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Creating great managers: Inside Training by Design

Sue Weekes

Training By Design's Ann Burton

Sue Weekes chats to Ann Burton from Training by Design Ltd about what makes her business so successful at developing great leaders

When Ann Burton was approached to train a cohort of delegates for the business arm of Stockport Business Scholl in Cheshire, she admits she wasn’t over-enamoured by the prospect. “It was the summer holidays and, if I’m honest, I didn’t really fancy it,” says Burton, who was working as a business lecturer in the north-west. “We started at 9 o’clock and by 10.30am I realised that this was what I wanted to do. It was so much more exciting than lecturing and the delegates really kept me on my toes.” She recalls that it then became her ambition to set up her own training company.

For the second time in three years, a delegate trained by her company, Training by Design, has won the overall Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) Learner of the Year: Alan Harris, environmental services team leader at the Wythenshawe Community Housing Group. He began his career as a grass cutter and in just two years he has progressed to a management role. This followed completion of the ILM Level 3 Certificate in Leadership & Management. “Watching Alan’s transformation was remarkable,” says Burton. “His new found confidence really helped him develop his managerial ability and competence. We’re all really proud of him.”

When asked the secret of success as a training provider, Burton sums it up in one word: “support”. "With many delegates it’s about instilling confidence,” she says. “They are working full-time, have plenty of other commitments at home and are trying to professionally develop themselves. They will have their down days when they feel they can’t do it so it’s about supporting them to go the distance.”
She adds that she is also keen to demonstrate that she has nothing but respect for delegates embarking on their development. She says the first thing some people say when coming on a course is that “they don’t have a degree” but she reminds them that this means they probably have more work experience. Conversely, those with a degree will fear they lack experience. “So I reassure them that they have a great qualification to build on,” she says. “It’s emphasising that it isn’t about where we all start on the journey, but where we finish.”

Support and tailored content equals success

The company name, Training By Design, encapsulates the ethos of the company. Burton knows that employers can ill-afford to send their employees on a training course that won’t have a direct benefit back in the workplace. The ILM syllabus allows for customisation with training providers able to pick relevant modules so Burton tailors content for the client organisation and also offers a high level of tutorial support on a regular basis and one-to-one coaching. One of the things she strives for is involvement from the delegate’s line manager. “Getting the line manager in one-to-ones every time can be challenging because of practical reasons,” says Burton. “But it is part of going the extra mile and it means you have this fantastic triangle of learner, manager and tutor.”

Training By Design uses accelerated learning techniques which makes use of a person’s natural and preferred learning style. Burton explains that she doesn’t tend to use the learning questionnaires at the start to establish this as people sometimes think they are being assessed. “It’s about observing them and also making sure that they get a mix of learning activities and techniques throughout the day so no-one feels alienated,” she says. The room is also “dressed” with inspirational images and quotes while sensory ‘fidget’ toys and scented pens are spread across desks, all aimed to stimulate learners’ senses.

Burton is attuned to those areas of a training programme where individuals feel anxious or insecure. A fear of presenting, for instance, can stop some people going on a programme so it is something the organisation confronts early on. “I have a number of ways of getting individuals up [out of their seats] and looking at the group,” she says. “I might say ‘will someone come up and scribe for me on the flipchart’. That starts the whole process without even mentioning the word presentation.” She also explains that she and her facilitators don’t do role play but “real play”, recalling the time that she was once on a course and given a brief to be a sales manager. “I said ‘wouldn’t this be more useful if we used real examples?’ I’ve never been in sales and just could not see the learning here. We ask delegates to bring a real problem or situation with them. The benefits are greater because they are working through a real situation.”

Getting assignments done can be one of the biggest challenges for delegates who have to juggle their studies between work and home life. Training By Design has designed its own through the ILM-approved alternative assessments where individuals are also assessed in workshops. “This works beautifully in the coaching module, for example,” she says. “You need to give them confidence that they can complete the assignments. Some people have done them for a very long time, some never. From the outset I instil confidence in them that they will never feel humiliated.”

There is little doubt about the satisfaction Burton derives from seeing people develop. She believes so many people go unnoticed in organisations and stay under the radar because of a lack of confidence. “Professional development changes people’s lives,” she says. “When I heard Alan had won the award I was on holiday and cried as I knew he would be thrilled and what the award would mean to him. I’m so privileged to be involved in stories like this and it just makes you want to go out there and train the world.”


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