Dave McIntyre

If you have read my letter to Raj Annamalai, you know I had been paired up with Dave McIntyre to deliver my first series of Staff Appraisal training events, in Edinburgh. I worked with Dave a few times over the initial weeks of my career as a trainer and it was him who, at precisely 4:56 pm one fateful afternoon in Leicester, taught me a painful lesson in the art of delivering effective training and development…

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Dear Dave

It is March, 1988 and we’d worked together on a handful of occasions. This was the very beginning of my training and development career and you had already given me plenty of time, advice and encouragement. But, unbeknown to me, there was one area where I was particularly struggling…

Dave McIntyre

Dave McIntyre, in a screen shot from the
Alliance & Leicester Staff Appraisal VHS training video

You will recall that, ahead of attending the course, managers were given pre-reading to complete – so that they could understand the process, forms and overall benefits of staff appraisal. Then, at the start of each event, we distributed a questionnaire which they completed individually for half an hour. After that, we ran a round-table discussion to find out what everyone knew, fill in any gaps and iron out misunderstandings. As I was new to the trainer role, I was keen to show that I was clued up so, using my own copy of the suggested answers, I’d highlighted what I thought were the key points. I thought this a perfectly professional and sensible approach from someone who was keen to do the right thing. But I didn’t realise that this was limiting my effectiveness. Here’s how:

I would ask a particular manager what they had written for question one. As they spoke, I’d scan my papers to see if I had highlighted the same points on my own sheet. If there was no match, I’d panic a bit and say something like: “OK, thanks for that. Has anyone got anything different…?” Then I’d keep asking until someone offered pretty much what I had written in front of me, at which point I’d relax and encourage some conversation. This had two main impacts: first, managers soon decided not to comment as their answers would probably not be fully acknowledged or discussed and, consequently, the session was over too quickly with no real debate or learning. You had clearly spotted this shortcoming – and you certainly chose your moment to do something about it.

It was 4:56 one afternoon in the Leicester training centre, just four minutes from the course start time. We were waiting for a couple of stragglers, then you suddenly beckoned me out in to the corridor, mouthing the words: “bring your file”. The file was where I kept all those model answers, all nicely highlighted in orange, notated with my own thoughts and everything slotted in to plastic sleeves, so that I could easily refer to them during the discussion sessions. I joined you in the corridor, where you indicated for me to hand it over. I passed it across, rather quizzically. You took it, turned away from me, and hurled it down the corridor. The papers flew from their plastic sleeves, cascading downwards on the air, the file bounced twice off the walls, skated along the carpet and came to rest by a fire door. You turned back to me, entered my personal space rather too much for comfort, looked me directly in the eye and hissed: “now run the bloody session.”

Charles Street Leicester

Halford House, Leicester, site of Alliance & Leicester’s
training centre and the infamous file-throwing incident
of 1988

I just remember throwing my hands aloft, saying – in a manic whisper, so the managers couldn’t hear – “what the fuck are you doing…?” and then checking the time, 4:56 (those digital watches again!) “there’s only four minutes to go!” You invaded my space once more, prodded me hard in the chest and continued: “the file is holding you back. You’re not listening to what anyone says. You’re just waiting for the so-called right answers. There are no right answers. Just get in there, listen, ask for different opinions, lead a discussion. You know your stuff, mix that knowledge with their opinions and experiences and see where it goes.” You turned and marched away.

The two stragglers arrived, I pulled myself together and went back in to the training room. At first, it was scary without my ‘comfort blanket’ on my lap, but I soon started to enjoy the depth of discussion that my new approach was facilitating, so I quickly forgot about the notes. And it was by far the best discussion session I’d run to date. You taught me a vital lesson in my career: if you want to deliver true learning, know your material and prepare well, then listen and take into account others’ opinions and experiences.

So, thank you Dave Mac. A great lesson, delivered in a harsh way! Incidentally, I still have my ‘file’, complete with wall damage and highlighted sheets. It is part of me and my journey – and so are you.

All best wishes

Simon

Staff Appraisal file page 001

A page from ‘the file’, with examples of the highlighted answers and notes that I loved so much. Look carefully in the top-left corner and it says “Listen to their answers first”, an addition following the infamous throwing incident at Leicester training centre

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