No More Butts In Chairs!

I am spending the day in a training program for the San Diego MLS, Sandicor. The intent of the program is to teach people how to use the MLS system. The training is nothing more than a handshake: buttnobody’s ever going to remember what we saw and heard, however most will now be comfortable with going on line and clicking around. In other words: it’s a typical training class. It’s basically one guy standing up in front of a room full of people talking at us and pointing and clicking. The idea that people learn this way is baffling to me.

Here’s my point of view: any app, software or website that requires a training program for effective use is poorly designed. Period. In 2013, you should be able to find your way around almost any computer driven thing by intuition and experience with similar things. The idea that you’d put butts in chairs to learn . . . software! Absurd!

Here’s what happens when we insist on doing this archaic ritual of ‘training.’ The instructor is forced into gearing the class toward the least able attendees. In this case we have a few who barely know how to turn on their computers. So that’s the level of the class. Anyone a little more comfortable with technology is going to be playing Angry Birds on their smartphone.

Everything done in this class could have easily be done in half the time online. Better yet, with contextual help so that users get the training at the point they are using the system and need help? Less than half the time. Truth is, I think it all IS online and this classroom exercise is here just to justify a job or two.

I’ve been creating training for 30+ years. I’ve made bad stuff and I’ve made good stuff. What I know is this: the number one mistake companies make with training is to declare their best technician to be the trainer. They continually take the person who knows the most about what they want the learners to learn and put them in front of the class. The result is a person with no understanding of how people learn, of instructional strategies, of instructional design, talking about what they do all day. And to quote a performance improvement icon, Dr. Harold Stolovitch, ‘Telling Ain’t Training!’

The smart thing to do is to pair that Subject Matter Expert (SME) with a talented educational specialist who takes what the SME knows, strips most of it away, and packages what’s left in an easy to digest educational bite. The person who actually delivers the training might be the SME, but more likely will be the educational specialist, and may well be a whole ‘nother person all together. It takes one kind of person to know everything there is about what we need to learn (the SME). It takes another kind of person to pull the nuggets out of that knowledge and package them in an educationally digestible format (the Instructional Designer). And it takes another kind of person all together to facilitate the learning that was the original goal.

Most of what passes for ‘training’ today is useless. Nothing is learned or retained in our classrooms because we have decided that subject matter expertise trumps sound educational strategy. It’s bass-ackward. If the objective is LEARNING, the learning specialists have to rule. The SME’s are very important . . . but they are just the fodder.

My friend, Jeanne Strayer is an Instructional Designer and Performance Improvement Specialist. She is a little famous in the elite clique of her peers, having made important contributions to the evolution of the profession. It has been my pleasure, my blessing, to work with her on a variety of training-oriented projects over the past 30 years. Sometimes, I was the SME, but more often I acted as a liaison between the SMEs, the corporate client and the designers. I learned that letting a great technician lead a learning segment and tell EVERYTHING they know about the topic in which they have specialized the past several years . . . is death. I’ve learned that it takes a dispassionate outsider, who can take the SMEs information and pare it down to edible chunks, to make learning happen. I’ve learned that the best instructors step down off the stage and stand to the side. Instead of telling, telling, telling, they ask questions and create situations.

We have to get over this tendency to skip steps. We can’t continue to leap from noticing a problem to stuffing butts into chairs and asking the closest SME to give a talk. It doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked in the past, and it will never work. When we have a performance problem or a learning objective, we must work with the people who understand these things to craft a solution.

In the case of my MLS training today, I believe a good instructional designer would have axed the live training. S/he would have created a 2 minute video overview of the system and how to use online training and contextual help to learn it. I believe s/he would have created a dummy database and a series of mock examples for novices to work through. I believe s/he would have taken some of the resources saved by not having a class to beef up telephone and chat support.

Please, people, when you have a learning or performance challenge, call an expert. If you don’t know one, call me: I’ll steer you in the right direction. Your learners will thank you!

4 Reasons Why You Should Consider Using Google Voice In Your Business

Right up front, I admit it: My name is James and I am a Google-holic. I’m not braggin’ or complainin’, but I love almost everything Google’s ever done and operate my electronic life largely within a Google universe. Sorry, Apple-ites. Your shiny white devices seem stodgy and old fashioned to me. I think when you pay for that new Iphone, 60% of what you’re buying is marketing. Just sayin’ . . .

So, leave it to me to tell you why I think you should consider Google Voice as the telephone system of choice for your real estate business.

1. Transcribed Voice Mail. When a caller on your GV number goes to voice mail, their message is transcribed into text and sent to you via email or text message. If you want to hear the message, you can still do that, but the beauty is that most times, you won’t need to. You’ll be able to get the information you need from the text. This can also be very helpful if you are occupied with something else and an important call comes in. For example, you are out showing property or in a meeting. A call comes in and goes to voice mail. In a minute you are reading a text or email version of the message. It’s something very important that needs your attention right away. Great. Now you can excuse yourself, step out and take care of the problem.

2. Amazing Forwarding Capabilities. You can program GV to forward your calls to any other device you may have: your home phone, your cell phone, your office phone. It’s very easy to change which device(s) ring. You can even put them on a schedule. But there’s more. Suppose you are in your office, on your office land line with a very important call. But you have an appointment out of the office and you have to leave NOW to make it on time. You don’t want to end the important call, so you push a button and suddenly all of your other devices begin to ring. The call seamlessly transfers to whichever device you answer, say your cell phone, and the caller never knows you’ve made the change.

3. Great Marketing Tracking. Google will give you ONE GV number for your Google account. (By the way: you get a Google account when you sign up for Gmail. The email address and password you set up there becomes your login credential for any other Google product). So, if you wanted to assign a different GV number to each marketing piece you did so you’d have a text record of how many calls each piece of marketing produced, you could. You’d have to open a number of different Gmail accounts, but think about it. Maybe you’d have one number for all of your signs. Maybe you’d use a different number for all of your mailbox marketing. Perhaps you’d have a number for print advertising and so on. Five or six numbers would probably give you the visibility you need. Now, I’ve heard that sometimes GV can take some time to assign you a phone number. That wasn’t the case for me: it was instantaneous. But, I did read about one person, wanting to track marketing via different Google Voice numbers, but delayed by Google’s backlog, who went to Ebay and bought accounts for about $6 apiece.

4. Personalized Greetings. Setting up a personalized greeting is so simple. You just find a contact in your messages and assign them a custom greeting. The first person to get a personalized greeting should probably be your spouse: ‘Hi, honey. Sorry I’m tied up, but I’ll call you as soon as I get free. Love you.’ Then do one for your kids. Then, every time you take a listing, take a minute to customize a greeting for each of your sellers: ‘Hi,Bill and Cathy. Sorry I can’t take your call at this moment, but you are among my most important callers, so rest assured I’ll be back to you as soon as I can. Thanks again for choosing me to market your home.’ Or maybe a specialized greeting for your buyers: ‘Hi, Sue. I’m probably out showing property at the moment, but I’ll call you back as soon as I can. If you’ve seen a house you like and want information about it, send me a text with the address and I’ll have all the details when I call you back’ (you may have just stopped Sue from calling the listing agent!). Or, how about this (it’s my favorite): a personal greeting for friends, family and business associates who call you a lot and don’t need to hear your long winded message: ‘Hey, Dan – leave a message.’

A long time ago . . . well, a couple of years . . . we had office switchboards, PBXs, and extensions with flashing lights for multiple lines. It was expensive and inefficient. Today you can actually run your business using a virtual phone system from Google. Google Voice plus a cell phone (or two) is probably all you need. Give it a look. (Be sure to watch the short video on ‘Block Callers’!)