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Home  /  Podcast   /  Training that Drives Real World Business Results with Eric Bloom – Episode #23

 Cordell speaks with Eric Bloom, president of Manager Mechanics, about info tech executive performance training tactics. Eric is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of various books including The CIO’s Guide to Staff Needs, Growth, and Productivity and Manager Mechanics: Tips and Advice for First-Time Managers. Eric began his career as a software developer and moved through the ranks to CIO. He understands IT management from the bottom up. Find him at





Announcer: Welcome to “Training Unleashed,” the show that will help you design and deliver training that’s off the chain, and will make a difference. Now, here’s your host, Cordell Riley.

Cordell: It is my pleasure to welcome to the session today, Eric Bloom. Eric is with Manager Mechanics.

Eric: Thank you and thanks for having me on.

Cordell: So Eric, obviously, you and I got to talk a little bit and, kind of, prepare and know who each other are for this session. But maybe tell our audience a little bit about yourself and Manager Mechanics and what you guys do.

Eric: Okay. As far as myself is spent almost 30 years in IT. I started when I was two. No, but I spent about 30 years in IT, started as a programmer, worked my way up through the management ranks to CIO role. About seven-and-a-half years ago during the financial meltdown, which is I like to refer to it, as I was given the opportunity to do things. Always wanted my own company and I thought that if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it. So, literally, on the day out of Boston that morning when I was laid off, started writing my business plan on the train, and never looked back.

So as far as what the company does is we specialize in leadership, interpersonal skills, and productivity training, but we have an emphasis on people with an IT and a technical and engineering background. However, we also do a fair amount of it because, like for example, delegation is delegation no matter who you’re managing. Probably about a third of our business now is for general audience.
Cordell: You know, Eric, one of the things I was looking at when you talked about IT and I certainly heard that from your background and what your company does, as I was looking at your website, one quote struck out at me and I wanna read this specifically. But you talk about evolving from merely supporting the technology needs of an enterprise to potentially driving revenue through innovative business processes. That really resonated with me as I was reading some of your material. What does that mean, and talk a little bit about that, if you wouldn’t mind?
Eric: Sure thing. The nature of IT over the years has changed. You know, when I first started in IT in 1980 is I was in the data processing department. Hung around for a while, I became part of MIS, Management Information Systems. Hung around a little bit longer, I ended up in IT, Information Technology. Well, God willing, I hang around for a few more years and I’ll be in BT, Business Technology. What happens is is that IT, while certainly, you know, a little bit can be the new and exciting world of high tech, it’s a business function. And there’s no such thing as a technology project anymore, only business projects which require technology levels type support.

So what happens is is that everything that’s being done in IT now has to be done with a business emphasis. So, for example, is that even the people within it, people don’t wanna talk features and technology and function. What they wanna talk about is the benefits. Most specifically to your question is one thing that’s happened in a number of firms and you’re continuing to see it happen, and it’s because of cloud computing. So let’s say, for example, that I worked inside your company and I was working in IT. And I came up with this great application for trainers, and we’re using it internally and it’s going well.

Then what happens is a lot of companies now are looking at the internal assets that their IT organization has built. It would be either software or it could simply be data. And what they’re looking to see is if there’s external markets for that. And then what they’re doing is that they are then a product ties in their internal software that they built and selling it as an external product, basically, giving the IT, converting it from being totally a cost center into being a combination of cost and revenue.

And a small level, as an example of that, is actually my company does that, is one advantage of being a techie when you start a company you tend to have pretty good technology. So what I did was we built our own e-learning platform. And then a couple of two or three of the companies that I work with said, “Gee, it seems to do everything that you want. You know, who’s is it?” I said, “Well, it’s mine.” So, you know, I don’t actively market it as a product, but the two or three companies that I’ve worked with is I now let them use the platform. I productized it because I know how to do it, and they use it is as their e-learning platform.

So you know what? It’s not a major thrust of what my business is, but it’s paid for all my IT costs and so on. So in fact, in that case, I’m basically eating my own lunch, which is what they like about it. It works for me. Something in it, I’ll make a modification to make it a little bit easier. I mean, we’re not competing with Sabre and the major applications. It’s for a small firm like mine, but that’s an example of what’s happening now on how things that are built within IT because of the implementation of the Internet and cloud computing, IT now can be an external revenue source for the firm.

Cordell: And that is awesome, Eric, and thank you for that detail, you know. And I know you do a lot of training, we’re gonna kinda transition to that here in a second. But one of the things that I’m just hearing so much about and I’ll just stay on training for a sec, but it’s not just training for the sake of training, it’s training to look to drive real world business results. And that’s kinda what I heard you say from an IT perspective. It’s not just IT for the sake of IT, but it’s how does it link to what the business is trying to do, and it’s how you’re trying to drive and move the business forward. So thank you for that detail on that.

So, Eric, I know you do a lot of training, and obviously, that’s kind of who our audience is today, is obviously people that are looking to enhance training inside of their system. You know, what are some of the best things that you’re seeing the best trainers do out there as it relates to the training world today?

Eric: Well, you know, I really like to break that into three parts, because training is much more than when you’re simply on the platform. I would say the same about speaking also. Certainly, that’s a very important part when you’re in front of your students or participants or whatever you want to call them, is that you have to do a good job up there. You have to provide value. In fact, the way I generally look at training from the platform is it’s like show business. It’s 90% business and 10% show. The…you know, the 10% could be bad jokes. It could be just having some fun with those you’re working with, and the jokes are definitely bad. My wife is a reference on that.

But, anyway, is that it keeps people engaged. The other two are marketing and in-class preparation. You know, regarding the marketing, the last thing you wanna do is if you have a really great class to teach and be the best kept secret. So, you know, marketing your work… You know, the business side of training in many cases is equally as important. In some cases, more important than the actual delivery of the training itself, because if you’re not properly prepared or you don’t properly market it, then no one is gonna hear the words that you have to say that could potentially their enhance performance and their career.

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Cordell: So marketing, you know, that was one that you don’t hear training professionals think or talk a lot about. Maybe just go a little bit deeper into that one, Eric. I’ll tell you candidly, that’s one I’m really interested in because I know that I’ve done a lot of training to your [inaudible 00:07:47] getting ready for things. But the marketing aspect I think is really, really, critical. Can you talk just a little bit more about that and what does that really look like from a training perspective?

Eric: Absolutely. And let me take it from two separate perspectives, because there’s marketing done if, for example, you’re a practitioner inside of a training group of a large company. And then the second type of…or let me say a different type of marketing is that if you are in a training company basically selling marketing as your company’s product. Let me talk about the first one first. And what that is is that, basically, is if you’re within a training organization, usually part of HR or you might be, you know, a separate organization on its own within the firm, what happens is is that even there with the marketing, in that case what it’s done, is it showing the value of the training that’s being provided and offering by the IT group by basically talking to the cost center managers about it, talking to the senior executives, showing that basically, is that the training that you can provide is not only in line with corporate goals, but what it can also do is it can help the employees and the overall company meet those goals. That can be done at the corporate level or it could be done at the individual, person level.

In other words, if someone becomes a project manager, for example, is one of the things that they’re gonna need to be able to do, or actually, I’ll say a few of the things they’re gonna need to be able to do is they’re gonna have to be able to give presentations. They’re gonna have to be able to lead without authority if they have dotted line resources associated with them, etc. So the internal training marketing is basically getting those professionals to wanna sign up for your classes and in doing so, getting senior management to provide the budget and, quite frankly, the time for people to be able to take those classes.

So that’s training from an internal perspective. Training from an external perspective, it’s marketing like any other company, you know, is that ask anyone who is in…heading a company of any type. Certainly, you have to provide world class quality in whatever it is that you do, whether it’s training, accounting services, whatever it might be. But the thing is is that you have to get the point across. You have to get people to know who you are. In marketing I would actually expand it to be…

You know, and I’m gonna break up a little here the difference between marketing and sales, because people who are not in either one of those as a major profession or running a company trying to do them both, they tend to think of them as the same thing. Or at least, I blended them together through most of my career is as an internal [inaudible 00:10:27] those functions. So marketing is, well, things like this. You know, it’s putting out blogs. It’s speaking at conferences. It’s all of those things to get yourself known.

The selling component of it, which is a totally different skill set, is then the ability is let’s say, for example, that you were in an internal training company or an internal training function, I should say. And, you know, I would like…you know, you contact me because you saw me speaking at an ATD Conference or something along that line. With that, we have to come to terms on, you know, what will the price be, you know, the date, the topic, the customization, etc. So that’s the sales component which really is separate from the marketing, but has to be considered within the same piece.

Cordell: That’s awesome. That is awesome information, and I love the way you talked about the two functions, internal versus external, because I…we certainly see that you have to get things from an external perspective about that. And one thing I loved that you talked about was getting senior management buy-in because that is one thing I hear so many training professionals, internal talk about is, “How do I get the adoption, the internal champions at the senior level to really have a passion for training?” So thank you for sharing that. That was awesome.

Eric, talk about this. I know that as you’re delivering training, you do a lot of training from a classroom perspective, but I also noticed you do a lot of webinars, and I’m hearing that rolling more and more again. We also talk about making it effective, so I’d love to hear your perspective on talking about delivering webinars, how do you do that in a great way so that they are effective. So can you share some thoughts on that please?

Eric: Absolutely. I would say maybe a third to a half of our materials are delivered via webinar, you know, the online classes. First of all, they’re great from the perspective is is I don’t have to, you know, get on an airplane and fly somewhere. It’s also very effective from the company’s perspective because, first of all, they don’t have to pay for me to fly there and general travel. But also, more and more companies are dispersed in multiple buildings, around the State, around the world. So as a result, it saves the company the expense and the lost productivity from flying people into a single location. So because of that, the technology is better and so on, is it’s really becoming a much more viable option to produce training.

Now that said, is that the best practices associated with classroom are different than the best practices associated with working with a webinar. With a webinar, for example, and I’m just gonna go right to the webinar piece, is that you have certain things going against you that you don’t when you’re in a classroom. Their communication suite. Some people have voice capabilities, you know, microphones and such. Others need to use a chat box. So the first thing I’ll mention is, is right up front what I do, I ask everyone to introduce themselves. So what I can do is ascertain whether they have to use the chat box.

This is me typing. They have to use the chat box to interact with me or they have audio control. If they have audio, then it is…am I getting feedback from them? So I’ll say, “Hey, when you’re not talking, please go back on mute.” Is it really, you know, jumbled so you can’t really hear them, sort of, an electronic tone that you hear? So what I do is, upfront, I assess the communication between myself and them. Second of all is, you know, as a second item is the importance of video. Now, that’s video for them to see me, not for me to see them.

The reason is, is first of all, a lot of people feel uncomfortable on video. You know, they don’t know what they have as a backdrop. You know, also that there are other things they have to be careful of if they’re doing it from home is that I always make sure when everyone comes on video like you, your background is basically, it’s neat. It’s a wall behind you. People who are taking classes from home have to be very careful if they’re on video that their web cam isn’t facing the door of their office, because last thing in the world that you would want, for example, is their spouse walking, scantily clad back and forth across the door in the living room or whatever room happens to be behind them.

So that there’s things you have to be careful of regarding that [inaudible 00:14:52]. Another one is is that as far as who’s on video, it’s important for me to be, you know, as the instructor. The reason is is because like watching a TV show, and there’s continual movement. As you can see, I talk with my hands, things along that line. Now, is that also if you have multiple people on video, like right now as part of this, there are three of us involved here. There’s you, there’s me, you know, there’s Greg. We’re all on video as we’re doing this, is you get 5, 10, 15 people involved.

What happens is, particularly if they have slower internet speed, is that it can totally destroy their bandwidth and they can’t see or hear anything. Second of all, certainly that, you know, whenever I’m given the choice to…when I’m giving a webinar, I give…actually, there’s a webinar we give once a month that’s three days in length, is that I’ll always want to be on video myself. Now, the downside of that for me is it keeps…I have to stay within this frame, which means for me, I can’t get up. I can’t really stretch. I’m really sort of stuck here. But I’ve never been accused of being eye candy, but what happens is it’s much more engaging for the people on the line to rather than just looking at a blank PowerPoint and a talking kit.

The next thing is regarding the screens themselves. You know how you hear about, “Oh, don’t do death by PowerPoint?” You know, your changing slides every 30 seconds or every minute doing training. Then, you know, it’s just going by and by the slides? You want to do that when you’re doing webinars. The reason is, you know, think about it now is let’s say that I’m watching you on a webinar. You know, I have two screens here. Guess what would be up on the other screen if, you know, if that you’re…if I’m listening to you? It’s my email.

So I’m gonna see an email message come up and what am I gonna do? At least for me, when it comes to email, I’m a little bit like a dog and a squirrel. You know, “Squirrel? Squirrel?” you know, so I wanna go over there. So, you know, what you’re talking about is really, really, important, say, you’re the instructor, but I’ll look over at the email and I’ll go, “Oh, wow. That’s from my boss.” And all of a sudden I’ll blink and it’ll be 10 minutes later. Look at the content I would have lost.

So when I’m using my PowerPoint slides is every time the slide changes, or what I’ll do is I’ll continually write on the slide. Like the bullet points, I’ll check them as I’m doing it using the mouse thing. Because every time I do that, whether it’s me moving, which eventually they’ll get used to, changing the slide or I’ll say like, “For example, what I talked about three slides ago,” I’ll go, “Click, click, click,” and then I’ll go, “Click, click, click,” to come back to this slide, is every time a slide changes or there’s motion on the slide, what it does is what humans do, is they notice movement.

So any time I put even just a check mark next to a bullet point on a PowerPoint slide, what it does is it brings them back. You know, I’m over here and I see some type of movement going over on over to my left. It immediately brings me back. So what happens is, is that’s another way to really keep people engaged. Another one is, is that continually asking people to, you know…mini polls. You know, the poll could be something as simple as, “Well, the Super Bowl’s coming up, you know. How many people think team A is gonna win? You know, how many people think Team B is gonna win?”

You know, that kind of stuff, anything that gets them to click to the screen. Also is is that, you know, if you’re doing a brainstorming or asking people questions, you need to call on ’em. You can say sometimes, you got a classroom, “Hey, anybody wanna answer this?” Or what you can do in a classroom, you could say, “Hey, how about you? You wanna answer that one?” You know, you can look at somebody and pretty much that’s the visual cue for them to do it. But if I look like this, everybody is gonna see it.

So as a result, one thing I like to do is what’s called a “Lightning Round,” where what I’ll do is I’ll say, “All right. Let’s get everybody started on this.” And I’ll say, “I’m just gonna go by attendance from beginning to end.” Now, because I said “lightning round” and they know what that is, everybody is gonna make sure they’ll pay attention. So I’ll say, “All right. Just, you know, everybody start typing in the chat box now if you’re doing it through chat.” And then remember, I know who can come on via microphone because I did that at the beginning of the webinar.

You know, I’ll say, you know, “Mo, Larry, Curly, Peter, Paul, Mary,” etc. “Simon, Garfunkel.” I can go on, but I won’t. But, anyway, you get the idea that they know alphabetically when they’re gonna be and they can come on and give their answer. So what it does is that’s yet another way to be able to get responses. So that there are many of these things that you have to consider even beyond these, because it is a different medium, is that what you’ve done in the classroom, which, you know, won’t necessarily work. That’s why there are a lot of trainers, oh, who don’t like doing webinars.

Now, I’ll give you one last tip and then let it cut back to you, is I said I like being in video because it keeps me in camera. That’s not always the case. I do a lot of these for private corporations. They don’t allow video streaming in because of the bandwidth or, you know, any one of a million reasons. If I’m not on video, then I give the webinar standing up. The reason is, is that many trainers on the line will know that, you know, human communication is what they say 7% by the words, 38% based on the tone of voice, and 55% by the body language. Obviously, if I’m not on video, you can’t get the body language.

However, if I stand up and I’m using the same motions, and as if, anyone who walks by my office and sees me giving a webinar when I’m not on camera, what they do is they walk by, they see me looking at my computer going like this, you know, as if I was in front of a group of people. So what it does is I can convey body language through my tone of voice, if in fact I’m using the appropriate body language associated. If you don’t believe that, then what you should do…I’m just gonna back up here for a minute.

Then next time you were, you know…when you’re home, you know, put your feet up. Oh, you can’t really see it here. You know, like you’re sitting on the sofa, you’re leaning back in your chair. You know, you’re putting your knees up, trying to sound really excited about a topic. First of all, it’s very hard to do because you have to pay attention to it because your mind and your energy is in congruent with the way that you’re standing, so the whole body language thing. So like, for example, is this that I’m sitting up straight. I’m leaning forward a little bit because when the people do that, they do it when they’re excited about a topic.

So therefore, is is that for me to sound excited about my topic, and, yes, this topic I’m very excited about, is that part of it is just having the appropriate body language that will help facilitate me sounding like that. So you can hear my body language really through my tone of voice, again, if not on video.

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Cordell: So last question I have for you, Eric. I know we’ve talked about this and I’ve heard you talk about it a couple different times. You mentioned productivity and being more productive. So I just want you to just dive into that a little bit. When you say productive and being more productive, that means something. I know you have some real concrete thoughts on that. Just share what you mean when you say being more productive [inaudible 00:22:34].

Eric: Sure thing. You know, when people think of productivity, they think doing things cheaper, doing things faster. Well, what I’d like to do is just take a short moment and widen your view of what productivity is, is productivity is lots of things. In fact, the formula for it is basically output over input, which is really, if you think about it, that’s effectively the same formula as return on investment. But when you think of increased productivity, certainly it could be doing something faster, doing something cheaper.

But what it could also be is freeing up resources. Things that you needed five classrooms before, now you can do with three classrooms. What does that mean? You freed up two classrooms to do other things. It can also be with the same amount of a level of effort, increase in quality, reducing risk, providing faster throughput. In other words, if you ask me to produce something for you, if normally it would take me three weeks, and now I can get it you in two weeks, that is a form of productivity. You saw that actually huge in the car industry, whereas it used to take them, you know, years to get a new car to market.

But through Cat Cams, [inaudible 00:23:43] manufacturing, other technology capabilities, they’ve dramatically shortened the amount of time to market for a product. That is a type of productivity. Another one is enhanced employee culture. If you do something that makes everybody happier, then it makes them more motivated. You can’t forget about that one. And also it could be corporate growth. You know, like, for example, if you look at Uber. [Inaudible 00:24:06] back and forth of whether that is a sustainable or a disruptive technology, but what did it basically do?

It increased the productivity related to connecting people who needed rides with those who had cars. And the way that it did it was effectively, is it took out the middle person, the dispatchers. I don’t have to call someone centrally at a taxi company to get a cab. So what does it do? It dramatically reduced the cost, enhances the business model, because…and then it can be rolled out. It’s much more scalable because you don’t need people in every city in buying medallions and all those other things.

So, whether Uber is a good thing or a bad thing depends if you really…for a cab or whatnot, I won’t get into any of that. I’m just [inaudible 00:24:50] on the technology itself. Airbnb would be another example which actually was an offshoot.

Cordell: Eric, thank you again. That was great information. Thanks for your time. Also wanna thank our audience for joining us today. Thank you. Have a great day all. Take care. Bye, bye.

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