I often get asked why I got involved in learning and development, and became a training consultant.
It’s quite simple really, I was in my first sales job.
We were part of a new team in a controversial and high profile operation for a building society. Our performance was under scrutiny from the top, the targets were huge, the pressure was on and we needed to perform.
Despite that, It was exciting times, we were working in the City of London, and my sales territory was anything to the right of the A1 (and that’s a long road!! ). I was living the dream in the company 1.1 Fiesta!
If you don’t have a plan, you can drive a lot of miles even in a 1.1 Fiesta!!
We were all working hard.
Long hours, being stretched in different direction, sales, operations, customer service. I remember vividly the knee trembling experience of giving presentations to big numbers of people, especially when the people who left the stage before were given applause that sounded as though they had scored the winning goal at Wembley. I can still remember the lurch in my stomach as I realised we had to follow that.
My intentions were good, my work ethic was strong, but looking back I was pretty clueless about how to approach the role I found myself in.
I had no experience of sales, and we had a target of £250 million. It was a big ask for a small team.
And we had to produce results quickly. We were being assessed to see if the operation was viable. Our boss absorbed a lot of that pressure, but we knew if we weren’t successful they would close us down, and people would lose their jobs.
We were centralising the lending operation which had been done traditionally in the branch network, and made the promise that we would give our clients a mortgage offer within 48 hours. We were setting up everything, developing systems and processes to run the operation smoothly.
This was the late eighties and early nineties, and interest rates were high. I remember a 10 year fixed rate at 12% which sold out in a morning, because people were so worried where interest rates would go.
So we would be out trying to develop relationships with mortgage brokers, and then when we got busy, we would be back at the office mandating mortgages and answering phones. We were on a hamster wheel of being pulled into the operation, taking us away from our sales responsibilities, in an operation that had to hit targets to be seen as viable.
And we couldn’t see the wood for the trees.
Lots happening, but little focus.
We were the archetypal busy fools.
With the stakes being high, our Head of the Lending Unit convinced Head Office to invest in a training course for us.
I can still remember the first training course, when we learnt how to sell.
Suddenly there was a structure to our conversation, we learned how to involve the customer not just talk at them, and we learnt how to articulate our offer, so that it appealed to people. Pull not push. It was a revelation for me, suddenly there was an approach that felt right.
That initial 3 day programme had such results for us and the business that it became a development programme for us, and Steve Tarr worked with us over an 18 month period.
Now there was a tried and tested way which would bring results rather than us working hard and crossing our fingers. We were given direction and focus, and a clear implementable action plan. But most of all, we walked tall into situations, and knew we had a plan that we could trust.
There were several things that made this programme special; and for several years I thought all training programmes were made that way – but even today, they rarely are.
The big thing was that we worked live issue, bringing a real challenge to the training - an event that was coming up or a problem that we faced. This was not text book stuff, this was real, and it was what we needed to work on.
We relaunched at the Café Royal. With Steve’s guidance, we organised this like a military operation. Our visitors wore colour coded name badges, so we knew who we needed to speak to in a sea of people, and then we’d run to the loos and make notes of our conversations, so that we could follow up with them.
The buzz was incredible, we pulled it off, although I’m still a bit gutted to this day that I didn’t get in the lift with Bob Willis (then legendary fast bowler – nor professional grumpy commentator) like some of the team did!
We were doing the right things, and starting to do them well, and it paid off.
The training facilitated our success.
As all the good things in life are, its approach was simple. Memorable sticky training, Steve is a master of telling a good story, practicing to make sense of the inputs, and then focus on our accountabilities following the training.
We drew up an action plan, went away and implemented it and then came back to review. This created momentum – we were on a roll.
That’s when I knew that I wanted to be involved in learning and development.
I left Britannia and became a trainer, working alongside Steve and his colleagues, learning my craft, and developing my skills. Learning how to design a programme to deliver results not just deliver content.
It was that experience that eventually brought me to set up Intelligent Dialogue – designing and delivering programmes that both people and companies value; just as I had all those years before. And to this day, learning something new or an insight that informs what I do still excites me.
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Diane Banister is a Director at Intelligent Dialogue, Wiltshire, UK
Diane set up Intelligent Dialogue in 2006 to design and deliver training and development programmes that people and businesses value and which add value.
Intelligent Dialogue is also the home to In Tune Training Toolbox, downloadable training materials which are easy to use; bite size sessions which clients run themselves.