Connect, Grow, Thrive

Matthew Hill - Training techniques

INSIGHTS: ETAS Journal Volume 33 No. 1 Winter 2015

Training techniques: The ‘golden treasure’

Interview with Matthew Hill

Author, leadership trainer and coach, conflict mediator, and intercultural facilitator, Matthew Hill has over 20 years of experience in training, coaching, executive search, and country-entry consulting. As the owner and head trainer at Hill Networks Limited, he helps directors and managers get to their goals with new and international teams. He also hosts a YouTube channel called the Intercultural Training Channel, which informs companies, culture trainers, and intercultural coaches, and is a platform for exchange between them, about current issues in the field of culture.

On behalf of ETAS Journal, we are delighted to welcome Matthew into these pages.

How did you get into the intercultural skills training business?

It was a funny accident. About 12 years ago, I was in the Czech Republic for five and half years, and I began to think that I knew about the Slavic psychology. I came back and put a small advertisement on an HR job portal saying that I was an executive coach and that I understood overseas business. Then I got a call from an enormous German company helping a British couple who were just about to be sent to the Czech Republic. They asked me to put together a five-day course. I only later found out that I'd done my first intercultural relocation training. I didn't know the field existed. It was a happy accident. Then I became addicted, addicted to different countries, different teams, different corporations, different scenarios, and I broadened out from culture to leadership, conflict, communication, and leadership soft skills.

What do you consider are some of the qualities of a successful intercultural skills trainer?

That’s a good question, and I might surprise you with some of the answers. I would say business acumen is the most important. You will be speaking to people in business and you need to understand the fundamentals of what they're doing, and what they're speaking about. Essentially, you have to learn their language.

The second thing would be self-awareness. You need a sense of your own prejudices, your baggage, your preferences, your point of view, and your world view. The reason for this is so you can detach yourself from the conversation and genuinely help other people at work.

The third quality is curiosity. You need to be curious about people, cultures, corporations, towns, houses, cost of living, or political systems. I think a passion for history is very useful. So, cultural curiosity is very useful. Other important skills are storytelling, empathy, and active listening

What have been your more interesting or challenging cultural training projects?

I love three-day cultural conflict courses. I will be given team A, who are from one department, and team B, who are from another department. We will be put together for three days. When they come in, they won't look at each other. There is no eye contact, no shaking of hands. It's pretty tense. My job after three days is to unpackage the power, the emotion, the culture, and promote the healthy recognition of difference, a context of human rights and respect, and get to reconciliation. The goal is to form some sort of a team.

At the end of the course, there's a final non-verbal test that we do. On the final day, we ask the cafeteria or restaurant to have tables of four, and you say that it's free seating. A record of success with cultural conflict resolution is that they sit in mixed formation in the restaurant.

Afterwards we appoint ambassadors and escalation channels and keep contact to keep an idea of what's going on. I love that training because it's important, because I empathize with the pain and want to diminish it. But there is a clean and obvious result at the end. There are smiles and handshakes, a couple of hugs, a bit of forgiveness. And there is an intention to carry on in a different way, with a different energy. So it's very satisfying as a human being and as a trainer.

How do you follow up with clients to check on progress, to know that behavior is actually changing, that the learning is actually sticking?

In post-work, first there is a very simple first follow-up, which is three questions that we ask in a conference call two weeks after the training.

  1.       "What do you remember from the course?"
  2.       "What is working, what are you applying from the course?"
  3.       "What is not working? What have you tried, but doesn’t work?"

So the follow-up to the training doesn’t ask if it is retained, or not. The follow-up really asks, "What is working well, what is not working so well, what needs a refresher?" Then we really drill down to the specifics. We go from theory to practice, and then practice to habit. Just training will not get you to habit. More is required to turn what is learned in training into a habit.

What is the role of the ambassadors in making this change become habit?

There are two things. One is, there's escalation or intervention. If things are going wrong, you go to the ambassador first. That's the starting point. The ambassadors would take extra training and coaching to spot conflict or cultural differences – the negative spiral of cultural encounter. When they spot the early signs of that, which might be criticism, for instance, they intervene.

The second and more interesting part is that the ambassadors continue to be the presence locally. They encourage curiosity and learning, and provide access to materials about other cultures. An example of something they might do is they might have a lunch-and-learn. This means they meet once a week in the canteen and say, ‘OK, guys, let's sit over here, go around one at a time, and say what we've learned.’ They are very important at being the satellite trainer with the agenda of continuing where the training leaves off. They remind people of the theory, they give a little bit of coaching feedback on the practice, and they continue with the dissemination of further information.

Do you have trouble getting feedback from people at the end of a project?

This is a really important point. The starting point is to identify what change clients want to achieve. If they want to achieve a change, then something's going to happen. Customers need to have a very clear change they want to achieve with clear outcomes. Not everyone does, and the conversation can stop there. The second part is, they need to have a very healthy dialogue with individuals in their team, normally through the appraisal or feedback process. And the third part of this triangle is, we can only measure the after if we've measured the before. Here we use tools like The Kirkpatrick's Four-Level Training Evaluation Model and other things. What Key Performance Indicators are in place, and what measures are there? What's funny is, a lot of customers stop at that point and say, "Forget it!" They don't want to put in the hours, the complexity, the communication, or the networking necessary to set up the before measures, and therefore facilitate the after measures.

What sort of training would you suggest for language teachers who want to branch into this field?

Historically, a lot of language trainers have gone into the intercultural training field. The massive gift, the golden treasure that they already have is training techniques. Language trainers are full of innovative, attention grabbing, clever interactive activities. Without a doubt, they should hold on to that. Often what they're missing is commercial reality. I would recommend to get an eBay trading account and start auctioning your products, start a small business, or become self employed as a trainer. You will really start to understand the language of business. That's important.

If you want to become a freelance or an independent trainer and possibly get your own customers, which is very valuable (you will get three to five times the fee for one day of self-earned business), I would go on a five-day, putting-it-all-together course. One such course the editors recommend is the Intercultural Communication Institute in Portland, Oregon, founded by Milton and Janet Bennett (http://www.intercultural.org/about.php). That's available in most countries, certainly in Europe. They will teach you the basics of what intercultural training is, and give templates for various length training sessions. They’ll also teach you about etiquette, and provide pre-work tests you can use.

Another idea is to use assessment tools. It could be Ursula Brinkmann's International Readiness Check, Nigel Ewington's International Profiling Tool, Phillip Rosinsky'sCultural Orientations Framework (http://www.philrosinski.com/cof/). There are lots of different things that you can do if you want to add to your credibility. It depends on how much confidence you've got really. If you need a template, a model, a test, then they can be very useful tools to get. The bad news is, it's a bit of time and money. The good news is, you will be absolutely ready. When you've done that you'll be ready to roll. 

The key thing for everybody is the missing leg from the table. This is contacts. Contacts, contacts, contacts. You need commercial contacts. You need contact with the big providers of training. No contacts equals no food. If you start networking, giving out your card, building up your LinkedIn profile, then you are going to get some good business at the end of it. 

Could you give me a bit of advice as a part-time freelancer trying to break into this field? Who do you contact, is it HR or operations departments?

You're really entering into a very interesting world. In the old times, you would likely have done this: "Learning and development Director, hello my name is Christina, this is what I do." That really does not work anymore. So I would not even make a phone call. I would do other things. I would get my LinkedIn profile completely up to date with key word identity, where the word ‘trainer’ appears 10 times. I would get five hundred plus contacts, then a thousand contacts, then fifteen hundred contacts. I would go to Sitar events, conferences, congresses, chamber events, BandI networking events and collect as many cards as possible, follow up with an email, a Skype chat, a smile, a summer post card, a winter Christmas card. I would write clever posts on whatever channel on George Simon's 5000 strong Sitar Europa site. And the magic is when you get an email coming in from a corporation saying, "Wow, you're busy in the social media space. Could you come and see us next week?" Then you have hit the Las Vegas slot machine bonus. The cherries are there and the coins are spilling out. You can charge three to five times as much as a sub contract training day. You are credible. You can use that logo. You can use that story in a case study. And then you can really promote some more.

The other way to promote yourself is a newsletter, trainer to corporate. Try and get it in to someone. If you have someone's business card, you do have permission to send them a newsletter. Make it short, dynamic, and with a video. You should be receiving incoming inquiries via email, based on your social media profile. The days of cold calling large companies are finished, gone and dead. It doesn't work anymore. The craziest thing happened once. I got a government, calling me, to give me some business, and I didn't even need to fly to that country to close the deal. That is the power of LinkedIn.

Could you tell us something about your current projects, and why you set up this intercultural training channel?

The intercultural training channel is a passion of mine. It is articles, videos, which are in three forms: interviews, webinar highlights, and full webinars. It's a free resource, and is not for profit. I'm irritated that there aren't more free resources for professionals interested in this field.

There is also reciprocity. So if someone has done a really good webinar, they will get inquiries. They probably will sell a book or get a training day. So there is benefit there. But it's not all commercial. And it's gone down incredibly well.

I do it because I like to connect with people. We're in a virtual world. Social media is the biggest gift anyone has ever given humanity. When I do a webinar and you've got people from Japan, Mexico, and Finland, getting on at some crazy time, listening, and typing questions in their own countries, I think that is absolutely mind blowing. So our job is to really interact, to give away information that we know, to share our talent, and to participate in global conversation. And from that we can make a difference, we can promote change. We can diminish some of the misunderstanding, bigotry, prejudice, and hatred in the world. And hopefully, we can promote a little peace and understanding. 

Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your insights on career prospects and training methods. We are sure that English teachers reading this will take away useful ideas for their own career development.

To contact him, send an email to matthew.hill@hillnetworks.com. He tells us that if you make an inquiry, such as “Have you got something on…?”, he might say “Yes”. If he says, “No”, it might inspire his next project!

David Kaufher and Christina Kwok