I was contacted by Paut Kromkamp, a Dutch colleague, last week. Paut is a keen follower of Host Leadership ideas, and had started with the idea of using a Guest Book (in Dutch Gastenboek, or in French le livre des invités) in her trainings, to allow participants to leave their names and record some comments about their experience. I had never heard of this idea, and on reflection I think it’s a fantastically useful development.
A Guest Book – we might call it a Visitors’ Book in colloquial English, though terminology varies – is traditionally found in country houses or perhaps at some museums. It’s a book available to the public to sign their names and therefore record their visit, and perhaps add some words about their stay and experience. Often, of course, these words are positive and enthusiastic – not many people want to go publically on the record expressing their distaste.
I have been thinking about the possibility of using a Visitors’ Book as part of the furniture at training courses. As part of the host leadership philosophy it’s nice to respect guests and offer them a chance to ‘make their mark’ in some way. And of course it’s a very different way to solicit remarks than the traditional way after a training course or workshop – the dreaded ‘feedback form’ or evaluation sheet. These are popular with trainers (though usually not with trainees) as a way of gathering comments and feedback about what people liked and what they didn’t, ostensibly as a way to improve things next time.
Let’s compare and contrast the way these two options – the Visitor’s Book and the Feedback Form – work in practice.
|An optional invitation to write something
||Usually compulsory or at least expected
|A public space – other people’s names and comments can be seen
||Confidential – only the writer and the receiver know what’s said
|A free-form invitation to record one’s presence and (if desired) a comment or reaction
||Usually structured by the trainer or organisation
|A chance to ‘make your mark’ in a way that is visible to future guests or visitors
||No public trace remains afterwards – your comments disappear into the ether
|Written in the knowledge that the contents will be potentially seen by all
||Written in the expectation of a private communication to the organiser/trainer
These two forms clearly have different purposes and possibilities. If one really wants to get feedback and criticism, then having a private Feedback Form is clearly one way to go about it. (Another might be to quietly ask people about their experience, and be genuinely interested in what they have to say!) A Visitors’ Book, on the other hand, is a very different offer – the chance to publically record one’s presence and reactions, in the knowledge that they can (and will) be read by future visitors. This is less about gathering comments about the shortcomings of the chairs or the temperature of the room. It’s much more about inviting people into a kind of community of those who have passed this way, want to acknowledge that and stand up to recognise the efforts of their hosts in the process.
Once upon a time I visited the training centre of systemic coach Sonja Radatz in Vienna. Piled up at one end of the room was a series of red cubes, perhaps 35cm on each side, each of which was signed by guest trainers who had delivered seminars there. Ms Radatz had entertained many of the greats of systemic thinking and management – Peter Senge, Diana Whitney, Humberto Maturana, Matthias Varga von Kibed… (these are household names in the world of systemic thinking, if not perhaps in wider society). And imagine my delight, as a relative newcomer to that field, to be asked to add my own signature to my own cube, to be placed on the pile with the rest! This is a form of Visitors’ Book in that it’s a lasting reminder of who else has been this way, and sets an exciting extended context for what might happen next.
So, imagine going onto a training and being able to leaf through and see who has joined in the past, what they thought, how long it’s been going, what kind of people have been here, how things have evolved… All this is possible with a Visitor’s Book, but not at all with a Feedback Form. Of course, it’s quite possible to use both these methods. It would be amazing to see in years to come that the Visitor’s Book might become just as much part of the training/workshop scene as the Feedback Form – perhaps a more loved and treasured part? In some ways that wouldn’t be difficult.
To start using a Visitor’s Book or Guest Book, here are some tips from our French colleague Laurent Sarrazin, who has also started experimenting with the idea in his trainings:
- Be led by local terminology and tradition. In France a ‘livre des visiteurs’ does not resonate with people, but a ‘livre des invitées’ does.
- To help people get going, it might be worth inviting them to write something like a reflection or invitation for those who might come on future events, and will therefore see the written ideas.
- As hosts for an event, we can also use the book to record our own reflections, thoughts, gratitudes, and as part of our own history and connection with our work.
Get started today. Laurent did – you can see one of his trainees completing their book on the right. This is a great way to build learning, refection and communication with your learners and customers.