Friday, September 23, 2011

Bad Circumstances and Planning

On the way to the office this morning, I heard the unmistakable sound of a siren. In this rural area emergency vehicles still draw attention.  The paramedic in me noted the weather (cool and rainy) and immediately thought “wreck”.  I was about to turn towards town when I saw something that saddened me.  At the gas pumps across the street sat an ambulance, lights flashing.  The driver’s body language was obvious even at 100 yards – frustration. Imagine the level of embarrassment and frustration he must have been feeling.  I won’t pass judgment on the crew of the ambulance because I don’t know the circumstances that led to this specific situation. What can be said is that the situation was a bad one for the crew, for the patient(s), and for the public perception of their agency.

As instructors, we often are faced with situations that are outside our control.  We have audio-visual equipment that worked perfectly yesterday, fail.  We have wonderfully planned outdoor skills stations, and then mother nature serves up lightning and severe storms. Just like the patient waiting on the ambulance, though – our students don’t really care “why” things don’t go as planned. In fact, most students don’t really care about how much we deviate from our original plan.  They want a quality learning experience. They want to learn something new, or learn how to do something better.

The value of planning and preparation cannot be overstated.  The staff should have a contingency plan for anything that can reasonably be expected to go wrong. There are four basic rules for preparation I’ve always tried to follow:
  1. All A/V equipment, including the internet connection, will fail.  In addition to your backup, have a plans for training without the Internet, without power, without a projector, and without a computer.
  2. Always assume the weather will be severe – plan for wind, rain, snow, lightning; remember that weather affects your students’ ability to travel also.
  3. Twice the planned number of students will show up, but only half of the planned instructors.
  4. Have a backup plan for every element of the day and every piece of equipment.

Invariably, every training session will have challenges.  How the instructional team responds to the challenge is what students remember.  The ideal situation is that students are not even aware of the problem.  One thing that will guarantee failure is to bury your head in the sand and hope the situation resolves on its own.  Knowing about a problem, not acknowledging the issue, and pushing forward with a bad plan can lead to a training disaster.  Even if you are faced with that “perfect storm” of training problems, you have a responsibility to your students. Give them a  10-minute break, bring your training team together, and come up with a plan.  Communicate the plan, then execute it.  Students will forgive early challenges and the unplanned break if they come back to a valuable learning session.

When things don’t go as planned, be honest with your students and staff.  If you’re in charge, don’t pass the buck or blame.  Acknowledge the fact there were challenges, and commit to providing the best program possible under those circumstances.  Students – and your fellow instructors – will appreciate your candor and honesty. They will also recognize and appreciate it when you’ve gone “the extra mile” to ensure the success of the program.

The bottom line – even if you get caught with an empty tank, pull out the spare can you had squirreled away in the bushes and fill up so you can keep driving.  Expect things to go wrong, and plan your options.  You’ll be glad you did.

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