Alumnus profile: 2010 grad begins management position, talks training trends, praises distance learning
Meet Doug Sellers, a 2010 graduate of Roosevelt’s Training and Development program. He lives and works in Texas, and completed all of his coursework online — a setup that also allowed him to work and, most importantly, be near his wife and young children.
Congratulations to Doug, who began as Training & Leadership Development Manager for Waste Connections, Inc., in January. Here’s a profile and conversation we recently had with him:
Hometown: Originally from Bayou Vista, Louisiana.
Current city: Lives in Spring, Texas, works in The Woodlands, Texas.
Undergrad school & major: Northwestern State University located in Natchitoches, Louisiana | Aviation Science / General Studies.
Job before training and development degree: Spent approximately 9 1/2 years working in operations for three different hotels in the Houston, Tx area before getting involved in Training & Development.
Focus of degree at Roosevelt and grad year: Started out MATD, but switched over to MAHPI before graduating in Spring 2010.
Current company and position: Training & Leadership Development Manager at Waste Connections, Inc. since January.
Position and company previous to the job at Waste Connections: Training Specialist with Sysco Business Services, which is the shared services entity of Sysco Corporation, the food distribution company.
Family, hobbies, etc.: Wife (celebrated 10th anniversary in August), 9-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son, and two dogs. Takes Taekwondo classes with family (his daughter just received first-degree black belt). Also enjoys snow skiing, dining out, drinking wine and exploring vineyards, traveling, watching sports on TV, and attending concerts/live music events.
What attracted you to the Training and Development field?
I’m embarrassed to say what first attracted me was the opportunity to travel to “exotic” places on the company’s dime. During my first training job and realized that the travel wasn’t as “luxurious” or as cracked up to be as people made it appear. I then developed a passion for helping people unlock and release their people. It is very gratifying to help people and organizations get from Here to There, and the opportunity to grow an organization’s most important asset, their people.
How has your previous jobs in operations influenced your work managing training and leadership development?
It provides me with a base/foundation to work with. I think in any industry, the needs of the employees and customers/guests is a driving force or factor. From an operations perspective, we have to think in the mindset of anticipating employees and guests needs. What do the employees need and want to deliver exceptional service to the customer/guest? And, when a guest or customer arrives at our establishment, what are they going to need, and anticipating those needs, ahead of time.
How has your view of workplaces changed since getting involved in training and development?
As a paying customer/guest, there are times when I wonder if training even occurring. Whether they are dealing with me or others, there are times when I feel that the person (employee) helping just does not get it. They are not displaying the soft skills needed to do their job. It amazes me at times when for instance, I worked for Signature and would go into a hotel to conduct training, and the front desk person (or people) that I would encounter when I first arrived, could care less that I was even there. I would have that discussion with the GM or other management personnel and the number one response that I would receive is “good help is hard to find.” I didn’t buy into that, to me that is just plain lazy and a cop out. And I say that because I could go down the street or sometimes next door, and get the level of service that I would expect. When I would go back and ask if good help is hard to find, then where did your competition find their people?
Waste Connections appears to be a complex company with many people with specific areas of expertise. How do you integrate your knowledge with that of the experts in order to train new and incoming team members?
I draw on the expertise of those individuals to help me understand the culture and responsibilities of the business and the organization. I have conducted interviews with key players within the organization (and will continue to do so) to understand the culture and to solicit feedback as to what they feel are the areas of opportunities with our employees.
I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about waste collection and recycling since you started your position. Is there anything that has really surprised you?
The number of trash collection companies that are out there, specifically in the Houston area. You see the major players trucks on the road all the times. But the first time that I went to a landfill and saw all the different companies that were out there, I was AMAZED. Now that was in Houston. I’m sure in some of the smaller markets, there are obviously not as many. However, there may be operations out there (what I’ve been told) that may run only 1-2 trucks, and have a handful of people. It’s been truly amazing to see how many different companies do what we do. Where we like to distinguish ourselves, is HOW we do what we do. And that is getting to know our customers and being visible in the communities we serve.
What are your main job duties and roles at Waste Connections?
My objective/focus for 2014 is to develop an onboarding process for line-level managers, whether new to the company, newly promoted, or new due to an acquisition. The primary focus will be how do we get them “on-board” to our culture and set them up for future success with Waste Connections.
You finished the MAHPI grad program all online. Being several states away, what was the appeal? Was not being in a traditional classroom challenging at first?
I was very nervous and anxious at first before starting class, wondering if I could really do this (having never taken any online courses, let alone a degree program online). Very early on (in my first class), I realized that I had made the right choice. As a matter of fact, I could not have seen completing a program by going to a traditional classroom. In my mind, it would have been like I was traveling all over again and would never see my family (by the time I would leave my job and have to travel to class, then home). We had just had our first child in February of 2005, and I began my first class in August of 2005. It worked out great. We would put our daughter to bed, and then I would start on whatever homework I had. My wife was VERY SUPPORTIVE and UNDERSTANDING, and I could not have done this without her support. The downside of doing my coursework online and so far away from Chicago, I feel I missed out on some of the social time that my classmates were able to experience by being in the Chicago area. I established some WONDERFUL friendships through my Master’s program, and have been able to meet some of my classmates on our travels to Chicago. But there were times where my classmates would organize a meeting for drinks or eats at a local restaurant in Chicago, and I obviously could not be there. So that was a bummer. But overall, a GREAT experience. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Has doing the online program made you a more conscientious educator and communicator?
Conducting my coursework online has provided me with an appreciation and understanding of the written word. Before, I really do not know if I had given much of my written communication any thought. I just did it. Taking classes online, and specifically courses around communication in my coursework, really opened my eyes to more effective written communication.
What are some of the trends you’ve seen in the training and organization development fields?
Technology still plays a HUGE part in T&D. The integration of tablets and smartphones I think has helped tremendously. Employees, students, professionals can gather much of their learnings “on the run” versus having to be at a specific place at a specific time to get the same information. The drawback to that is the absence of networking. While technology is great, I would hate for a day to ever come where we take human interaction out of T&D. There are times when I think and feel that human interaction plays a critical part in the learning and development process.
For current students and people looking to enter or advance in the field, what, in your experience, are the most important skills to develop?
Communication is critical. You HAVE to be able to talk with people and be an active listener. Subject matter expertise is good, but I feel where many people miss the boat is their inability to effectively and openly communicate. Being able to use modern technology (smartphones, tablets, PC’s, etc.) I think also plays a key role. Having said that, we can teach people to use technology. And we can teach them to a degree how to be better communicators (to a degree). But people really need to take a look in the mirror and look at their communication skills. How effective or they at coaching / giving feedback? Can they deliver a message in a calm, collective manner; or do they communicate with the “white glove” effect (thinking they know everything there is to know). Does their arrogance come off when they are trying to communicate? Do they talk down to people?
I’ve worked with trainers in my past and that is how they communicated. No personality. They would come into the conversation with the “white glove” and immediately start telling people what they were doing wrong.
I would go into a similar conversation but wanted to know if they saw the fantastic ending to the football game last night. I had an employee/management trainee tell me one time…”I’m glad it’s you who came to visit me today. You know how to talk to people.”
Thank you for taking the time to share your learning experience with our students are readers. There is so much useful information for our students and I will make sure that my new online learners see this article. It sounds as if you were very successful in balancing career, education, family, and your personal life, which is no small feat! I miss having you in class and it’s great to hear from you. All the best in your new position.