Cindy Rae Pautzke

Smashing Punpkins

Area resident and homegrown talent travels the U.S. helping businesses, organizations, and governments discover the money-saving power of participation.

Photo by Jeff Silker

She’s the same “you-go-girl” that sold squash in 1971 alongside U.S. 169 in Vernon Center. Cindy Rae was only nine then. Her marketing metamorphosis in time would become her family’s Pumpkinland, an agriculture-entertainment theme park that included the bizarre spectacle of goats walking on boards high in the sky, a soothing tractor ride, skits and desserts, and a 90-foot catapult launching pumpkins 500 feet into the Blue Earth River.

After leaving her family’s business in the 1980s, Cindy Rae (Kopischke) Pautzke remembered many of the life lessons she learned there, and, one by one, would gradually repackage them into a highly successful career.

The company she co-founded three years ago, Participant Centered Results (PCR), has done business with corporate heavyweights such as Allstate, Hewlett Packard, Cox Communications, Dairy Queen, Lockheed Martin, and Choice Hotels International—you know, Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn, Econo Lodge, MainStay Suites, Clarion, Cambria Suites, Rodeway Inn, and Suburban Hotels?

In short, she and her twenty or so freelance trainers teach their clients how to think and act differently. They may do that while training a company’s trainers, designing or redesigning new hire or existing employee training, creating and delivering customized training, delivering conferences for organizations, consulting with executives, or leading major company change initiatives. PCR is cleverly designed to increase employee job performance, information retention, and interpersonal engagement, with a bottom line of measurable business results. 

In essence, again, the foundation for much of what she teaches today came from Pumpkinland—although it took her years to realize. Now 45, Pautzke resides in South Bend Township in rural Blue Earth County next door to Irish ditty Jack McGowan, he of Historyfest and local business fame. She is away from home up to 300 days a year, much of it with her service dog, a likeable yellow lab named “Indy,” who helps calm her fear of flying. 

Could you name some of your business, government, and nonprofit clients?

With Participant Centered Results (PCR), I’ve personally done business across a wide spectrum of industries, both in public seminars and in-house, including some of the following you might recognize: Choice Hotels International, Lockheed Martin, Dairy Queen, T-Mobile, HP, Johnson & Johnson, Allstate, Costco, Cox Communications, Ortho Biotech, Shell Oil, Nexstar Network, SAMHSA, Georgia Department of Human Resources, Colorado Department of Human Services, University of Phoenix Online, Countrywide, and Fidelity. Here locally, I’ve delivered programs to Mayo Health System, Minnesota State University, South Central Technical College and CHAMP Software.

Can you explain what you do?

In the traditional model of instruction led by a supervisor, vice president, or schoolteacher, for example, there isn’t very much communication or interaction going on among the participants receiving the instruction. The instructor lectures and accounts for 90 percent of the talking in the classroom or meeting. Yet research shows that when there isn’t any interaction among participants during a presentation, the participants retain only about five percent of the information presented.

Whether I’m custom designing content or delivering it: I tap the power of the participants. As powerful as the interaction between the instructor and participants can be, it’s not nearly as powerful as the interaction that can exist among participants. PCR facilitators do ten percent of the talking and our participants 90 percent.

It’s somewhat difficult to describe exactly what I do because every intervention is customized to meet client needs. But here goes: We help clients change their environment, their organizational culture, methods, and people, through strategically designed customized solutions that produce measurable results. We involve key stakeholders in needs assessment, use the most effective learning and retention techniques, and design and deliver engaging, participant-centered learning programs.

Saying it another way: We help clients change how they think and act so they can improve relationships and achieve better organizational results, i.e., taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary.

Give me an example of how a client came to you with a “want” and you helped them fill their need?

A Fortune 100 client told me they needed a two-day training program to make their facilitators better facilitators. After collaborating with the client, we landed on a five day customized event management program, a much more holistic approach that helps their facilitators achieve better results.

Another time, a Fortune 500 client in a call center environment said, “Cindy, I need my people to learn how to coach others.” We asked why they needed coaching. They said their trainers needed to learn how to coach their customer service representatives to be more effective. It turned out they were using a ten-page monitoring form as a coaching tool. I determined they had the wrong system, and process, and got their buy-in for a comprehensive solution that included, as a first phase, facilitating the redesign of the monitoring form. This gave them best practices in the call center industry. Phase two was training them how to coach to the form, and how to flex to meet different behavioral styles following a repeatable coaching model.

So a layman could say that one of the many things you do is train trainers, and customize solutions to each company?

To be more precise, everything we do is about our clients’ business results. In most cases this means making clients money. An example: A client had been offering a lecture-based, six-week training course that could successfully prepare an employee for the job in eighteen weeks. Through a redesign of their training program, and working with the stakeholders, we were able to change the training to last only three weeks, change the assessment process, and rebuild the training based on the job and on how the brain learns. After the changes, the employees were able to successfully do their jobs after only three weeks rather than eighteen. What we did made that company a lot of money.

What else do you do?

A fortune 500 hospitality client was holding a conference for about 5,000 of its owners and managers of properties. They asked me to train the managers how to continue to improve their success at customer service and loyalty. After a thorough needs assessment, I looked at the talent on my team. We have nationally known trainers, authors and consultants working for PCR. I compared the expertise of our trainers against our client’s needs, and chose the appropriate talent. So with that company, we managed and delivered the entire conference for the training arm across four different states over six weeks.

How do you find your trainers? Or how do they find you?

I have about fifteen freelance consultants listed on my website. They facilitate and do needs assessments for me. Behind the scenes, I have another fifteen to twenty that I plug and play depending on the assignment. They are all independent consultants. I also have designers on the back end. If the project is a half million dollars, for instance, I might bring in two consultants to design the project, and might use another seven on the back end to take it to the tactical level, which would include workbooks, PowerPoint slides, and activities. They are all certified in the participant centered methodology.

You have a freelance facilitator who was on The Apprentice?

Troy McClain was on the first season of The Apprentice. Troy and I met through what I call an “E.Q.” experience on an airplane. To be on The Apprentice, Troy had to go through a battery of tests. When the selection process got down to the final seventy, Trump told them they had to take an I.Q. test. Troy told Trump he wouldn’t take an I.Q. test because the results would show he was “the dumbest boy in the United States, the dumbest boy in Idaho, and the dumbest boy in Boise.”

To date Troy has the lowest I.Q. of any person ever tested on The Apprentice. But Troy also took an E.Q. test, which measures emotional intelligence, such as his level of self- and social-awareness, and self-regulatory and social interaction skills. To date, Troy has the highest E.Q. of anyone appearing on The Apprentice. He didn’t win, but what is true, according to him, is that he has made the most money of anyone after appearing on The Apprentice. What Troy and I have in common is a high E.Q. We both have the ability to build successful relationships and meet people through unique means. Also, through a similar E.Q. experience on an airplane, I met Mary Anne Radmacher, the author of Lean Forward Into Your Life. While on the road traveling, I’m constantly looking to build relationships with potential facilitators and to see how I can bring them into the fold. I want to help maximize their talents and skills so we both can make money.

What common mistakes do untrained people—not your facilitators—make when running meetings?

The most frequent is when the person leading the meeting does all the talking. They are typically reading off hundreds of PowerPoint slides and everybody is dying in their seats because the brain can’t process that much information. In situations like this, as I’ve said before, the retention rate is about five percent. The company then wonders why they aren’t getting business results. The No. 1 mistake of a person leading any meeting is thinking it’s all about them: The Sage on the Stage. Employees often view these kinds of meetings as boring mini-vacations or worse—they are prisoners. They get lectured to death.

So most of these business meetings are actually costing companies money.

These meetings are often the biggest money wasters companies have. I have a learning pyramid I often use with clients, one that comes out of David Sousa’s book, How the Brain Learns. At the top of the pyramid, the least effective form of delivering information is the lecture format. If audio-visuals and pre-reading are used, the retention rate can rise. On the bottom of the pyramid, when participants are interacting with each other in various ways and teaching others the information, up to 90 percent is retained. We at Participant Centered Results design and deliver solutions maximizing the bottom of the pyramid.

Many companies are realizing that something needs to be done because employee behavior isn’t changing after they pay good money for their employees to be in training sessions and seminars.

Trainers in corporate America, often, are simply order takers. I was one when I worked for Young America. I sat at my desk and waited for an order to come in from my boss to train employees. The order might say, “Go train the customer service representatives on such and such.” I thought that order made me important. So I built curriculum around the order request, lectured on it, and the CSRs returned to the job and there was absolutely no change in their behavior. None. My boss would ask, Why didn’t they change?

What Participant Centered Results does, and what training directors and supervisors need to do in order to move to a new paradigm, is to move to a consultant-style way of dealing with training. When getting an order, they should be asking questions before designing and delivering the training. Questions like: Is their problem a systems, process, or performance issue? Training may be only a small part of the problem, and the real solution is one that delivers results that actually make a difference on the bottom line.

In the early ‘90s, I was sent to a training seminar to learn how to manage and train salespeople. At the end of the three-day training, the facilitator asked if I’d learned anything. I said no. And I said I wouldn’t learn anything until I’d taken the knowledge acquired and put it into practice. Was there truth to what I said?

Yes, and what differentiates PCR is that if that three-day meeting had been designed well, you would have been putting into practice on the first day and hour the behavior your company wanted you to model. Companies ask us all the time to just give them sales training. One challenge for us is that the companies don’t tell us the results they want to see in their employees. Are they looking for a 20 percent increase in sales? Or profit margins of 40 percent, for instance? The solution is very different depending on the answer.

Next, in designing sales training, we look at what behaviors the company wants its salespeople to have. In the custom-design process, PCR will ask to meet with the company’s best salespeople in order to learn their behaviors. Then we design our training around those behaviors, from pre- to post-sales. The participants can then model these behaviors in the classroom to the point where, when they leave, they can say they learned a sales system and are able to sell differently. In the seminar, they will have practiced the selling to the point where they can demonstrate it to others.

What sort of multi-cultural considerations must you make now in training others?

Diversity in the classroom is certainly something to consider. In the wide range of diversity challenges, a bi-lingual workforce is one we often encounter. The exciting news is that our brain can process a picture sixty times faster than a word. Thus, designing and delivering training and job aids with pictures can meet the bi-lingual individual as well as anyone. We use graphics rampantly in our design, and some of our clients have now become masterful at the art.

What is the American Society for Training and Development?

It’s the nationally known umbrella organization for the training of trainers. They have local chapters. I have spoken at ASTD a great deal, and designed a two-day project management course that has been taught there three times. They bring in talent from across the country. I also present at SPBT, the Society for Pharmaceutical Biotech Trainers and at a variety of other conferences.

You live in rural South Bend Township, yet don’t do much business in southern Minnesota. Why live here?

I can live anywhere and do what I do. I’m only 90 minutes from the airport and am on the road up to 300 days a year engaging clients. So far, most of our business has come from referrals. We offer high-value training, which means it’s one of the highest in terms of cost and value.

How did your upbringing in Vernon Center shape you?

One big impact on my life is that I come from very humble roots. (Long silence.) We had very little money. (Another long silence.) But we did have a garden. One year, about 1971, when I was nine years old, my dad planted extra squash. I decided to sell the squash. I had my piles of squash, six different varieties, and sold them 25 cents each or five for a dollar. Every night after school, I’d sit on a picnic table and sell squash along U.S. 169. Some people would stop, and say, “I’ll take five.” Others would stop and try to negotiate a price. They felt a quarter for a squash was too much. One key lesson I learned is that people perceive value differently.

That year I made $22. The next year, my brother wanted in on the action, and we planted squash, Indian corn, and pumpkin. That year, I made about $120, and my brother made about the same. Then I sat down with my parents one night. I told them I’d heard of a place called Disneyland, where people paid good money to be entertained—and, once they paid a gate charge, the customers had to pay extra for their food and soda.

That led to a fascinating metamorphosis. Picture our huge front yard along U.S. 169. We started putting “scenes” together to entice people to stop and buy our fruit and vegetables. For instance, we arranged pumpkins around corn shocks, designed cornucopias, petting zoo animals out of squash, and we painted pumpkin people in scenes. Back then it was free to walk around the yard. People began asking if they could buy a particular scene in order to put it in their yard. So we would sell it to them. But the actual cost to them, if the various vegetables had been bought individually and arranged by the customers themselves, would have been far less.

You were adding value.

Yes, and that evolved into Pumpkinland. Eventually, we had a gate charge. I realized a family would spend ten or fifteen dollars on a gate charge as long as we could entertain everyone. I also learned through Pumpkinland that I enjoyed teaching customers about such things as how Halloween developed, about petting zoos, and about agriculture and farming. We put on short plays for customers, so they could learn life lessons. I learned that people would pay money, as long as they: 1) could be entertained; 2) could engage with other people and; 3) could walk away not aware they had actually been educated on a certain topic—because of the intimate way we had designed Pumpkinland. We also led hundreds of school tours. These were major life lessons learned.

It sounds to me as if the way your family did Pumpkinland, in large measure, was the way you do Participant Center Results.

Pumpkinland visitors indulged their senses and interacted with each other. They were part of the experience. Customers petted and fed zoo animals. They touched pumpkins, ate food, and talked to each other.

My dad was so good with people. He spent all his time with customers, even after hours. My father also taught me about sales. One time, a customer arrived wearing a white three-piece suit and driving a white Cadillac. The gentleman wanted muskmelon, and we had a wide variety of sizes and prices. My dad grew the biggest basketball muskmelon and called them his “private stock.” This guy wanted the best of the best and approached his private stock. He wanted to know the cost.

My dad had three left, and he said they were all two dollars apiece. The guy said he wouldn’t pay two dollars. My dad said they were worth it because they were the best muskmelon, extremely sweet.

The guy said, “No.”

My dad looked at his suit, studied his car, and patiently said, “By the way it looks, maybe you can’t afford two dollars.”

The guy said, “I can afford it. I just don’t want to pay it.”

My dad said, “You know, if this muskmelon isn’t worth two dollars, then I am going to…” He then, physically, jumped high and right down on top of the muskmelon and smashed it. Pieces flew everywhere, even onto the guy’s white suit. After a dramatic pause, my dad said, “Now I’m going to tell you the price again. They are two dollars each.”

The guy bought both.

After he left, my father turned to me, and said, “Cindy, I want you to always remember this. First, you try to sell them. If that doesn’t work, you shame them into it, and if that doesn’t work, you confuse the SOBs.”

My father taught me to sell legitimately, to always offer the muskmelons at a premium price because they were worth it, and to not fear losing a client on price. He also taught me the importance of creating customized solutions so customers can feel confident they’re getting value for the price—and then everybody is happy. As for Pumpkinland, my parents sold the business years ago.

After college?

Emma Krumbee’s in Belle Plaine hired me. On my Pumpkinland sales route, I had sold produce and built a relationship with Phil Morris, owner of Emma Krumbee’s. He gave me the opportunity to work there and I helped him expand his entertainment idea.

After that, I worked in retail, starting at The Closet in Madison East Mall, and then for Maurice’s in Winona. I finally reached a point where I realized I’d lost my passion for what I was doing. I decided to move on to Young America Corporation in 1990, and moved up in the organization as a supervisor of operations. In 1993, the company decided to build a Mankato call center and asked if I’d be the trainer specialist for it.

Jeff Hoefke, a director of Young America, decided to invest in me. We realized together that the desired business results from our training just weren’t happening. He sent me to many training seminars. From them, I learned that participants had to participate in order to learn.

After the seminars, I turned a ten day training class for Young America into one lasting four and a half days, and changed it from being all lecture to participant centered—and in the process took the retention rate from five to eighty percent. Employees were ready to contribute in about four days of training versus two weeks. New employees were making money faster, which resulted in a $6.3 million revenue reward over the call centers in two years.

The Mankato call center was a fulfillment house for a number of clients, such as Hewlett-Packard, Target, and Pepsi. I worked with them all, but Pepsi was our key client. We handled calls to support their marketing promotions.

The Mankato call center had capacity for about 600 representatives and filled about 275 seats. In 1996, I was a key player in the Pepsi Stuff promotion, which was the largest promotion Pepsi has ever done, and perhaps the largest and most successful marketing promotion ever. I was promoted to director of training in about 2000 and ended up in Chanhassen—and designed training there for their professional employees, such as account management people interfacing with clients.

You couldn’t have found a better opportunity.

If it weren’t for a boss investing in me, my success wouldn’t have happened. In time, I was recruited by one of the nation’s leading training organizations. There, an angel, the president of that organization, mentored me. He coached me on the consulting side of the business. I learned what client relationships should look like and how to interface with clients. Until then, I knew how to design training, and interface with participants, but didn’t understand working as an account executive. At that organization, right before I left, I was its number one placed consultant. When placing me, they knew I would sell deeper because of my E.Q. skills. I left there about 2005.

So you’ve had PCR about three years?

Yes, and I couldn’t do it without my business partner, Shannon Percy. She was a participant in one of my Pepsi Stuff classes at Young America, sitting in the front row and constantly raising her hand to ask questions. We drove each other crazy because she is detail-oriented and I’m more big-picture oriented. Through that experience, we built a relationship, and eventually I hired her as a Young America trainer. When leaving Young America for the consulting firm, I recruited her there, too. She has the talent of building proposals, handling logistics, taking care of details, and finding the right consultant to fit our client. My job is to go in, do the job, and sell deeper when the client realizes how much money I’ve made them—and they want more. As for our business model, I hire freelance entrepreneurs. They have clients, which they allow us to list on our website as clients they’ve worked with. As one of my clients recently put it, one of PCR’s differentiating values is that it’s a one-stop shop. I can go there, share my needs, and they will identify and place the talent.

Any stories from out in the field throughout your years?

I always put out on the tables lots of things for people to play with. Tactile learners can’t digest information unless they’re touching something. Also, one saying I often use in class is “steal shamelessly.” If I lead a particular activity, and someone really likes it, I always tell that person to “steal it shamelessly,” meaning the idea.

One day, I was in a room with 90 human resources people from a Fortune 500 company, mostly men. I had been with them three days, and had placed tons of Koosh balls on the table. The vice president of the company was in the back and pleased with everything. Everyone loved this vice president; everyone loved me. It was all going great. And there were only about twenty minutes left.

I looked around the room, and noticed almost half of the men grabbing Koosh balls to throw at the much-loved vice president. I could sense it. They were going to do it on the count of three. So I said, “Gentlemen, we have twenty minutes left in class. Please resist the temptation to play with your balls and at the end of the class you may play with them shamelessly. (Laughter.) I had no idea what I’d just said. I was referring to the Koosh balls. The vice president fell over backwards laughing.

How do you measure success?

I’m all about business results, and like measuring them in terms of dollars. One of my mottoes is to make my clients cry. They often come with an order and show me what they want. Once I’m done with their needs assessment, they find out what they really need. I know I’ve built a close enough relationship when the executive or vice president breaks down crying, saying, “Here is my real problem.” Then I help them put a cost to that problem. It’s easy to sell a $100,000 program when I can promise within the first year to make them $1 million as a result of the training.

Getting to know you: Cindy Rae Pautzke

Born: August 2, 1962. Age 45.

Education: Wellcome Memorial High School; Bethel College and Minnesota State, graduating from the latter with a bachelor’s degree.

[Special thanks to Bethany Lutheran College for use of their facilities.]

Daniel Vance

Daniel Vance

A former Editor of Connect Business Magazine

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