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June 2010
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TD Magazine

Jean Barbazette

Barbazette founded The Training Clinic, the leading company for “Train-the-Trainer” programs in the United States, in 1977. Past clients include Chevron, the Department of Justice, Nestle, Matsushita Electronic, and American Express. She, along with a field staff of 23, gives hundreds of presentations a year both nationally and internationally.

Barbazette has also taught at both the University of California at Los Angeles and Coastline Community College. She has authored seven training books, including Successful New Employee Orientation: A Step-by-Step Guide for Designing, Facilitating, and Evaluating Your Program; Instant Case Studies: How to Design, Adapt, and Use Case Studies in Training; and Managing the Training Function for Bottom Line Results: Tools, Models and Best Practices.

Barbazette has also presented at numerous conferences, and is the recipient of the ASTD President’s Award in 1998 from the Orange County Chapter for 20 years of continuous and outstanding service, as well as both the Distinguished Service Award (1999) and the Award of Merit (2003).

Q| What was your first job, and what lesson did you take away from it?

I was 16, and hired as a counter clerk at Palma's Italian Delicatessen in San Carlos, California. After having grown up on Palma's homemade delicacies, it was great fun to be at the center of activity.

Two lessons learned were about safety and customer service. I used the huge electric slicer, and had to be very careful not to cut my fingers. I wasn't allowed to clean this machine until I had worked there for over a month and watched senior employees do this task. Customer service started with eye contact and a greeting; we always repeated the customer's order and finished the transaction with "thank you very much." My on-the-job instructor was Mary, a senior clerk who believed that this method was the magic formula for great customer service, and she allowed no deviations from her instructions.

Some of these memories came back to me when writing my first book, Successful New Employee Orientation (Pfeiffer, 1994, 1st edition). I thought back to what it was like, how I was introduced to the job, how I was trained to do the job, and some of those things that cross your mind when you've never been in the workforce before. It was interested to look at it from two perspectives.

Q| How did you first become interested in the training profession?

My first career was teaching high school social studies for seven years. After my first maternity leave, there were no jobs. The birth control pill had finally caught up with enrollment in schools and there was declining enrollment in the '70s, which was an interesting social phenomenon.

I found an ad in the LA Times that Blue Cross was looking for curriculum developers, and I decided to apply. I was then hired by Blue Cross of Southern California to develop curriculum and teach classes for hospital business office personnel who sent us claims for Medicare Services. Through this job, I found out what adult learning was all about, and learned to "speak" the languages of insurance, healthcare, and computer software. I didn't know that training was a part of what was then called the personnel function, or human resources.

Blue Cross was a Medicare intermediary, and they processed claims for Medicare, and the job I had was teaching people in hospital business offices how to improve their cash flow by billing Medicare correctly. What sounds like a rather boring job turned out to be a rather interesting development because I found that a lot of the tools and techniques that I used with 16- and 17-year-olds worked with adults as well. I later realized that I taught high school from what was more of an adult learning perspective. I think the major difference between education and training is that training really focuses on the bottom line.

Q| What inspired you to start the Training Clinic?

I founded the Training Clinic in 1977. The gist of what I've always done is to design custom training programs and then to teach others to present what I had designed. It was a part-time focus as a stay-at-home mom, which was an easy lifestyle choice. When our young children were ready to go to school, I could work on projects of my own choosing.

By the 1980s, it was really a full-time job, and in 1982, we hired our first subcontractor-instructor. Now we have 23 trainers throughout the world who present our workshops. We did public workshops from 1983 to 2003, and now we only conduct programs on site.

Q| Do you have any memorable experiences from your work with train-the-trainer programs?

In 1983 I gave my first presentation at an ASTD Conference in Washington, D.C. It was on how to "Make Adult Learning Come to Life," and was filled with tips and tools to make learning interactive and visual. When I left the room where I did my presentation, I recognized Don Kirkpatrick and I said, "Were you in my session?" And he said, "Yes, I was. It was very interesting." We've been friends ever since. We always make a point if we're both on the program at a training conference to find each other and say hello.

I was teaching a session last year at Training in Atlanta, and he was doing a session down the hall. He came in and introduced himself to my whole group saying "I've known this young lady a long time" and people ran up with their cameras to take a photo. It was really very cute.

The second one was that as I began to teach Train-the-Trainer, I was using a lot of experiential learning activities like you see in the Pfeiffer Annuals and their resource books. I think they have a model of the Four Step Experiential Learning Process. Basically, you set the activity up, you conduct the activity, and then there's a debriefing. I realized that all adult learning needs to look at a five-step process to be effective. The first step is really setting it up, the next step is the activity, and then steps 3, 4, and 5 are the debriefing, which are to help the learner answer: What happened? What's the main idea here? How can I use this? I think that all learning needs to go through those five steps, and that's become the hallmark of the Training Clinic and one of the key points of our methodology.

Q| How do you tailor your training programs when you travel abroad? Are there any cultural components that you take into consideration?

In the 1990s, I began to make three to four trips a year to Southeast Asia to present training programs. I saw how much of the way adults learn is influenced by human nature versus their cultural experiences. I've taught in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

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Many of the cultures in Southeast Asia are very respectful of teachers, trainers, and educators. Learners' experiences in their own education systems are very passive. The teacher is revered and you just listen and learn. If you don't understand, then there's something wrong with you. A lot of them are hesitant to ask questions.

I thought that there's got to be a better way to get these learners involved. In some of the activities, I think they just tolerated me because I'm an American and they thought this is how American programs work. But then I realized they did have questions and they were very curious, but they didn't want to be the one to stand out and ask them.

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I created an activity after lunch each day to have small groups answer two questions:

  1. What was most helpful or useful in the morning session?
  2. What questions do you have about the material?

Several participants came up with great questions that would never have been asked in a large group setting. Sometimes I would ask groups to answer each other's questions just to make it more interactive. On their evaluation sheets, several people said that getting their questions answered was the best part of the program. So building that into the curriculum was a very good and appropriate thing to do. Step 5 in our adult learning process asks participants to identify how they will apply what is learned and how to use new skills on the job. This step was essential for their learning and was well received.
One other key helpful thing that I did for non-native English speakers when they went into a discussion, I said, "Be comfortable, talk in your own language, and whoever is most fluent [in English] can report out for the group."

I've also learned a great deal from our international instructors. We have an instructor in Canada who is a French-speaking Canadian, but she obviously also speaks English. But it was helpful for me to learn from her how she facilitated programs. What I learned when I was teaching a program in Canada for mostly French-speaking Canadians was that their culture is very verbal and they like to talk a lot about everything. So I had to adjust how I facilitated the class, and give them enough time to talk, yet be sure the lessons were still learned.

I have a Dutch trainer who is fluent in several languages, and so, getting his take on European cultures and what they do is helpful. I have another trainer who is in Budapest and she's also trilingual. When she does work for me, usually the class will be in English, but when the learners find out she speaks German, they start talking to her in German. Even though all the materials are in English, we've been able to make participants comfortable in letting them speak to a bilingual or a trilingual instructor.

Our instructor from Colombia has helped me translate a lot of our materials into Spanish. Sometimes we will have a handout that is in Spanish as well as English to help non-native English speakers feel more comfortable.

There are also several words we use as trainers that are pretty jargon-y, and so, if there are words that could be misinterpreted or misunderstood, I'll underline them and then all the underlined words are in a glossary in the back of the handout so that learners can go look up that word, which is defined very simply.

Q| What is one change you'd like to see in the field of workplace learning and performance within the next decade?

A: I think that trainers need to make better use of the technology at our disposal. There's a lot of e-learning out there that isn't created very well. Instructors have just put their PowerPoint slides online. Also people get talked at. We can't just throw out all the interactive adult learning techniques that we use in the classroom just because the program is online.

Very often, in the online classes that I've presented, I'll put my processing questions in a slide just to remind myself what I want to ask them. If people are hesitant, I'll say, "Ok, we're going to put your answers in the online chat so everybody can read what the other people think." That gets over some of the hesitancy people usually have of raising their hands, using a microphone, or talking to the group. I've seen other programs where the instructor doesn't have a strong opening to get everyone involved. They just ask about the weather. If they had a strong opening question like "Tell us about how this training program is working in your unit right now?" Then we really have something to talk about. So not abandoning adult learning principles and using the technology a whole lot better are changes I'd like to see.

I also think there needs to be a stronger focus on the proactive performance consulting approach to the training function. In my book, Managing the Training Function for Bottom-Line Results, I present something called "The Life Cycle of the Training Department" where training is funded and resources are provided, then there's a great deal of success and the training function builds expertise, and then trainers drop it and go on to the next project. Well, unless we demonstrate our success, we're missing out on showing our value and our contribution to the bottom-line. Then, when times get tight like they are now, the training function disappears, because it isn't known for contributing to the bottom line. All they're known for is taking people off the job and putting them in a classroom. Training needs to be approached as a business.

Q| Are you working on any new books or projects?

A: Of my seven books, I've written six for Pfeiffer. Successful New Employee Orientation has been through three editions, and there are five training books all about managing the function or doing something within the function. I originally proposed a six-pack to Pfeiffer, and the one that's missing is on developing and writing training materials so that's the one that I'd like to write for them next.

I'm also working on an e-assessment from the competencies in The Trainer's Journey to Competence. The book highlights a competency model that has a lot of parallels to ASTD's Competency Model. It takes each role and breaks it down in terms of what are the competencies and what do they look like, as well as the skills to achieve competence. I'm working with another supplier to create an online version of some of the assessments so trainers can identify their strengths and weaknesses and how they might improve.

Q| How do you enjoy spending your free time?

A: [My husband and I] probably go on two to three international cruises a year, which gives us an opportunity to visit places we would not otherwise see. Our next cruise is a Danube River cruise. It starts in Vienna and ends up in Bucharest. Eastern European countries are areas that are harder to reach and not as accessible, plus I get to see my trainer in Budapest as part of this trip.

The trip in the Fall that we have coming up is a Black Sea cruise, and we start out in Athens and end up in Venice, but I'm looking forward to going to Yalta and historical places that I've only read about.

We took a cruise last year that left Miami and ended up in Barcelona, and the reason we took it was because it was a Transatlantic cruise and we got to go down to the Eastern Caribbean, then to Brazil, then across the lower Atlantic, and then to Dakar, Senegal, and Casablanca. We look for itineraries that have different and out-of-the-way places we have not been to.

I also play golf a couple of times a week, and my game is improving. I play with some women's groups that I belong to. That's part of my wellness program. I had a re-occurrence of breast cancer last year after 14 years of wellness. It's really neat to have a support group of women that I play with and see every week, and my family has also been very helpful and supportive.

I also have three adorable granddaughters. Unfortunately, they're in the Bay Area and we're in Southern California. So we go to the Bay Area several times a year and they come down here, and we get to spoil them rotten. That's part of my job as [a grandmother].

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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