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The ABCs of Effective Training


There are three types of training participants: the keeners, the vacationers, and the prisoners.

Only those in the first category actually want to–and should–be there. So how do the other two groups end up in these sessions?

The vacationers may be mandated to attend. Or they may volunteer, raising their hands for a day “off” work. And the prisoners? Well, they just got an email from their boss telling them they “had” to be there. Cue the crossed arms and thousand-yard stare.

On the day of the training, the facilitator, faced with a room stacked with apathetic or resistant attendees, does the song-and-dance routine: trying to entertain in the hopes of keeping the group’s attention. Any learning is purely incidental.

At the end of the training, a survey goes out to rate the session. And that’s….it.

Early in my consulting career, I became frustrated by how much time, money and energy are wasted on this approach.

So I designed a better way, and it’s as simple as A, B, C. My three-step process bookends the training session with equally important preparation and follow-through stages to leverage your investment in learning and development. Here’s how it breaks down.

Step A: The Pre-Work

Getting the right people in the room is essential. And getting them ready to be there is also key.

But too often, the scenario I described above is what actually happens, dooming the training initiative from the start. Our process puts equal weight on what happens before the session. In this step, we explore:

  • Who needs to be there?

  • Who will benefit from the teaching?

  • How’s it going to help them do their job?

  • What problems do they need to solve?

  • What are their expectations and needs?

  • What do they need to know or do to prepare?

With those answers, we design the invite list and the right reading and pre-work so they arrive mentally ready.

Step B: The Main Event

Ah, Step B. I’ve been paid a lot of money over the last 30-plus years for this part of the process.

In my experience, almost all of the energy of any learning or development program is focused on the session, be it in-person classroom learning or a webinar series. Regardless of the delivery method and duration, this has been proven true.

So, the training is delivered to an ad-hoc group of staffers, and then a survey goes out immediately after the session, asking things like: did you enjoy the training? Did you get something out of it? Would you recommend it?

This is how training effectiveness is typically measured, and it’s useless. The real value of the training is what comes next. It’s what happens in Step C.

Step C: The Follow-Through

This step is all about reinforcing the learning. And most organizations fail at it because, frankly, it’s hard. It usually involves change and action and doing things differently.

But what’s the point of investing in the development if you don’t want it to have real impact?

I need to cite the influence of Rob Brinkerhoff, author of The Success Case Method (Berrett-Koehler, 2003), a brilliant leadership development and training consultant, for helping me understand how to bring the learning from Step B into the ongoing operations.

Remember how I mentioned that post-training surveys are pointless? So here’s what we do instead: we wait. Then, a week or month after the session, we ask attendees: how have you put what you learned to work? And again, there are three types of people: those who’ll say it rocked their world, here's what I've done with it. Those in the middle with mediocre results. And those who say it didn't work at all.

From there, we follow up with the first and third groups, the success cases and the failures. We interview them, their colleagues and their bosses to understand what and how they did things differently due to the training. We want to understand what drove their results and work with the organization to replicate and amplify them.

And then, we talk to the failure cases to figure out why the training didn’t translate to impact. Most of the time, it’s because of systems, structures, processes, and leadership. This shines a light on where to work on improvements and mitigate against the risks of more failure cases.

Our A, B, C approach isn’t complicated, but it is effective, ensuring the right people are at the right training to make a real difference.

I’d love to hear your stories of training and development that stuck–or didn’t. Share yours in the comments. And email me directly if you think this approach might be a fit.

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