Pamela Sumner is a gifted facilitator, coach, and performance improvement consultant.
She believes the key to creating a strong solution is asking the right questions and listening intently to what clients tell her about their culture, workplace dynamics, business strategy, and competitive climate.
Pamela has worked with a range of organizations, among them: Adobe, PayPal, TJX, University of Nebraska, The Salvation Army, Omaha Public Power, Caterpillar, Aero Flite, Franklin Templeton, Physicians Mutual Insurance, and California Energy.
Pamela began her career working on a natural gas pipeline for People’s Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Northern Natural Gas. There, she operated a backhoe and trencher while working to replace over 1000 miles of pipe.
After ten years in the field, she gave up her hardhat and steel-toed shoes when the corporate office recruited her to work in training and organizational development. In that role, she oversaw a staff of internal facilitators and contract trainers.
Her responsibilities also included developing a major customer service initiative for supervisors, salespeople, and service providers.
While behind a desk, Pamela continued her education and earned a second master’s degree. She then went to work under a medical doctor to provide mental health counseling to children.
Demand for her corporate experience drove her back to organizational development and work in performance consulting for such companies as AmerisourceBergen, ConAgra, and New Balance.
Since then, Pamela has trained, coached, and consulted with thousands of people in dozens of organizations to help them reach their performance goals.
She joined the Business Training Works’ team in 2016.
Education and Certifications
Pamela holds a BS in human resources management from Bellevue University and an MS in human relations with an emphasis in business behavior from the University of Oklahoma. She also holds an MS in pediatric clinical mental health, from the University of Oklahoma.
She is a certified administrator for a number of assessments, including DiSC, MBTI, MHS EQi-2.0, and Hay EI-360.
She is also a certified trainer for DDI, Achieve Global, Pritchett, Covey Leadership, and Vital Smarts.
An Interview with Pamela
What three or four words describe your facilitation style?
Enthusiastic, comfortable, and attentive.
When you first started your career, you were doing very different work than you do now. How does that early experience influence how you approach clients?
I started my career literally digging dirt. Often, I was in a hole looking up at people. It was humbling.
That experience influenced my approach to people in general. If you go into any situation thinking you’re superior, eventually you will fail – at least I would.
I think most people will tell you I’m open, easy to get along with, and down to earth.
When you moved from the field to corporate, you found yourself responsible for training senior executives. How did you build credibility with that audience?
I knew enough to know what I didn’t know. In the beginning, I brought in the best talent and development people I could find. I then sat in on their classes, so I could learn too.
Over time, I grew, and my responsibilities increased. By the time I left, I had a string of successful projects behind me and I’d earned the credibility I didn’t initially have. The company invested a lot of money in my development. For that vote of confidence, I’ll always be grateful.
In what types of industries do you most enjoy working?
I really can’t say I have a favorite. In my career, I’ve worked across sectors and I’ve learned there are more similarities than differences. People are people, and if I know something that can support them, it doesn’t matter where they hang their hats each day.
You’re good with focus groups and getting people to talk. Why do you think that is?
I’m a good listener. Some of that comes naturally. Some of it is learned. If you establish a safe environment, ask the right questions, and give people time to talk, they usually will. When working with adults, I find it’s important to honor their work and life experiences. For that reason, most of the time my work isn’t about having all the answers. It’s about helping people who already know a lot to generate ideas, consider different viewpoints, and seek solutions.
You’ve done a lot of executive coaching for senior leaders. When is coaching an appropriate solution?
For coaching to work, the timing needs to be right, the person must be emotionally ready, the desire to change must exist, and the willingness to commit the energy to doing the work has got to be there. When any of those four elements is missing, coaching may not be the right. In fact, it probably isn’t.
You’ve been described as fun and full of energy in the classroom. Do you agree with that characterization?
I’ve never thought about it quite like that. What I can say is I think most everyone has fun inside them and learning works better when people are enjoying themselves. I work hard to create opportunities for that to happen.
Tell me a little bit about the process you follow to create engaging and meaningful content.
It all comes back to meeting expectations. I’ve written a lot of content in my life. The good stuff all starts with well-thought-out objectives. Once those are in place and agreed to, I have client ownership. Shared ownership is key.
In your opinion, why does training fail?
For a variety of reasons. I’ll talk about three. One of the biggest reasons training fails is training isn’t always the answer. If the problem is a performance management issue, training probably won’t fix it. Training also fails when there’s no incentive or support for people to change behavior. Finally, training can fail when people don’t find any personal or professional value it what’s being taught. An experienced facilitator can often work on the fly to “sell” content, but it’s a whole lot easier when a program fit is designed right from the beginning.
You’re quick on your feet. How do you do it?
Good planning. I usually have two or three ways I can go at any point during a course. I’m constantly assessing and observing. Then I make choices about which option is going to work best with my audience.
Do you have any other secrets?
I don’t know if it’s a secret, but you really have to know your topic cold. When you know your material like the back of your hand, it won’t matter which road you go down. You’re familiar with every twist and turn.
In other words, to be spontaneous and flexible, you have to knowledgeable and prepare. You can’t fake that stuff.
How do you stay current with what’s happening in talent development?
No matter where I am – the airport, shopping, in the classroom – I listen to what keeps people up at night and what they’re doing to address those concerns. Often, I find themes start to emerge. When I recognize a theme, I start researching and learning about the issues and how others are addressing them. Then I begin to formulate my own ideas.
When you’re not working, what are your interests?
I’m enjoying my family, my farm, and my horses. I also am intrigued by what’s new and I rarely drive home the same way twice in a row.