Category Archives: Trainer Q&A

Trainer QA

Building Habits to Overcome Disruption

Dear Scott,

COVID-19 work from home conditions have thrown my routines into chaos. I feel like I am constantly trying to keep up and the more I try, the more overwhelmed I feel. How can I get myself back on track?


Dear Overwhelmed,

Frustrating. Confusing. Challenging. Unprecedented. Restricting. Troublesome. Sad. These are just some of the words used to describe our current challenges as a society due to COVID-19. Public closures such as schools, restaurants, facilities, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders have changed where and how we work as well as how we engage and interact with others. For many, who just forty-five days ago were sailing along in a successful routine, these changes have felt chaotic. The word I’d use to describe the experience is disruptive.

Disruption is “disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.” Our global community has experienced a disruption to our most common daily routines or habits and as our environment changes, so do our habits. In a very short amount of time, we are developing habits which are not delivering the desired results we seek.

This may be especially evident in our health habits. For many, continuous access to the refrigerator and pantry is slowly changing mine and other’s eating habits. The virus is called COVID-19, but for some, it is quickly becoming the COVID-25 due to the amount of weight people are experiencing as a result of the disruption to normal eating habits. Social media posts are popping up every day with messages like, “It is now being recommended that we wear masks while in our homes—not to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but to keep us from eating.” I saw a post in my social media feed with a sign in a refrigerator that reads, “You are not hungry, you are bored. Close the door.”

Additionally, our current COVID-19 challenges have disrupted our personal and professional productivity habits. It becomes challenging to get in the flow of work as we deal with limited home office space, shared internet, children at home either doing schoolwork, crying boredom, and/or growling in frustration from lack of X-box Fortnite gaming victories (I have seen this happen first-hand with my son).

Given these unique challenges, how can we stop the formation of the disruptive habits we find ourselves battling in the new normal? How can we replace disruptive habits with new ones that create improved outcomes? Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit introduces us to the science of habit formation and how to change habits that are negatively impacting us, into habits that render positive outcomes. He teaches: “This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical, mental, or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: THE HABIT LOOP.”

Here are THREE KEYS to help you leverage the Habit Loop in the new normal.

Be Mindful
Take the time to identify where you are not getting the results you want and where you need to make changes. In The Power of Habit Training workshop, we call it “Identify the Lag.” Living in the lag describes the time between when we SHOULD change a habit and when that habit IS changed. The longer we are in the lag, the more we believe change is impossible. The more mindful we are of the type of outcome we are trying to achieve, the sooner we can spot our lags, pivot to change actions, and move through them successfully.

Be Intentional
Many of us have tried to change our habits without the results we wanted; in doing so, we have been focused on the wrong steps. We have merely tried to change our routines or behaviors at a surface level when we should be focusing on the cues and rewards of the habit itself. Charles says, “If you can figure out the cues and the rewards that cause the routines to occur, then you can start fiddling with the gears of the habits in your own life and you can change almost anything.” Be intentional in your approach to change disruptive habits by identifying what triggers can invite your desired behavior and what rewards make the routine worth repeating.

Be Accountable
Accountability is a key ingredient to success and one we often struggle with. Accepting accountability allows us to make the necessary changes to achieve our desired outcomes. One of the best ways we can hold ourselves accountable to new routines is to let others know about our goal. Ask for support. Others can help us when we fall short as well as recognize our small wins and lend a broader lens to our progress.

We don’t have to let our current situation disrupt our routines. We can choose how we allow this unique, global challenge to impact us. We don’t have to be the consumers of our lives. As we leverage the Habit Loop, and are mindful, intentional, and accountable, we can become the designers of our lives. What does your design look like?

Best wishes,

Trainer QA

The Six “Rights” of Virtual Learning

by Melanie Parsons Gao
NPR Moth Story Slam Champion, TEDx Fellow, Passionate Developer of People

My laptop was on the kitchen counter, the oven was pre-heating and I was just starting to crack the eggs for my muffins when suddenly I heard my name. The teacher was calling on me!

“Melanie, I didn’t see you answer that poll just now. Are you having trouble finding the green check mark?” Justin asked.

Green check mark? What the heck? Was I supposed to have checked something green just now? Soon, a friendly voice came onto my phone line, just my line. It was the producer—the person in charge of the technology, making sure we all knew how to use it. She was friendly and helpful and she showed me where I could find the green check mark on my screen.

“Oh, there it is! Thanks so much. It was right in front of me,” I said. I just hadn’t seen it there before because I wasn’t paying attention. At all.

Within those first two minutes of this class, I realized it was not going to be like other “talking head” virtual sessions I had been in before. I was going to have to engage. I turned off the oven, put the eggs back in the fridge, and sat down at the kitchen table with my laptop. That class was the first one I ever attended that was superbly well done. It was Crucial Conversations from VitalSmarts and the facilitators were Justin Hale and Emily Gregory.

A few years later, I was the program director for a leadership development program at HCA Healthcare and our virtual learning sessions were good but not great. And I’m kind of neurotic about good but not great. Clifton Strengths tells me that’s a strength of mine called “Maximizer.” Which is awesome because all this time I thought I was just an annoying perfectionist. Anyway, my team and I challenged ourselves with this question, “How might we create a virtual learning experience that is so compelling and engaging that participants engage and learn as much as they would in an in-person session?” We found that a good virtual learning session is really a combination of six things: The Six Rights of Virtual Learning, if you will. If you get these six things right, you WILL have a successful virtual learning event. After implementing these, my team and I found that participant satisfaction went way up. In our normal virtual learning sessions, our cohort usually reported a 4.6/5.0 in terms of satisfaction with the content and the facilitator—maybe 4.7 on a great day. But with our experimental virtual class, we were seeing 4.9/5.0 or even 5.0/5.0—in the virtual environment! More importantly, the participants reported that they had “a-ha” moments and took what they learned and applied it at work and it made them better at their jobs.

So, here are what I believe to be The Six Rights of Virtual Learning.

1. The Right Topic
Any topic can be delivered virtually, but some lend themselves to virtual delivery better than others. A lecture by a professor to a group of students with some engaging questions sprinkled throughout? Probably a good one. A group discussion where you want the participants to bounce ideas off each other and brainstorm together? Might be a little bit harder. My general rule of thumb is that if you expect one person, probably the facilitator, to do about half the talking, you can probably make it work in the virtual environment. If you want the participants to do more than half the talking, you should probably make that an in-person session. Or, if you really have to do it virtually, use all the other “Rights” thoughtfully so that it works. It’s not impossible, but it’s going to take a lot of planning. If your speaker is going to be talking 75% of the time or more, then the question of virtual vs. in-person is irrelevant. People are going to be bored either way.

2. The Right Facilitator
Virtual facilitation is a learned skill. Almost anyone can do it, but almost no one can do it well unless they’ve been taught. So, invest in your facilitator and teach them how to engage learners in the virtual environment. Each facilitator has his or her own style. Some are high-energy. Some are funny. Some ask thought-provoking questions. Some have great stories. Typically, whatever makes the facilitator great in the training room will also make him or her great in the virtual environment. Here’s a little-known fact though—in order to teach them well, the facilitator must care deeply about his or her students as individuals. I once heard John Medina say it so well, “You cannot teach them if you don’t first love them.” That’s even more true online than it is in the training room.

3. The Right Technology
There are so many systems and tools out there for virtual learning. When you think about buying a car or truck, you’ll take into account the size of your family, your commute patterns, the kind of work you do, and your budget. By the same token, you’ll need to take a lot of things into account when you consider virtual learning platforms. Do you want your participants to have cameras on? Do they all have high-speed internet access? Are they comfortable using technology? Do you want to stream video during your session? Do you want to use breakout rooms? How much money do you have to spend on licenses? By the way, please use the breakout rooms. They are the bacon bits of online learning. You will never regret using them. It’s a good investment up front to get some help in selecting the right technology. It is the foundation that everything else is built on. If you want an expert opinion, Matthew Daniel at the Learner Collective can help.

4. The Right Instructional Design
The same principles apply here as in an in-person session. You have to understand your learners’ needs. You need to define clear objectives. You need to apply adult learning theory to the organization and delivery of the content. However, there are some considerations that are specific to the virtual environment. Stories need to be sharper and shorter. You need to reach out and actively engage your learners at least every 10-15 minutes. Instructions need to be more tight and clear than ever before. The virtual platform gives you options that you don’t have in the training room—you want to take advantage of those. There are people who know how to do this well and it is worth the investment to get their help in designing a good virtual module up front. If you want help from a pro, talk to Erika Coleman at Virtual Crown Productions. By the way, Matthew and Erika and Justin and Emily are not paying me to give them these props. I’m recommending them because I think they’re fabulous and nothing would make me happier than for them to get so busy with requests from all of you that they can’t take my phone calls anymore. Just kidding. You guys better always answer.

5. The Right Graphic Design
Surprisingly, you can’t just take content from an in-person session and display it on a screen for a virtual session. A good virtual slide has a lot of white space. Also, your graphical elements allow you to convey a tone of the training, and we found that amping up the color and the fun worked well in the virtual environment. My team and I experimented all over the spectrum, from silly animated gifs to a more serious, corporate brand. We finally agreed on something in the middle. We had some color and playful images but not too many, and we found that the look and feel of the slides helped keep our learners’ attention. You have room to experiment here—have fun with it!

6. The Right Producer
Companies often make the mistake of asking the facilitator to also run the technology. This is way too much to ask of one person because so many things can go wrong during a virtual session. Participants are going to need help trouble shooting their phone lines. The slides are not going to advance. Someone thinks they’re on mute but they’re not. If the facilitator tries to manage all of this AND deliver content, they’re going to get frazzled. It’s worth it to assign a producer, whose sole job is to manage the technology and make sure the participants are able to use it. That way your facilitator can focus on the content and the learners. Good producers are commanding and friendly. By commanding I mean that they take charge. They tell people what to do. When the line drops or things go black, that’s what you want—someone who will jump in, stay calm, and make it all better. All the while they are friendly and caring. They don’t shame anyone for not knowing how to mute. They come up right alongside the learner, virtually speaking, and show them what they should do. And then they disappear again.

So, there you go. Get the right content, the right facilitator, the right technology, the right instructional design, the right graphic design, and the right producer and I guarantee you no one is going to be baking muffins during your session.

Have fun and let me know how it goes for you!

Trainer QA

Create an Accountability Culture in Six Steps

I am a trainer in a non-profit organization. Because we are a close staff, we tend to avoid accountability discussions around inefficient patterns rather than discussing solutions for improved performance. People arrive late for meetings, fail to complete time-sensitive tasks and spend a lot of time talking. I do have plans to introduce Crucial Accountability in the future. Until that happens, what are some steps I can take to introduce the concepts of the course to our leadership team?

Thanks for a challenging question which a lot of trainers can relate to. Maybe we don’t work in a non-profit, but we struggle with a culture that is low on accountability. Or, we work under a management team that seems more interested in keeping the peace than improving performance. I’ll suggest some actionable ways to create an accountability culture ahead of introducing the full training course to your organization.

Partner with a Leader. It sounds as if you have a good working relationship with your leadership team. Wonderful! The first step to inspiring change is to partner with someone of influence who shares your desire to have a more efficient professional culture. As you prepare to roll out training, it is vital to work with a leader who is likely to share your concerns, has the skill and autonomy to try new ideas with their team, and who will be able to influence other leaders through their success. If you have a leader you are already working with in this capacity, then you are on the right path for transformation. For those trainers looking for a vested partner, don’t expect the right leader to immediately volunteer for this pathfinder role. They may have other concerns that are equally or more important than yours. Finding and nurturing a partnership will require listening, fact-finding, patience, compromise, and a shared mutual purpose.

Focus on the Fool’s Choice. We humans are quick to see decisions as either/or, even when they aren’t. In Crucial Conversations we call these Fool’s Choices. Examples include thinking we need to choose between peace and honesty or between winning and losing. The challenge many trainers face is a Fool’s Choice between holding people accountable and treating them with caring respect to maintain the integrity of the working environment. The way you break free of a Fool’s Choice is to ask, “How can we do both?” In this case: “How can we hold people accountable while still showing them our caring respect?” This is the question you and your leadership partner will need to address and answer.

Turn Purpose into Measurable Goals. Another common challenge that many organizations, especially non-profit organizations, face is a culture of “service values” as a substitute for measurable results. The behaviors you mentioned of arriving late to meetings and not addressing performance issues are a common symptom of service values becoming minimum standards of behavior, rather than challenging targets for teams and organizations to achieve.

As a trainer in your organization, you have an important role to play in recognizing and influencing behavior at your company. When you partner with your leadership advocate, consider using a method called Strategy On A Page (SOAP) to cascade your broad purpose and vision down to measurable goals for your team and organization. Create a SOAP that details the links between your organization’s ambitions (what it wants to achieve in the world) and the measurable results departments and individuals must achieve for this ambition to be realized. Identifying measurable results provides an immediate reason to hold people accountable.

Identify Problem Behaviors. As a trainer, you have the unique opportunity to involve the relevant parties affected by the problems you describe (lateness, chatting, etc.) in identifying problem behaviors. The goal is to have leadership and teams agree on the behavior changes they want to see within their team. A powerful way to involve them is to use a Start, Stop, and Continue exercise. This exercise can be used to direct leadership and teams to identify new behaviors they need to Start doing in order to achieve their measurable results, existing behaviors they need to Stop doing if they are to achieve these results, and existing behaviors they need to Continue doing to achieve the results they want to cultivate. Notice that these behaviors might be related to your organization’s “service values” but will be far more focused. Document these behaviors, create posters that describe them, and ask everyone to sign these posters as their commitment to change. This is a great exercise to do ahead of training as it helps participants and leadership begin to think through the elements of creating a culture of accountability.

Build New Skills and Norms. As VitalSmarts leaders, we ask for 200 percent accountability for the behavior changes teams have identified. This means that team members and leadership alike are 100 percent accountable for their own behaviors and 100 percent accountable for the behaviors of their colleagues. Instead of leaders being the only ones to hold others accountable, everyone in the team holds everyone else accountable which helps build support and reinforces the importance of individuals contributing to the organization’s accountability progress. As a trainer, using the Start, Stop and Continue exercise is a great way to check-in with teams and leadership to ensure strategies are aligned across departments and changes made where there are gaps.

Provide Leadership Support. When it comes to accountability, follow-through is everything. Helping individual team members identify formal and informal leaders who can hold them accountable for commitments, goes a long way in culture change. These leaders will play a champion role: coaching people who don’t feel skilled enough to hold a peer or boss to account, pushing people who don’t want to hold others accountable, and stepping in when an accountability discussion goes poorly or results in retaliation.

I hope these ideas give you a place to start introducing some basic accountability practices ahead of training your organization. What other ideas for creating an accountability culture have worked for your organization? Please comment with your ideas below.