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!