So, What Do I Do For A Living?

I dread cocktail parties and social networking events. Not because I don’t like people (I do) or alcohol (in moderation, of course). What has made me anti-social is trying to explain what a Certified Performance Technologist is and how I possibly earn a living at such an esoteric line of work. I remember the time I told a middle-aged executive I had just met at a network mixer that I was in the field of human performance improvement. He paused, looked at me with a quizzical frown and replied, “So, do you do sex therapy?”

Well, no, actually that’s one human performance problem I don’t treat, but thanks for sharing your performance need.

Over the years, I have tried many tactics to overcome the blank stares and erroneous conclusions of numerous business networkers I’ve met. I’ve tried to explain what my profession does, where we do it, with whom and with what results. I’ve tried analogies – “I’m like a medical doctor that diagnoses your illness and prescribes a cure – except I handle the metaphysical problems your M.D. won’t touch.” Then, of course, I’m forced to explain the metaphysical part.

Recently, however, I have hit upon a solution, courtesy of a Branding class I took. The solution is simple, but requires a complete reconceptualization of your role, so it’s not easy: think of yourself as a brand and articulate why someone would want to use your services. The key is to define the niche need that you fill, not trying to be all things to all potential clients. “The riches are in the niches,” the instructor declared.

With that in mind, I came up with the following market-driven explanation of HPT: “I help businesses become more productive and I help employees reach their full potential.” With that as a basis, which organization today doesn’t need to become more productive? And which employees don’t want to reach their full potential? I found it leads to very lively conversations about productivity and human development – precisely the kind of conversation we would like to have more often with a good glass of cabernet in hand.

Donald J. Ford is President of Training Education Management LLC in Redondo Beach, California. His firm specializes in human performance improvement and custom instructional design. He may be reached at donaldjford@verizon.net or www.trainingeducationmanagement.com.