Dr. Nanette Miner is a leadership development and workplace learning strategy consultant. She's the founder of and managing consultant for The Training Doctor, a South Carolina based consulting firm that helps its clients to prepare today for the organizational leadership they will need tomorrow.
Dr. Nanette Miner starts the talk by talking about the leadership vacuum that will be there because of the bay boomers staying long in their leadership positions leaving millennials and Gen-Xers out of the loop. Dr. Miner believes that every employee should be trained as a leader from day 1.
Nanette talks about starting her business 28 years ago as a customer service training in the hospitality industry. The initial challenges with that industry made her pivot her business to re-use material designed by other established training organizations and customize them for each company.
Dr. Miner candidly talks about the current struggles about building a steady customer pipeline because of her recent shift to leadership training. As she is not known in the industry for leadership training, Nanette is focusing on establishing herself as a leadership trainer.
Nanette talks about the downtimes in her journey and how she coped with them to continue to be self-employed. Even though she was on the verge of bankruptcy, Dr. Miner never thought of quitting. To some extent, she was inspired by her father who was self-employed.
Nanette detailed her current strategies of acquiring customers by offering online workshops followed by in-person training. She also talks about the pros-cons of investing in leadership training and people leaving versus not investing.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Agile Entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance, and possibilities. Today we have a guest from an industry where every business needs somebody to help them. That is a leadership development. Dr Nanette Miner. Dr Nanette Miner is a leadership development and workplace learning strategy consultant. She's the founder of and managing consultant for the training doctor, its South Carolina based consulting firm that helps its clients to prepare today for the organizational leadership they will need tomorrow. Hello, Dr Nanette.
Nanette: Hi Ramesh. Thanks for having me.
Ramesh: Thank you. Thank you. So finally, we are able to get together after some scheduling issues. Thank you.
Nanette: Yes, thank you as well.
Ramesh: All right, so let's get started with the leadership development company that you have. If you could just to tell us on the listeners what your organization is about.
Nanette: Okay. Well, I’ll give you a little back story first. So if you're familiar with training and HR publications there's a precipice coming I say. There's a 2030 precipice for business and that precipice is that all the boomers are going to be gone from the workplace. Millennials and Gen z are going to be the primary population in the workplace. And the problem that that creates for organizations is that generally boomers are who our leaders are in organizations these days generally is somebody in their mid fifties to, you know, mid seventies sometimes. They've had a long time in the workplace in general. They've had a long time in the companies in which they work. So they understand the culture and the values of the companies in which they work. And they've been in their leadership positions a long time as well. And one of the things that has happened is that they've basically kept gen x and the millennials out of the leadership positions, because the boomers have stayed in their positions for so long and they were such a large population to begin with. So you asked what is my business about? So with that kind of understanding, my business has three prongs actually. One is to help business owners and operators to figure out who their next leaders are going to be and get them prepared before 2030. The second prong is to give business owners and HR people and operations people the ability to develop leadership skills without having to have a formal leadership development program or a formal training department at all. I just wrote a booklet that came out in June called leadership from day one; 25 activities to develop leadership skills in your employees. Because I think we should be, everybody should be developing leaders. We should have leadership events or you know, leadership department per se. Everybody, a manager should be developing leaders. So how do I do that? I don't know. I'm a finance guy. I'm a, you know, operations guy. I'm a shipping guy. How do I develop leaders? So the booklet is intended to give people who don't know where to begin, someplace to begin. And then the third prong, which kind of grew organically out of the others. There was no intention at the beginning to help this population. But the third prong is to help young business people to prepare themselves for leadership roles because honestly, most employers are not going to do it. So I started a podcast in the spring called be a leader and it has tips and words of wisdom from seasoned leaders, people who've been in business a long time. We asked them to just share like a voicemail. What's a tip that you'd have for a future leader? What's a lesson that you learned the hard way or what's the you know, what's the wisdom that you live by? And then also if they get the leadership booklet that I just mentioned, an up and coming leader can actually reverse engineer the activities in there so that they can look like leadership material in their organization. So that was a very, very long answer, but that's what we do. We help companies get ready for that 2030 precipice in one sentence.
Ramesh: Wow so 2030 is the precipice. So Nanette, how did you get into this business? So how did you start your business?
Nanette: Well, I started 28 years ago. Originally planning to do customer service training in the hospitality industry. That was my background for the first few years out of college. And I realized that there was not a lot of good customer service training in that field. So I got laid off from the job that I held in 1991 and I thought this is a perfect time to you know, go into my consulting business and start to do customer service training. And I quickly realized that the hospitality industry does not give a hoot about customer service and they don't care about training generally, not just customer service. Because it's such a high turnover business. So the hospitality industry really falls into that you know, why train them when they're just going to leave? And my argument of, but if you train them, they wouldn't leave, fell on deaf ears. So that didn't last very long. And then I had to do a pivot where I realized that the training that I was doing that was designed by other companies like, you know, things that you could buy off the shelf like Sanger Miller, which is just Sanger now. It wasn't really well designed. And so when I was doing training for companies as a consultant, I was spending a lot of my time re designing the materials or just finding better ways to deliver it to make it hit home for the learners, because what they were offering, I mean basically I felt like when I was giving book reports all the time, like I really wasn't getting people the skills that they needed to go back on the job and do what they needed to do. So then after about four years of that, I realized I should just design training. That is what I'm really good at doing instead of redesigning all these other people's training. So I did that for probably the next 20 years. I strictly designed custom training for mostly fortune 500 companies. But it was for every topic that they needed. So I'm not industry specific, I was not topic specific. I've worked for broadcast media, I’ve worked for pharmaceuticals, insurance, you name it. The industry doesn't matter, because my expertise is in how adults learn and especially how adults learn in the workplace, because they have to get that information quickly. They have to be able to internalize it. They have to be able to use it on the job. It's not just, you know, oh that's nice. I mean there's a reason you sent them to training is because you want them to behave differently on the job. So that really is my expertise is getting people to behave differently on the job. So I spent 20 something years custom designing training for companies and all sorts of industries and all sorts of topics. And then the longer I spent in these industries I realized, nobody's really doing leadership development well. There is leadership development out there. But my problem quote unquote with what's being done in like the fortune 500 companies is that they pick a select few who get that training. Like there's a lot of hypo programs, high potential people, right? So they think, oh well we'll hire you out of college and then, we'll give you this training and eventually you're going to be the star for our company. And I just feel like that's so discriminatory. Like why wouldn't you give leadership development to everybody and let the people who are good at it and like it rise to the top. But meanwhile the ROI and giving everybody leadership skills and it is not even really leadership skills. It's just, it's the soft skills that people have to learn the hard way, like you know good communication skills or how to collaborate with others or even just knowing what your company does. I find that so many people in organizations, you only know their role. Like if you're hired into finance, you don't know what operations does, you don't know what shipping does. You don't know what HR does, you don't know what marketing does. And nobody ever helps you learn any of that either. But if you want to be a leader in an organization, you have to know how a company runs. So I really feel like companies themselves would be better served if they just gave leadership, quote unquote leadership training to everybody. And then those people who like it and enjoy it and are good at it, will naturally rise to leadership positions. But meanwhile you've got everybody communicating better and collaborating better and Etc.
Ramesh: So looks like the leaflet is probably the right thing to get started. So you've been in this business, been doing this for 20 plus years, so obviously you're well set. And then you also had couple of pivots you said. First you started with the hospitality industry and then afterwards you were doing other people's training and then now you settled on a custom training. And you also mentioned that you don't have a specific industry. So my question is how do the customers come to you or how do you build the customer pipeline?
Nanette: So I'm actually struggling right now, because I’ve done this. But an additional pivot, which is when I said I'm just going to focus on leadership training. That's not an industry I'm known in. I'm known for designing any kind of training. It's not a skill set that I'm known for. So I'm really starting my business over I feel. Finding new clientele because the fortune 500 are not my clientele anymore. They have their leadership departments, they have their training department, they have a protocol that they believe is working, although I don't believe it is. So I realized why I can't sell to them anymore because they don't really need my philosophy and the people who need my philosophy are smaller and medium sized businesses who probably haven't even thought about this. You know, right now there's such a problem with unemployment. Their biggest concern is, you know or lack of you know such low unemployment rate that their biggest concern is how do we get people in the door to do the work that we need to do. And so I don't think many small and medium sized businesses are looking to the future, because that's just so far off at this point. But you know, here I am raising the flag that goes, yeah but you have to start preparing for it today because we can't see you in 2030 going, Oh crap, we didn't have anybody left to lead this company.
Ramesh: Right, right. So that is very interesting. It looks like I caught you at a time of your career of the business in a while you're pivoting, I 100% agree with you. Is that the fortune 500, one of the companies that I worked for, I mean they go with the one of these larger I would say business school kind of a leadership development. They have their own internal in house kind of stuff. So given that I'm mean first actually let me ask you why you thought of pivoting to this area.
Nanette: I feel like it's a mission. I feel there's, I think it was Ray Dalio, but I'm not a hundred percent sure who said this, but there's like three phases in your life. There's the phase where you're learning the phase where you're earning in the phase where you're giving back. And I feel like I'm in the phase where I'm giving back now. Like this is and I love business. I am passionate about business. Like I just said to somebody the other day that I read inc magazine for pleasure. I mean, I don't read like fiction. I read business magazines for pleasure. That's what I get a thrill from. So I really feel like it's just such, this is going to be such a crisis and you know, honestly I’ll be out of the workforce probably by the time it hits. So it's not like it's going to affect me. I just feel like it's such a big problem that's coming down the pike. Nobody really looks to the future. I think that's a part of, you know how companies run with the stock market and all that. We can't work 10 years ahead, don't be ridiculous. We have to look like, you know, by the end of this year. That's as far ahead as we can look. And I just feel like I’ve gotten so much experience and knowledge and insight into what makes successful companies and successful leaders over the last 25 plus years, that this is what I'm doing to give back. So whether it makes me money or not is not the point. It's just helping companies to stay afloat. Cause I really think a lot of companies are just going to implode. You know, there's a lot of small and medium sized businesses out there that are run by the person who originally founded them and that person would like to retire, but often they can't because there's really nobody to step in. So that's one of the niche markets is, you know, are you approaching your seventies and you'd like to let go, but you can't, let's figure that out. Who can we get trained up?
Ramesh: So given that this is the time that you're trying to attract new clients and you're pivoting as well, so what strategies are you looking at in a building and promoting your busine
Nanette: Well in any industry, this is a hard market to sell to business people. Because even myself, when I find a vendor that I like, I stick with them forever, even if there's probably a better way to do it or more cost effective way to do. Like I know I just know how this program works or this vendor works and you know, I'm in my comfort zone. So it's tough to get people to even want to have a conversation with you. But my perspective has always been from the first day I was in business that you have to give an order to receive. And so when I was first starting my business, I spoke a lot for free. And I’ve said once like that said to one audience once, you know every time I speak it give me back exponentially and this one woman said, well zero times 10 is still zero. So that's really not the equation. But I do speak a lot for free because again, I feel like this is just a mission I'm on. I'd rather give you the Intel, even if you don't buy this solution, you should at least be aware of the situation. That's you know, you'd want to know if somebody was, if you're in a canoe and somebody telling you you're headed towards rapids right? I mean that's Kind of my philosophy. Like if you don't do anything about it, well you know at least I tried to help you. So that's Kind of my philosophy. So I do a lot of speaking. I speak at chambers of Commerce professional associations. I am very active on LinkedIn, which I really wasn't you know, I was a member. That's funny. Like when I look at my profile, it says I’ve been a member since 2009, like really? I don't even remember signing up for LinkedIn. So I’ve been a lot more active there, just like in terms of thought leadership and getting in front of the, hopefully people who might read one of my articles. And then I'm trying to do a lot with social media, which is something that I completely ignored as a phase for a long time. Because I just didn't think it was business. It was personal, right. And I ran a business, but now I realize how many companies are, if you're not on social media, you don't exist. Like one of my most successful marketing strategies in the 90s was my webpage. Like that just brought me tons of business because I was one of the few people that had a webpage at the time and I could look like a big company with my web page. You didn't know how big or how small I was and I mean that hasn't brought me business in years. So now I'm doing kind of the pivot there as well into social media and trying to be more, I mean one of the things that I don't love about social media is, it's hard to be a business without being a personality. And I spent 20 something years behind the veil of the training doctor where, you know, that was our corporate entity, but I think it worked because I worked for corporate America and you know, I really you have to develop more personal relationships with smaller and medium sized business people who have a real pulse on their organization. Because I mean this sounds terrible, but even training departments in corporate five hundreds are kind of removed from the operations. Like they still take their orders from somebody else. Like we need this training and then we farm it out to and the training doctor, whereas, you know a smaller or medium sized business fair hands in there with you saying, you know help me work this, you know, salvage my business. I don't mean to make it sound so dramatic, but you know help me figure this out so that we can continue to be successful. When you work for a fortune 500 company, you're never going to see the CEO. Although I did accidentally bump into Jack Welch once in the hallways at GE. That was like the most thrilling day of my life. I was coming out of a conference room and he was going into the one next to mine. I'm like, oh my gosh.
Ramesh: The management guru there. That's excellent. So you're doing the social media, you're trying to establish yourself as an authority. By the way, I saw your name referenced yesterday on LinkedIn. I think you are referenced in a Forbes article, so looks like it's working. So I looked as well. And by the way also I think nowadays it's all about personal branding. Other new thing that's happening out there. And then so let me get into a little bit of a publishing. So you publish a lot. And then you recently had a book, a future proofing your organization by teaching thinking skills. So what is that book about
Nanette: So that came out in 2018. So basically future-proofing organization by teaching thinking skills is my whole premise on leadership development. That basically we're not teaching thinking skills anymore. We're not teaching critical thought or decision making or problem solving, which are all leadership skills. And I found that future proofing your organization by teaching thinking skills was a highly offensive title. So I even pivoted off of that in just a year or two since that's been published because people think, oh well you know, why would you say that? We're not thinking like, well cause you're not, but all right, let me tell you that it's not, you're not developing leaders. It's the same thing. So it is basically, it's a giant sales letter, that book. Because it is my thinking and I have a overall curriculum design that I think would work for, I think would work, I know would work with organizations, but it's very immersive. It's a three year program and it has a lot of moving parts, but they're all integrated. Like, one of the problems I’ve seen in corporate America is like, let's say we send you to a course on decision making and you'll find out the four or five ways that decisions can be made. And then we just release you back into the wild and like, is there any possibility you're ever going to remember or apply the right decision making style at the right time three months from now when you have to make a decision? No. So what I do in my curriculum designs is integrate your decision making, learning with actual on the job application and over and over and over again. Because the only way for people to learn is through repetition. That's why you had English every single year from grade one to grade 12 right. But then we get to corporate America and we go, hey for four hours, you're good. You know how to do this now. So it's a very in meshed curriculum program where people will revisit the same topics over and over in different ways, in different situations and always with on the job application and always in conjunction with not only other people, cause I don't believe in e-learning because that's just self study and people aren't self directed enough to do that. So not only is the learning with other people, but it's other people within the organization, like lateral people, like I call them cohorts. Because I think one of the reasons we're not developing business people is because like if you're hired into a finance role, any training you will get from here on out will probably be finance. We're keeping you in a funnel or a silo. Like we're going to expand your skills in finance, but we're never going to teach you about the rest of the company. So if you put people into a finance course, but they're from HR and shipping and your route drivers and your operations people and your marketing people think, everybody can benefit from a course in finance or a course in decision making. And meanwhile, I'm also benefiting from the fact that I'm getting exposure to you in another department that I don't know anything about. But now you and I are developing a relationship. So as we grow up through the organization, you and I have been buddies for three, four or five years. We're more likely to work together, collaborate together, cooperate with one another. Because I know you as a, like you and I were saying earlier, it's personal relationship, right? I know you as a friend, I know you as a colleague and I also understand what your department does. That's not how training is typically done in an organization. We keep people in these silos and I think a lot of the reason that people leave companies is because they think, well, there's nowhere for me to grow except up. I think companies really do a poor job of saying, well why don't we send you over to marketing for six months, so you can see how they work and learn how we market this business. Like I think you would keep more people in your organization if you made, if you had lateral moves available to them. But that's not how corporations are typically set up.
Ramesh: So Nanette as you're pivoting right now, one part that came to my mind is that over the span of this 20 plus years that you've been in the business there'll be ups and downs like as every entrepreneur, right? We all have our ups and downs. Was there a time even now I would say that you think forget it. I don't want to do it. Let me get back to a comfortable, get a job kind of stuff. Or what are the thoughts that you had or how did you get through this downtimes
Nanette: Ah, well, you're right, there's been plenty of downtimes. There's been twice in my career where I was basically on the verge of bankruptcy. But no, I’ve never considered getting a real job cause that's not in my DNA. And I think that my father was self employed and that's the model I saw. So it's just in my, that's in my realm of possibility. I mean obviously you did have a job out of college. I worked in the hospitality industry. I was pretty autonomous in that job, so I was lucky in that regard. But no, I mean I just, I have a vision and I'm going to carry it out, whether there's anybody buying it or not. And my father was a salesman. He was a self employed salesman. So there was periods of feast and famine in that world as well. You know, like you just knew, even a lot of times people go, I didn't know we were poor. There were times, there were times where we had plenty of money and times where I, you know I knew that we didn't. And so that does not panic me. And I do have a lot of self-employed friends who always say to me, you know, how do you not panic? And I'm like, I don't know. That's just in my DNA to not panic, because I know it always turns around.
Ramesh: That's excellent. So I mean, I think you need to have that kind of a DNA to survive. And definitely you've been there 20 plus years, so obviously you withstood those times. So then let me ask you this question. I think there are a lot of things that we think about, I was also. So what do you think is a unique value proposition that you bring to your customers or to your profession?
Nanette: Well, so I think I’ve just developed my unique proposition in the last eight months. Actually this year I think is, I’ve finally developed it. If you were to Google or even go on LinkedIn and look for leadership development, you would find thousands and thousands and thousands of people that like I would never show up in that search. I would be so buried. Oh, I do know. But most people, most organizations that do leadership development do it on a small scale or a one to one kind of relationship. Whether that's, you know, coaching an executive at a company or just like I used to do going into a company and doing work for them. And I realized, you know, I’ve had a lot of introspection in the last few years and I realized that doing what I used to do for 20 plus years, where I would work with maybe three to five companies a year, designing customer curriculums for them, that's not reaching enough people. You know, I'm such on such a mission about this leadership precipice and there's such a, to me, tight deadline for that to get prepared for that in just 10 years. I realized I cannot impact enough people doing business the way I had been doing it. So for the first half or so of this year, I looked at how I work with a company. If I were to go in and sit with your organization and help you strategize your leadership development for the next three or five years, how could I basically, commoditize is not the word I'm looking for, but how could I re-imagine it so that I was doing it more in a public way and less as a one on one way. So I now offer these leadership development strategy sessions as workshops. I figured out a way to develop, to offer it as a workshop. So we have an online workshop that is four sessions online with me, but then a lot, a lot, a lot of homework or the same workshop, but it's done in two days in person where the client comes to us at our facility. But there's other clients there as well. So in the online workshop, I can have you know, say 60 individuals. I wouldn't want to do more than that because, then you really can't, you know then it's really me giving a webinar and that is so much, you know offering them consultative guidance. But then in the, in person when we do a max of six companies, because there is a lot of personal coaching from me and my associate as well as doing a lot of work on your own. So I mean, for instance the first session of the workshop as well, who's going to get the leadership training. So we know the boomers are leaving. Gen x chronologically would be the next leaders because that's, you know in terms of their age and how long they've been in the workforce. But there's not enough of them to fill all the leadership positions. It's a much smaller population than the boomers and the millennials. And then the Gen z's are joining us rapidly as well. So yes, chronologically it makes sense that Gen z or gen x would be the next population to ascend to leadership, but that might not be the right decision. Because they're going to also leave in the next few years. So maybe you want to get the next generation ready, because the millennial generation is huge. So I say to clients, you know, there's no right answer. There's no wrong answer. You have to figure that answer out for yourself. Who are you going to apply the training to. In the nets Ideal world, Everybody should get the training. The minute you walk in the door, you should be enrolled in a three year or a five year leadership development. We're not going to call it leadership development, then its just going to be business acumen development, right? Learn how to write an email. Learn how to behave in a meeting, all that kind of stuff. Learn not to have a verbal communication skills. Learn how to cooperate with others. Learn how to ask good questions. Nobody asks good questions. So, you know, I don't give the answers to anybody. I just say here's all the possibilities. You know, look at your own population. Who's going to cycle out in 10 years, who do have in the pipeline. If you don't have anybody in a succession plan, then you know what are you going to do? Are you going to keep hiring from outside? Beg, borrow. And steal from other employers. Because while that's possible, but it's not really, cause you can see right now we have a really low unemployment, right? So what you are doing is buying people. If you're going to get them all, you're just buying them. That's the only attraction you have right now is to dangle more money in front of them. So that's a losing proposition. But the problem with bringing people from the outside is then they come with their own set way of thinking and their own experience from their own, you know, from their past organization. And then they have to adapt to your culture or they try to change your culture. And so, you know, that doesn't always work to bring in people from the outside. So it would always be my advice to bring people up from the inside and expect that they're going to be there for their career.
Although we know with millennials that they say that's not true. They expect to have seven jobs in their lifetimes. But you know, zig Ziglar years ago said, what if I train them and they leave? And the opposite of that is what if I don't train them and they stay?
Ramesh: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.
Nanette: So I would rather, I mean there's a possibility that you're going to train these people to be excellent leaders and they will leave you. And I think that's a price you'll just have to be willing to pay. Because so many people want professional development and like I said earlier, I think a lot of people just leave their role because they're like, well, I'm never going to go anywhere here. I can't go up. There's only three levels above me and there's not enough room up there. So I guess I have to go out. But if there was the ability to do lateral moves, if you knew more about how the business worked, you know, you just, if you knew you were going to get professional development, you would stick with that employer because you're going to get it here and nowhere else. Everywhere else you're going to have to keep switching jobs to develop yourself. Which is scary.
Ramesh: Yup. That's excellent Nanette. I think that's a very unique I think proposition that you have, which you brought to development across the company, across disciplines, functions kind of stuff. So as we wind down Nanette anything that we did not cover any last minute thoughts?
Nanette: No, I think I talked your ear off for 30 minutes Ramesh.
Ramesh: So last question. So you were executive assistant to Ronald McDonald in your past life at some point. Can we wind down our podcast with that?
Nanette: Nope I can, but I was not his executive assistant. So when I was a teenager I worked for a company that owned, I can't even remember how many stores, but they owned a whole bunch of McDonalds’ stores in three different states. And we had our own Ronald who would travel by motor home to all of the stores over the you know, during the summer it would be a different store every weekend. And the back of the motor home folded down and there was a little stage and he would put on a little show, we'd have kids come up from the audience, you know, put on grimace costumes and you'll have all sorts of games and stuff. And so it was a big deal to throw a party at a McDonalds’ site because Ronald himself was showing up. And so I was the one who would greet all the kids and make sure they got all settled and that they, you know I would introduce Ronald and it was so funny because I wasn't supposed to know who he was, but there was only one guy who traveled with the motor home. So like he'd come into the store and he'd go, okay Ronald is here. I was like, okay, 30 minutes, you know, and then we'd go out into the back park and I go like, oh, there is Ronald. I don't know that if it's that Guy is Steve who just came into Ronald's here. It was very funny.
Ramesh: That’s probably Very funny, I think this is like a very interesting job that you had. That's very good.
Nanette: Very interesting. I spent a lot of time on the road driving over three states.
Ramesh: So let's end this podcast. On that note.