“We need to talk to you urgently” – a colleague of mine politely interrupted my phone call. Hanging up, I found out that a major client has been lined up for a Digital Execution program and I was sought out to facilitate it. Gathering all the information left me excited and anxious – excited for an overseas assignment, and anxious because this workshop was high stakes. The program was for seasoned sales professionals of a global IT giant, based in Asia’s business hub – Singapore and the focus area was Driving Digital.
Lesson 1: The motto of the facilitator is no different than a soldier – “Be ready for anything”. Continuous learning is key for any facilitator as the preparation is not just a few days before the actual delivery.
VUCA world (Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous)
While I have delivered a similar program on home turf (India), this happened to be a whole new ball game. I was quite skeptical about this assignment due to several factors:
- complexity of the content,
- nature of the audience, and
- new cultural nuances.
The program content was nearly ready, with just a few tweaks needed to get the flow right. That left me with less than 12 days to prepare for the workshop. Given the context, I was in for a steep climb. I consider this as the most challenging assignment of my career. The silver lining here was that I had the backing of our senior leadership team who were ready to extend all possible support before deployment.
Lesson 2: Leading from the front and being inclusive is core for a team to succeed in the VUCA world.
Balancing the Score-card
The success score-card has two prominent elements – the assets and the outcomes. The assets include the program outline, content storyline, objectives of the intervention, facilitator guides, slides and props, participant guide, handouts, simulation readiness and activities. The outcome measures are learner experience, client feedback and insights for subsequent modules. Balancing these two elements, especially for a new program and with a lack of time can be extremely difficult. You know how high stakes it is when your CEO plays a crucial role in developing then fine tuning your assets.
This was the first time I observed how the networked organization worked true to its spirit. People from multiple functions were brought in to add value to the assets. I witnessed Design Thinking and Agility being implemented at each step of this process, ensuring that the learner was always at the centre.
Lesson 3: Real-time application of Design Thinking and being agile was crucial here to incorporate varied perspectives keeping the learner in the center
This was a key step in the process as well as the experience – to establish trust and confidence in the facilitator as well as the content that we would be delivering. Given the proprietary nature of the content, I was replacing the originally identified facilitator. It was important that the customer was made aware and comfortable of this change. The client instantly approved, with one ask – to deliver the content in the most engaging pattern and make it meaningful to all the senior leaders.
Lesson 4: Client-centricity is not just keeping the client’s business philosophy at the core, but about having constant & transparent conversations.
Straight from the CEO
Our CEO was continuously traveling but ensured that at every point we had his support. At one point we facetimed at an odd hour to walkthrough the content and deliver the teach back for his feedback. We were in two different time zones, over 12 hours apart and he had a packed schedule. He still made time for this.
Lesson 5: The commitment from the leadership was not just in words but in every action. Walking the talk and being a hands-on leader instills a positive people culture.
T Minus 72 Hours
Stress levels were high. So, as expected, I kept faltering on important areas of the content. This did not inspire any confidence for me in myself. I even expected that our CEO would recommend that someone else deliver this program. Yet all I received was polite but precise feedback on where and how to improve –
“Get the definitions right” – so the story can be built based on the first recall of these definitions. Of all the programs I have delivered, this clearly put my resilience to the test. I just had to power through my anxiety, and the people around me helped tremendously in making that happen.
Lesson 6: Grace under pressure from leadership can bring outstanding results. Quality of feedback and how it gets delivered counts a lot during critical situations.
I have a fear of flying long hauls. This time, however, it was overshadowed by my need to prepare for the program. In fact, the passenger seated next to me even asked if I was an MBA student preparing for my exam. Such was my state on the four-and-a-half-hour flight to Singapore. It was also the best time for me to prepare.
This could just as easily have been the worst flight of my life – heavy turbulence, thunderous lightening, landing late at night, and bags taking forever to arrive. Had I noticed all the things that went wrong, my anxiety would probably be over the roof. But I was in an entirely different state of mind – Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. That was all that mattered.
Lesson 7: The value of a milli-second is best appreciated by someone who missed a gold in Olympics. So was the scenario – utilizing every possible minute is crucial to succeed. Time is more valuable than money.
D-day arrived, my body running later than the Singapore clock. I arrived at the venue at 8.30 a.m. (6.00 a.m. in India, where I am most likely just starting my day). And a message from my CEO greeted me, “Anand, just blur them away”. This was a great confidence booster.
A little stronger on the confidence, the session commenced on time – 20+ extremely interactive leaders from Australia, China, Singapore and India sat before me. They had a lot of questions around Digital themes and models and I found our CEO’s words coming back to me – “The story will be built based on the first recall”. Channeling every bit of feedback I received during the walk-throughs, I got the definitions right and felt things started forming a pattern and falling in place.
The first tea break boosted my confidence further. I noticed that we were flocking together as one engaged group and the tone for next 2 days was set. I quickly dropped the message to my leadership team who equally rejoiced the moment.
The day progressed seamlessly, competition and engagement levels at high scale. The Senior Leader who was the chief sponsor of this initiative was impressed with the content and helped establish the connect the content to the challenges faced by the audience in their roles. This helped deliver more contextualized examples and scenarios. The Day 1 ended with excellent insights and clearly “Content was the King”. Day 2 of the program rode the same high, if not greater. The leaders in the room were connected, collaborative and incredibly high on energy.
Lesson 8: Content is the king and collaboration is the kingdom.
With euphoric moments, I bid adieu to all participants and told I would see them again virtually for subsequent modules. As I headed to the airport the next day, I was happier to cherish the learnings of 2 days. I was going home with fond memories and a sense of gratitude for having been pushed to take on this experience. I learnt more about myself than expected, and I get to add another feature on my cap for a job well done.
Author –Anand Thangaraj | Senior Facilitator at KNOLSKAPE