Department chops $80,000 'charisma' seminar

Landmark Education and its offshoots have attracted global controversy for their group training programs

The Age, Australia/August 30, 2011

A Victorian Government department last night cancelled a plan to spend tens of thousands of dollars to fly in educators from a controversial American training group to help public servants develop qualities such as "charisma".

About 50 managers, geologists and cartographers from Department of Primary Industries' energy and earth resources division were due to next week attend a three-day training session at the MCG being conducted by two educators from San Francisco's Vanto Group.

The DPI last night cancelled the event. It is believe the decision was made after inquiries from The Age yesterday.

The Vanto Group is the corporate training arm of Landmark Education, a controversial organisation whose website boasts of more than 1 million attendees to its "Landmark Forum" seminars.

Landmark Education and its offshoots have attracted global controversy for their group training programs aimed at getting participants to improve their communication skills and leadership. It has launched several lawsuits in the US and Europe against publishers and academics who have likened the organisation to a cult or a sect. The Age makes no such claim.

Primary Industries staff had privately complained about feeling they have been forced by management to attend the Vanto Group seminar next week.

Those attending the seminar were not going to be eligible for overtime, despite it running longer than the standard public service work day.

Staff also questioned the cost of flying in educators from the US given the budgetary pressures being faced by state government departments and agencies. The training course was expected to cost about $80,000.

In an email to staff, the department's energy and earth resources's division executive director, Mike Hollitt, wrote: "We truly believe that these three days together will give us the opportunity to establish and experience trust; collaboration; an opportunity to be truly inspired by who we are, the talents we have."

Mr Hollitt also urged staff to read the executive summary of a book written by Vanto Group chief executive Steve Zaffron and management consultant Dave Logan. In the Three Laws of Performance, Mr Zaffron and Mr Logan write that those who ''master'' the Three Laws can develop "leadership, and even charisma".

Mr Zaffron is described in the book's executive summary as "a senior executive and board member with Landmark Education, where he spear-headed the design of the Landmark Forum".

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