questionnaire.

So that’s it. Lots of training, most of it valuable but five courses that stand out. I’m not sure that people starting their careers today can expect to be offered the same.

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