Training can be about sharing

Most employees feel that training contributes a great deal to job satisfaction, but what do you do when you can’t afford it? Gary Cooke looks at the options.

It’s generally accepted that training makes a real difference and, like most people, I thrive on learning new stuff – anything that can help make me better, faster, more creative and more effective.

Over the years I’ve spent thousands of pounds on courses. I’ve studied neurolinguistic programming; I’ve worked with America’s biggest personal development guru, Tony Robbins; I’ve learnt how to write a screenplay on Robert McKee’s world-famous story workshop; and I’ve read hundreds of books, anxious to discover the meaning of everything. I leapt out of my comfort zone and joined a club dedicated to my biggest fear – public speaking. I know what it’s like to part with my hardearned cash – it can be a very expensive process, and unless momentum is maintained and new skills regularly practised in a supportive environment, those skills are easily forgotten.

At Open Agency we’ve sent our Web developers and account managers on ‘technical’ courses, but our creatives have always relied on the slow and informal on-thejob approach and on learning from their mistakes.

Six months ago, I made the move away from being a handson creative director. No longer padlocked to my Mac, I started to look at the bigger picture. Training was something I felt very passionate about and I believed that many of our staff could benefit from some of the courses I’d been on. But could the company afford it? No. So I decided to share some of the stuff I’d learnt in my own personal quest for knowledge, not as a mentor but as a trainer.

Training requires a more formal structured approach, so I devised a series of simple workshops, including goal setting, time-management skills for right-brained people, and presentation skills.

The initial response was mixed and it reminded me of an experience I’d had outside of work. I’d recently taken up golf after a ten-year lay-off, and the first thing I did was to book a course of lessons. I was soon winning competitions and my handicap was cut by eight shots. I played regularly with a group of guys who were all struggling with their game. I noticed that they were always trying out new drivers, new putters, looking for the secret.

The last thing they thought to do was have a lesson from the professional. If Tiger Woods, the best golfer in the world, has a coach, then why wouldn’t they have a lesson?

There was a reluctance to display weakness in front of others, even in a one-to-one coaching session. Many liked to do things the hard way – work things out for themselves.

Open Agency is a mix of ambitious and passionate fresh young talent and grumpy old designers. A graduate leaving college with a design degree has a long learning journey ahead of them and, as a grumpy old designer, I also have plenty to learn. None of us is the finished article.

Many people use the excuse that they’re too busy, they don’t have the time, so I held the first Open Agency workshop one Tuesday evening after work. The room was packed with those not afraid to try something new, also enticed by the drinks and nibbles I had bribed them with to turn up.

Our Tuesday evenings became a well-attended ritual, the most popular session being presentation skills. Many creatives believe their work should speak for itself. This is true, but selling an idea to a client, encouraging them to take a risk, and conveying passion and excitement well are skills that needs practice.

There are some great presentation workshops out there, but they’re expensive, and unless the skills learnt are practised, they are not always effective. We hold workshops on these skills, even if it means fitting in a 30-minute session on impromptu speaking.

The great thing about our in-house workshops is also the opportunity to tailor specific training to those who most need it, and, of course, who want it. We also have off-thecuff skills sessions where knowledge is shared.

Putting myself in front of my staff and facilitating our workshops as a trainer was a big step out of my comfort zone. For many of them to attend and display what they didn’t know in front of their colleagues was also a big step.

But the journey we are sharing is fun and we are learning from each other. In times when investing money in our staff isn’t always possible, we can still invest something just as precious – our time.

Gary Cooke is executive creative director at Open Agency

IN-HOUSE TRAINING

  • Before sending your people on external workshops, ask yourself if it’s something you could train them to do in-house
  • Not all delegates on a course want to be there. In-house workshops attract those who want to learn
  • Strengthen your team camaraderie by growing together and save thousands
  • Toastmasters International is an effective and inexpensive way to conquer your fear of public speaking
  • Don’t forget the drinks and nibbles, although go for nonalcoholic during presentation skills

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