Polishing Turds [Guest post] 

It’s a great pleasure to welcome back the most frequent guest poster here on ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections. The author, Mr. Tim Thompson, is a friend. We were discussing the recent experience he describes below and he got to writing about. When he had about 300 words down and said, “It feels like an ELT Rant and Reflection” and I said I’d be glad to publish it here (instead of his personal blog because I thought it was interesting and enjoyable and also because it was a bit of a reflective rant. I hope you will enjoy it! I will turn things over to Tim…

I really wanted that bonus, and honestly it shouldn’t have been that hard to get. An average feedback score of four out of five for a corporate training course on a subject that I know really well? That’s a B.  80%. No sweat. But it didn’t happen and I’m pretty sure I know why.

Reason 1: It wasn’t my course. I didn’t design it. There was a company that was contracted by the client to develop the content and I was subcontracted to do the training alongside the company’s internal trainers. The participants just didn’t like the course. So the course got panned and indirectly so did I.  

Reason 2: I didn’t/couldn’t find out what the participants were asked to evaluate. Was is about the way I ran my sessions or was it more how they felt about the program? Were they evaluating things I could control, like my energy level and preparation, or was it more about things I had no control over such as the pace of the course and its content? It appears to have been the latter based on some overall course feedback that I saw. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve walked into a training session feeling like I was being asked to sell defective goods. I’ve had to work with other people’s and organizations’ materials and curricula before, and it’s really hard because 1) you’re not as familiar with it as you would be with your own stuff and 2) if it isn’t very good, 99% of the time they won’t let you fix it. Sometimes they don’t see that it’s weak and/or flawed and other times they know it’s not great but they think you should be able to “bring it to life” like you do with your own materials. If only it worked that way.

I guess I’m writing this post for two reasons (wow, I’m sensing a real theme here). The first is to vent, and I suppose this blog is as good a place to “rant” as anywhere on the interwebs. The second is to warn readers that when you stand in front of a group of people and expect them to give you their time and attention, to step out of their comfort zone to try something new, you need to bring a big personality and you also need the right tools for the job. (Does this qualify as a reflection?) Tiger Woods shouldn’t play the final round of a major tournament with a set of borrowed clubs from a guy who missed the cut. Likewise, be really careful risking your reputation trying to salvage a mediocre course.

So, what should you do if you have the opportunity to make some money using someone else’s materials and you don’t feel like they are that strong?  First of all, how much money is it? Seriously, this gig paid really well so I wasn’t going to threaten to quit if they didn’t do things my way. I went in there like a good soldier and fired where they pointed.  If the money was average, I might have turned it down. Here’s why: I don’t think I made the impression that I wanted to make. Honestly, I felt like I was training the participants with one hand tied behind my back.  They didn’t take my course so they didn’t get the best me. If you run your own business, YOU are the brand. That means every talk you give and every training session you lead affects what people think of you, and thus your company.  If you are going to potentially do damage to your brand, it better pay really well! 

Postscript: After finding out there would be no bonus due to the low overall course feedback scores, I contacted the company and suggested they consider using my materials and curriculum for future training sessions. I’m offering a program that I have run for major corporations and government research centers and the feedback is always stellar. The company said they will consider it but I don’t know if they can convince the client to make the wholesale changes required for the training course to be conducted successfully.  Michael will tell you that I can be a bit of a control freak so not being able to run the show might mean this professional relationship needs to end. At the end of the day I’d rather pick and choose the best opportunities to showcase what I can do than stay busy polishing turds.

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