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  • How To Hire The Right Innovation Coach

    Lisa Bodell, How To Hire The Right Innovation Coach

    Have you ever attended an innovation workshop and wondered exactly how the inspirational hype would translate into your day-to-day work? Has a trainer ever given your employees plenty of innovation theory, but neglected to teach them the simple tools they need to create change and actually start innovating? For most organizations, innovation training is all too-often synonymous with over-promises and under-delivery.

    As CEO of an innovation training organization, clients come to us looking for a skill-building solution that will solve their innovation challenges and ignite a culture of change. Picking a professional, experienced innovation trainer is a critical step in getting employees to think innovatively and create new value for the organization.

    So, how can you ensure that you’ll get the right help to quickly reach your goals vs. receive a bunch of innovation hype? Here are the five must-know criteria for identifying a training pro whose right for you and your team:

    1. Got (the right) credentials? Innovation trainers have different skills than other trainers. First, they are up-to-date storytellers that live the zeitgeist of innovation. Their innovation content and examples have to be fresh (no 10-year-old business school case studies, please), and they have to have experienced innovation firsthand. How can they possibly teach people how to be innovative if they’ve never had to do it themselves? Look for individuals with backgrounds in areas such as creative problem-solving, innovation program-building, brainstorming, and experiential training. If you don’t see accolades from clients on a trainer’s Web site, request a list of referrals. Any experienced trainer who is outcome-focused can provide quotes from clients about how their training translated into real-world innovation results for an organization. Ask them: What case studies do you use when you teach? What real-world ideas have resulted from your training session? What tangible change has resulted in a client’s organization as a result of your work with them.

    2. Industry+ plus expertise. The best innovation trainers have what I call ‘industry+ plus’ experience.  While having an understanding of your industry is important, especially for clients in highly-regulated categories like healthcare and pharmaceuticals, trainers that only give you innovation examples from your industry aren’t doing you any justice. To be innovative, you need to have someone that can draw experience from beyond your industry and connect the dots back in order to show you something new. Look for a trainer who can stretch your thinking in new ways, that internal employees or outside management consultants haven’t already done.

    3.  High-octane communicator or introvert whisperer? Start by identifying your audience size and type: Large-scale group or small gathering? Extroverts or introverts? A combination of both? Now choose three words that describe the most appropriate training style for your group (provocative, humorous, coaching-centric, etc.).In our firm, all future think trainers teach the same content, but some are upbeat ‘edu-tainers’ who excel in managing large groups, while others specialize in drawing out smaller, introverted cohorts. Seek a trainer with a proven record of working with your group size and type.

    4.   Show AND tell. Emerging research suggests that lectures and PowerPoints are less than effective for practical learning or long-term retention.In tandem, L&D professionalsareactively seeking out short,sharp training experiences with immediateapplication.Experiential learning—which actively engages participants in the learning process by showing them how innovation happens with tools and techniques, vs. telling them in a PowerPoint presentation, can address each of these points. Through tested methods and a framework, experiential learning enables people to learn through action, drawing, collaboration, and implementation. In your search for a trainer, look for professionals who offer a balance of both knowledge and dynamic interaction to make innovation stick.

    5.   Professional skeptic management. Teaching innovation can be challenging, because many of today’s leaders possess a well-honed skill: professional skepticism. In a world that demands instant results and often deems failuresas fatal, taking a risk on an innovative idea can be just too difficult. Good innovation trainers possess the skill to ask provocative questions to open up possibilities around an idea without putting anyone on the defensive. They can lead a room of professional skeptics through an unorthodox exercise despite pushback. Ask prospective trainers for two or more examples of how they have handled difficult participants. Experienced trainers will often assign a task to a troublemaker—diverting their focus away from others—or ask naysayers for ideas on how to solve a problem, which shifts their mindset toward solutions. If a trainer dodges this question, they may not have the experience or skill necessary to handle a diverse group of executives.

    Guided by these tips, you can cut through the clutter to find a professional whose style and skill set matches your group’s needs. Seek out someone who offers much more than creativity fun and games, but also won’t subject people to an 8-hour lecture. Hire the highly recommended trainer who believes in communicating why techniques work so teams actually understand how to apply them to daily challenges.When your employees learn to think and act in transformative ways, the opportunities for innovation endure long after the training session ends.
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