Success Stories

Built to Succeed - the Content Story

Success is not only in the delivery of training. Often it is in the design and development that the real success is built in. In the two stories below this idea is further developed.

The Art of Debt Recovery

Lucky Singh and his wife, their daughter Beauty and other members of the clan, the village and surroundings were born to demonstrate the gentle art of debt recovery. When we first looked at the content for training several thousand debt recovery agents it seemed hopeless. There was an extremely well-written text book containing dozens of pages devoted to how banks work, the calculations of emi and the Reserve Bank Guidelines. The purpose was to train debt recovery agents to follow some decorum and guidelines in pursuit of their jobs. It seemed that the written test that followed produced a larger number of failures than was healthy. Operation DRA was launched. We first tested the book on field agents - they were left mystified. We then began to understand that one of the prime reasons for these people taking up the job of debt recovery was that they had probably not passed high school, were perhaps allergic to exams and this book was not getting them anywhere! We created this story with lovable and real characters. Their lines were written into role cards which were enacted with great gusto in the classroom. The lines themselves were faithfully culled from the handbook and presented in story format. Large, flex flipcharts were created so that training could happen in the remotest locations - lots of chunky diagrams and pictures instead of text. All of these were aimed at aiding understanding first. Preparing for the exam was the next step. We created hundreds of questions, factual and situational, which were actually provided from the field. Teams took part in quizzes to solve and crack the exam. To cut a long story short, pass percentages went skyrocketing, attendance at training sessions shot up when trainees realized they did not have to listen to lectures and take notes. This was yet another example of building a program to match learning styles rather than trying to fit the trainees to the readymade content. And oh yes, the program was run and tested in several languages.

Retail is in the Detail

As part of a fairly extensive project of the Ministry of Rural Development the task was to train thousands of youth from below the poverty line (BPL) so that they could function well in jobs which are plentiful but lack employable takers! We chose several such trades one of which was the Retail Sales Associate. You've seen them in every store - halting English, poor knowledge of the products, trying to be helpful but helpless in the light of their innate capability. The content was provided by seniors in the Retail industry and comprised well thought out modules on every aspect of retail. Even the master trainers were given special training. However, our first pilot was a bit of a disaster with trainers calling up and complaining that these youth (all from remote rural backgrounds) were having a lot of trouble reading the slides and understanding the context. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. I left the next day to study the ground realities. Overnight we transformed the program into role plays, visits to stores, observations, pair practices and other activities which ensured that the trainees would be able to function in a store. But they were unlikely to pass the exam which included keeping a 200-page notebook. By the end of the first pilot the notebook disappeared, the text book was relegated to a space on the shelf. The entire program became one of practice and more practice. This was one example of the end justifying the means, or, the learning outcomes dictating the process of training. Some of the happiest people were no doubt those who got their jobs comfortably. But perhaps the happiest were the employers who said that they were now getting employees who were more useful than knowledgeable!

Content Development Made to Order

Developing the right kind of content that works is an art. While at IL&FS Leslie developed content working with some fabulous teams of people in areas as wide as Language, Teaching, Debt Recovery, Banking and Retail. Read on ...

People matter, not subject matter.

Coming from the school background where the syllabus had to be delivered - or, covered as it is usually called - one of the greatest revelations in the various kinds of training happened. We began to realize that people mattered, not content. Content was merely an excuse for helping people to learn something and change their behaviour. Here are some of the interventions we created and which were based entirely on our understanding of adult learning principles and the people we were dealing with.

Technology in Education

While most other organizations focused on getting computers into the classroom, we focused on getting teachers comfortable with teaching using technology. While they spent a lot of time trying to demystify the computer by explaining its parts, we spent the same time helping teachers create learning materials using any kind of technology that was convenient, even a computer. Eventually, we ended up spending more time on working with the pedagogy of using technology rather than learning to manipulate the mouse! That worked for us.

Managing Bank Managers

One great realization when designing a Sales Management program for Bank Managers, Sales Managers and others in the great financial selling circle, was that contrary to the public impression of banks as monolithic, process bound institutions, there were a lot of young people who needed to understand the process of selling ethically and emotionally. So, the program grew into a series of practical sessions of empathy, understanding and emotional selling. A very successful venture.

Personal Successes in Developing Trainer Certification

During my tenure with IL&FS Education, I had the opportunity to develop world-class training material for trainers and a graded certification program.


After having worked with trainers for a considerable amount of time, I began to put my notes together and do some further research to find out the specific qualities that good trainers ought to possess. This resulted in a scanning of several Train the Trainer programs existing in India and abroad. Eventually, after going through many defined competencies of trainers we took the best of our trainers and set benchmarks based on their exhibited competencies. We compared these against the world-class competencies and created a quick and easy grid to benchmark our trainers. Then started a complex process of creating a training program which typified the precise work we did at IL&FS - creation of top class trainers and facilitators. The program was aimed at instilling some basic facilitator attributes in our trainers. It is graded and each trainer was given a detailed feedback on specific areas of competence. In the first year, I personally trained and certified some 105 trainers, mentoring the ones who didn't make the grade and bringing them up to speed. Sadly, many of those trainers left and joined other organizations where they were feted as "best in class".


This program was created for those trainers who would not be involved in personal effectiveness training - more of content and skill development. A new program was created where the focus was on building good training programs and delivering them to groups in a classroom. The program has been adopted in principle by IGNOU and will be available as a certificate program shortly. A voluminous guidebook to training was created with the help of some great people at IL&FS and a very efficient support group. In another parallel, I-TRAIN was sent to the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) for assessment and accreditation. At the time of leaving IL&FS I received a mail from SQA which indicated that the program was ready for accreditation with a few operational issues to be sorted out.


This program is a training of trainers engaged in vocational training of youth for employability. The focus is very clearly on skill building without much theory, though the essential parts of understanding the trainees have been retained. This program is now the property of IL&FS Skills Development Corporation (ISDC) and has been made an essential component of all Training of Trainers across the country.

Transforming Archaic School Practices

Many years ago I learnt the lesson that real changes come from very small people.

We can't name the school here but it was a small, privately owned school on the outskirts of Calcutta. The teachers were all brought in by bus from various parts of the upmarket section of the city -- many of them were freshly trained, on their first job. The school caters to the hinterland which includes children of factory workers who are first generation learners.  In fact, they comprise the larger part of the school's population, paying very low fees since the school is subsidized by a trust.

The Principal invited us to run a teaching techniques workshop and find out why the teachers were facing several difficulties ... not necessarily academic.

Using skills of facilitation and listening, my colleague and I had to abandon our feature rich slide show on how to teach better when we heard the problems they had.  The Major Problem was they they felt that the Principal was not going to change a thing and their problems would outlast the workshop.

Some of the choice ones ...

Children were asked to bring letters from their parents when they had been absent. The letters came, neatly typed on the same typewriter with the same language on all -- "stomach trouble", "headache" ... the problem was that the factory worker parents could neither read nor write. So, a local entrepreneur did the letters, signed them and sent them in.  The child of course informed the teacher that he had been to his uncle's house!

Children came daily without doing their homework - so would you, if you had no electricity at home, nor anyone to assist you.

The upshot of this was that the teachers agreed that some of the strange practices (like the letters) should go and that they should be allowed to stay back in school for 90 minutes to allow them to help the kids complete the homework. No extra pay, no perks, just allow them to work overtime henceforth!

The Principal, leaned upon by us, agreed.  That's change. Systemic change!