This is the transcript of episode 9
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Today we’re talking to Silke Koerner of DEX Training. That’s DEX Training – which stands for Digital and Experiential Training. It’s a company based in the city of Cologne (or Koln in German) in the west of Germany.
Silke is Managing Partner of DEX, which she co-founded in 2018, and she has vast experience in learning and development having run training businesses in Australia, Brazil and now in Germany.
This is Episode 9 of the Hired Trainer.com podcast. Thanks for your time today.
Hi, and welcome. Hired Trainer is the show for self-employed training consultants, people like you and me, all around the world.
The goal of this is simple. It’s to help you to get hired, to learn more and to earn more in your training business.
Each week we invite a different guest on the show to share their learning and development journey, secret lessons, advice and experience with you. We find out what they know and how their expertise can help your training business.
Today’s guest is Silke Koerner, a training business owner and highly experienced training consultant from the city of Cologne in Germany.
Let’s meet Silke.
Good morning, Silke, and welcome to the program.
Good morning, Mark. Thanks.
So, you’re based in Cologne in Germany.
That’s correct, yes.
What’s that like?
Oh, it’s great.
It’s a great city. A lot is happening actually, especially regarding new start-ups and just new work things.
It’s actually quite amazing. I’ve only been here for two years now, being back after about 30 years, so it’s great.
Where are you from originally in Germany?
Well, I am originally from Cologne, but I’ve moved around quite a bit.
And I understand you speak Portuguese?
I do, yeah. I lived in Brazil for a number of years.
You need to speak Portuguese to work there and live there.
So, you speak it fluently?
Yeah, I do.
What was life like in Brazil?
Oh, it’s quite different.
I used to live in Rio de Janeiro, so it’s very much the beach culture and people are very laid back and happy to party at any moment, and at the same time of course it’s a country with a lot of social differences.
There is a lot of violence. There is a lot of crime and Rio is a huge city, so you’ve got all the problems there also, but yeah, fantastic nature, fantastic beach and great climbing.
Yeah, it’s a real mixture.
What an experience!
Yeah, that was great – a real eye opener.
I went there first when I was 24, so yeah, that was different.
And you also spent four years in Australia.
I did, yeah, about four and a half years.
What was that like?
Oh, that was actually really nice.
I really enjoyed it.
I had also lived before in the UK and in the US, so before going there I imagined that it’s probably going to be something like a mixture of those two countries, and it actually was.
I worked for the biggest provider for adult education programmes in Australia as a Senior Executive there and the Head Office was actually in the bush, so there was a lot of nature around – a lot of kangaroos, of course, and cockatoos and all kinds of birds and wildlife.
Lots of fires in the summer of course.
Yeah, that was great, and great people – very open, very laid back also, so that reminded me actually of Brazil a little bit.
Yeah, it was fantastic.
I love the Australians.
They’re so direct, honest, open, straightforward people.
Yeah, that’s right.
So you’re back in Germany now.
Good to be back?
Yeah, I’ve been back for about two years now.
And how is it going?
Yeah, it’s really good.
I started working actually for a training company, a leadership development company based in Vienna in Austria and then just recently started my own company together with a colleague.
It’s been going great.
We’re in the beginning and it’s actually taking off much faster than we imagined it would.
And that’s the business DEX – Digital and Experiential?
Exactly, that’s DEX Training and Consulting.
So how did you choose the name and what does that actually mean to you because often choosing a name for a business is a thing a lot of consultants and trainers struggle with (such as)
How do I stand out?
What does my name mean?
What does it mean to me and what it will mean to other people?
Yeah, that’s right. You’re correct.
We spent a lot of time thinking about the name and coming up with a variety of ideas and in the end, we decided on DEX because it’s exactly what you said.
It’s ‘digital and experiential’.
At the same time, it’s short and easy to remember and also in a way it’s mutual – so if in the future we decide to change direction a little bit, it doesn’t really matter so much.
But obviously it just talks right now to what we see as our USP and that is combining experiential learning with digital tools and just online learning.
So digital, as you said, is online learning.
It’s taking advantage of this trend for remote learning or for self-directed learning – so people using CRMs and using step by step modules online.
Yeah, actually not so much the self-directed modules or those fixed modules.
Self-directed learning, yes, but because we are focused on behaviour change and soft skills training, there isn’t so much content that we need to deliver.
It’s more inspirational content that we deliver and actually providing a platform for people also to meet and exchange and support each other.
That is an important aspect for self-directed learning, to curate their own learning process so they can contribute with their own formats or their own content to actually make that learning process something that is very individual or that is tailored to a specific project group, for example.
So, let’s just say I’m a prospective client.
I’m not looking for you to give away any trade secrets here, but let’s say I come to you and I say, “Okay, love the name Digital Experiential Learning.’ That makes sense.
What can you do for me?
So, basically, what we’d say is that we can provide two aspects of learning that are really important for behaviour change.
When we talk about soft skills or staff development, usually what we mean is we need new behaviours or specific behaviours at certain points during the work flow.
What people need for that is that it needs to be relevant for them.
Nobody will change their behaviour if it doesn’t seem important for them, and they also need to feel that it benefits them.
So back at work they need to immediately feel that if they apply this change behaviour, either it gets easier to work or they get positive feedback or something.
So, if they want to change behaviour, they need to feel that and with the combination of experiential workshops, which are standalone interventions, with the digital learning opportunities we can transform this into a coherent process that provides for deep learning.
Deep learning is a condition for behaviour change.
It’s not something that you can absorb superficially.
We all know we need to exercise and eat less to stay fit and everything, but we all have difficulty so there needs to be something more in order for us to actually change our behaviours.
Let’s talk about behaviour for a moment.
Why is behaviour so important?
It’s a term derived from psychology, but why is behaviour so important to someone who is a trainer?
Trainers traditionally might say, “Well, look. You want me to do a leadership module. I do it. There it is. There’s the Power Point, there’s the work book.”
Why should a trainer worry about the impact or the significance of behaviour in the mind of the person being trained?
I think, again it’s about relevance.
The behaviour or change behaviour, this is where I manifest my beliefs and attitudes and also how a company can define the contribution of the staff to their business goals, for example.
They need to be specific behaviours if you want to achieve specific goals or if you have a value system you need to manifest that somehow, and that is always through behaviour.
So, in order to actually change something and improve something, it always comes back to behaviour.
But for behaviour change to happen, you also need to have a supporting structure around that.
It’s not enough to say, “Okay, we need to give feedback or receive feedback or do the leadership meetings or whatever in a specific way.”
You actually need to create the circumstances back at work that support this and actually ask for this change behaviour.
Yes. So, I think one way of looking at this is that when organizations buy services of trainers or coaches, people like you and me, what they’re actually looking for is not the training itself.
They’re looking for the transformation or the change in behaviour that comes about as a result of the training.
The important trend that I think is happening is that now companies start to realise that it is not enough to say, “Okay, something needs to happen with this team here. Let’s send them away for a couple of days and then bring them back to me and they’re fixed.”
They’re actually realising that they have a crucial role in making sure that any new behaviour can actually be applied and is actually recognised and appreciated back at work.
So, in effect the training is just the beginning?
What counts really to generate return on investment – and we’ll talk about that later on – is the fact that a company has made the first step.
They have taken people away from their jobs and they’ve actually put them with someone like you, but now they also have a role to play to ensure that the training which you’ve given the delegates on the training programme can actually feel supported and want to change.
They actually want to transform themselves.
Absolutely, and that is probably the most crucial aspect and probably a massive paradigm shift that clients need to perform when they really want to get return on investment on their training.
I think with globalization, more and more companies become aware of how important strategic planning is and acting accordingly, and that staff leadership or leadership development, is not an ad hoc spontaneous thing and we do it because we now have the money or something.
Any training programme or campaign actually needs to feed into a strategic goal and needs to be a strategic initiative, so they really need to become engaged and they need to realise that the company leadership as well as the supervising managers of the delegates are actually stakeholders in the training, and it’s not just the participants.
So what kinds of conversations do you find yourself having to encourage decisions makers, strategic decision makers, in client organizations that they need to look at training differently?
It’s not just a case of you come in and you fix things, and as you said there, they’re now magically changed.
What kinds of conversations do you find yourself having to help people to see there’s a strategic imperative to training and development?
It’s not just a one-touch. It’s multiple touches and it also involves feeding this into their overall strategic plan.
It’s actually usually a series of conversations.
I would be lying if I said it’s just a conversation and people are “Yeah, that’s great. Fantastic.”
It’s usually they realise that this entails a lot of work and actually a lot of work before any training programme.
So that takes up resources and time to become clear about their role, to become clear about what they actually want to achieve and why, what the purpose is of this whole programme.
So, usually it’s a process of approximation that happens over a period of time and many times we will end up delivering training with very little of this strategic involvement happening.
But then in the follow up and follow through, we continue the conversations and over a period of time usually we get people to recognise.
Every once in a while, we have people that approach us and they’re already quite aware and quite advanced and sure actually in their own perception of their roles.
So, it’s a number of conversations because, as I said, it’s a massive paradigm shift.
It’s not only an attitude, but you need to dedicate resources and time and energy to actually make that happen.
As I said, if you don’t provide a different structure back at work, there’s no way a behaviour change can successfully be implemented.
You might have a couple of delegates that are strong enough and so forth that can actually do it, but the vast majority will just fail, or not even try, because it seems it’s not wanted.
People are supervising managers or whoever contracted them have just been serving lip service.
Do you find that sometimes if the supervisors or people who commission you to deliver the training, if they themselves are not on the training programme or take part in this, do you find that somehow makes the success of the training less likely?
They don’t necessarily need to be on the training programme in being present at workshops, workshops that are outside and where things are happening, but at least they need to be involved in the learning process and again that’s where we use our learning platform to do so.
But ideally, of course, people can be there. Nowadays it might be difficult for everyone to get to a place at a specific time, but with the digital possibilities we can involve people who are not physically there and they can also have a role and they have specific roles for example as learning coaches.
We need to coach those coaches because supervisors usually are not trained to be learning coaches, but that of course can be done.
It’s a set of techniques, and we can involve them this way and if they’re not involved, if they don’t demonstrate engagement as a stakeholder, then the likelihood of any positive outcomes is greatly reduced.
Do you think that training evaluation is also crucial to the success of a programme?
If you’re talking about making a development campaign a strategic initiative, then again of course you need to know the purpose.
You need to have goals and you need to have certain leading indicators for these to be measured.
You need to evaluate, so you need to do some prep work before and define all these things and then you need to evaluate to see whether or how much this training actually has achieved the desired outcomes.
And the reason I’m asking that is because I notice that you’ve got a Kirkpatrick certification.
For people who don’t know what Kirkpatrick means – I’d love to hear your opinion on this, but it’s generally perceived by the training community to be perhaps one of the best ways for an organization to evaluate whether a training programme has been successful.
Yeah, absolutely, and actually when you do the certification – I’ve got a bronze certificate which is essentially the lowest level, which means you can apply the methodology – you also obviously learn how to design a programme towards reaching those goals.
And actually you have loads of forms and help to have those conversations with the contractor, so what you do is you don’t just evaluate the programme using the Kirkpatrick New World model, but you also prepare the conversations and then you can design the programme with the answers that you got, making sure that you can have a solid evaluation afterwards.
And there are classically four levels.
This is based on work that someone called Donald Kirkpatrick, an American, I think he was a past President of the ATD, as it’s called nowadays. It used to be called the American Society for Training and Development.
He came up with this four-level model, which I’ve used as well.
The first one is reaction.
This is often where an organization, through the use of evaluation sheets or happy sheets gauges whether the training was a success, do people enjoy themselves, do they feel it helps them? What do they feel about the training and whether it impacted them in any way?
Number two is learning, which is has there been some kind of measurable increase in knowledge or skills. For example, can someone now use a particular piece of software which they couldn’t use beforehand?
Yes, or set up techniques or something.
Yeah, so the Stage Levels 1 and 2 are not really evidenced based.
It’s not quite enough to say whether training’s been successful. It’s often based upon what a delegate feels and what they think they think they’ve learnt.
But Level 3 comes back to what you were talking about at the beginning of this, Silke, which is behaviour, and this is where a training company or a training consultant can prove to an organization and say, “Look. We can now measure this. We can see that through observation or through other measurements, people are now actually doing something differently. They’re talking differently, they’re acting differently, they may have a change in attitude, but there’s an actual measurable change in job behaviour due to the training programme.”
Absolutely and then Level 4 is business outcomes where you tie these behaviours to the business outcome – so what kind of impact those behaviours actually have on the spec goals.
So, I found this model very, very helpful because of that.
You have language and you have tools to work together with the contractor to develop these things because it is not something that you can do on your own.
You need to develop those leading indicators together with the client.
It’s actually quite dovetailed.
Donald Kirkpatrick developed those four levels in ’57, I think. So, in the 50s, it’s very old, but his son and the son’s wife they turned the model around and that’s why it’s now called The New World Model.
They say it needs to start with Level 4, so with the business outcomes what does the company want to achieve and then what are the leading indicators, what are the behaviours and then the learning that needs to happen and the satisfaction of the participant.
Those are actually two things that are essentially in the training provider’s hands.
So, I can influence my quality of my programme, of course, and the trainers that I use how expert they are and how professional they are, but the Levels 3 and 4, the behaviours and the business outcomes, those need to be defined together with the client necessarily and a lot of the measurement will actually be in the hands of the clients.
Right. So that’s something you have to agree on?
Again, that’s difficult because it needs a paradigm shift, it needs energy, it needs money, it needs resources to actually want to do this and be able to do this.
So, paradigm shift, for people who are listening to this and thinking, “What is a paradigm shift,” paradigm shift, (maybe you can explain this better) I would think is something which causes a shift in how you view something.
It’s a perspective change. Is that right?
Usually a paradigm is actually a little bit stronger than a perspective, but it actually is something that you believe.
It’s a set of beliefs that you have of how things are to be done, and why they need to be done this way.
So, it’s a bit more difficult than just changing your perspective because it actually touches your beliefs and what your experiences have been so far.
I’m not sure whether Stephen Covey came up with that term, but I think it was referred to in his book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’
Yeah, that could be. I’m not sure.
Yeah, I think he tells the story of how someone witnessed a disturbance on a train and was really angry with the occupants of the carriage, the people who were causing the noise.
And then he found out something about why they were making the noise. It was quite emotional, and now realized he now saw the situation from a completely different angle.
So, paradigm shift comes back to the idea that if people don’t see how the training’s going to help them or why they should be involved in making that successful, it won’t really happen. It won’t really be embedded. I think that’s the term.
So again, we come back to relevance and there needs to be relevance for the participants as well as for the company and the supervising managers.
You also mentioned briefly a moment ago looking for particular skill sets in trainers.
Let’s talk about that for a moment.
You work with contractors or freelance trainers and you bring them in to deliver some client work.
What do you look for from training consultants?
Let’s say someone’s listening to this and thinking, “Yeah, I’ve got stuff I can do. This could be useful. My experience could be useful to DEX.” What would you look for in that person and how would they approach you successfully?
What I usually look for in trainers is probably first and foremost authenticity, so when I speak to them that they seem to be authentic and I guess really engaged in what they do and their motives to do so.
Lots of people are in the training business because they love to support people and help them to just feel better at work or grow as a person and so forth.
So that’s really important that they have a set of motivations and a set of strong values.
Again, those values I think need to definitely include integrity, they need to include respect for other people and appreciation.
So those are some basic things that don’t say anything about the skills yet, but I think that’s important in characteristics.
And then I’d be looking for what experience people have, how long they have been in the business and with what kind of target groups they have worked.
If I work with leaders and they’re senior leaders, I would certainly look for somebody who has their own leadership experience and has not only been a trainer for 30 years or something, but actually has been in the seat of the person.
So, I usually like to look for people that have this personal experience.
I guess again it depends a little bit on the target group and on what the training needs to achieve, but for example if it’s a team process and let’s say there’s a lot of facilitation for team development or goal development or something, I would be looking for somebody who is very quick on their feet in thinking and is strong in critical thinking so that they can really take what’s happening and would keep on staying in the group and transform that into something valuable that people can then work with.
And we’re also we’re looking for people that have a variety of tools.
I’m not so thrilled by people who work with a specific model and they apply it to everything.
I’m more looking for people who have a great perception of group dynamics and also empathy for people so that they can see what is going on, they can feel, they have good intuition and then they can apply whatever is needed from their tool kit.
So, it sounds to me like a lot of the things you’re talking about are things which are really in the eye of the beholder – in other words, these are things which you or your business partner would have to get a feel for. They’re less formal. You’re not looking for just a degree in psychology or Train the Trainer.
You’re looking for characteristics.
So how are you going to measure those?
Is it just gut feeling or is there something else at work here?
Usually I interview people and sometimes it’s informally, just having a chat when I meet people and I ask of course specific questions that lead people to talk about their experience or what they have done, so I like to hear concrete examples.
On other occasions it’s just informal and people tell me about their things and at other times again I hear people recommending specific people and then I will check with them.
But yeah, you’re right. It’s questions and the answers and I’ve gone with people that I hadn’t worked with before a number of times, just based on the interview whether it was formal or not.
Usually that works. Not all the time, but yeah.
Not all the time. So, someone doesn’t have to be perfect, but they need to have some degree of credibility.
You mentioned the fact that what’s important to you is the fact that they have done this before.
So if they’re, for example in sales, or they want to train in sales, they need to have been in a sales position?
Yeah, that makes perfect sense.
There are some people that haven’t and have only worked as trainers and are very good at it, but I think it’s a very specific skill set to be able to transfer whatever experiences you have into different contexts.
That’s actually something I’m looking for but the greater that capacity is, the less important it might be to have this experience.
But if we’re talking about facilitating a process that is highly strategic, you need to have walked in those people’s shoes to really understand what is happening and what kind of questions you need to ask.
If it’s I’d say a more basic team development and it’s more about creating a feedback culture within a team or something, then it’s much easier to transfer experiences even if you haven’t been in the specific sector or job that the participants are.
I see. Okay.
Where is DEX going to be in let’s say two years’ time and how are you going to get there?
Well, our plan of course is to be a pioneer in combining experiential learning with digital learning.
Speaking from a European perspective, we seem to be out there, but in two years’ time we’d like to be a reference for doing this.
How we’re going to get there, essentially, it’s a two-pronged approach, I guess.
It’s talking about clients that we’ve had for a number of years just for the experiential trainings and having these conversations that we talked about before and trying to create relevance and on the other hand also talking to trainers because there are lot of trainers that do only experiential training and they say, “Oh, God, digitalization. Horror! That’s nothing to do with us.”
And then we’ve got people that are totally on the train and they only do online training.
They believe that is the solution.
We are also trying to talk to people and educating people in the training business to see whether we can convert people and of course some of them are naturally interested and some of them are well on the way as well.
Is that hard work do you think, training prospective clients about why they need you and how you can help?
It always is.
It depends on their experience.
For example, if we’re talking about old clients and they’ve known us personally, so our company is quite fresh, but we have clients that know us from other walks of life before, and they only ever done those off site workshops and have never really thought about how to seriously transfer what is happening in those workshops to the workplace – then it’s a longish process.
With new clients it’s probably easier because, as you said yourself, digitalization is a bit of a buzz word.
Those clients seem to be interested more readily in using this approach, but what also could be difficult some clients think online training means cheaper because you can do it everywhere and you don’t have the travel costs and you don’t need to bring people together and so forth.
For our type of training, as I said, with behaviour change and soft skills training, that is not the case.
We do have this branded approach and it will not save them money. It will just make sure that the investment has a great return.
Where can people find out more about your business?
Well, they can do so online of course at www.dextraining.de and that’s where you find links also to our learning platform.
Of course, they can get in touch at any time.
I’m going to put those links etc in the show notes to the podcast episode. That’s dextraining.de
DE being of course the domain name for Germany.
And they can of course find you, as everyone can be found these days, I guess, in the training business, on LinkedIn?
And for Germans, of course, on Xing.de
Xing.de, yeah. I was a member of that for a while.
In Germany that’s the main source.
Okay, I’ll put that in the show notes too.
It’s been wonderful talking to you, Silke.
Thanks so much for coming on the programme.
Sure, I’ve loved it.