By Rob Zell, SPHR

Whenever I begin a new training project I go through several steps to ensure I am delivering the right intervention to my client. I always ask:

  1. If the training is successful, what will the learners be doing that is different from what they do now?
  2. How will you know the training was successful (the business impact)?

These two questions are imperative to ensure the training is linked to the business objective and will be observable and therefore measureable. There are plenty of other design questions to ask but these two get me pointed in the right direction.

Another thing I try to do is understand the context of the behavior change. I try to understand the learner and how the desired behavior fits into their everyday world. As a teacher, I understood how the learning was to be applied because it was all tightly controlled: learning was measured on tests or through practical application in the lab. In the world of corporate learning, behavior change and knowledge acquisition has to be demonstrated on the shop floor or in worker outputs. I didn’t understand how different the corporate world was until I was coached by an Operations Leader.

I had come to this leader to explain a training design and the elements I was proposing to create for a new initiative. I thought they were on point, creative, and tightly linked to the business objectives. This leader sat quietly listening to my entire proposal and then he asked me one question:

“Who do you think makes the decision regarding what gets executed in our stores?”

I admit that I sat dumbfounded for a moment. My mind raced, searching for what I hoped would be the correct answer. I replied, “You do, you lead the Operations function so you set the direction.” He agreed that he set direction but pushed me to think harder. I offered up our regional managers, multi-unit managers, and even store managers, all of which were wrong. And then he said:

“Our associates decide what gets done and what doesn’t. They decide, in the heat of the moment, what they are going to do and what they aren’t. They make that decision based on a few factors. How uncomfortable is the task? What does my manager care most about? What are the consequences, positive or negative, from doing or not doing the task? Our associates have plenty to do in the store. Given a list of all the things they have to do, they make the decisions and prioritize what gets done. It’s our job to recognize that and make sure they have a smooth path.”

That was a defining moment in my career. It has shaped how I look at all the interventions I am asked to create. It was not until later that I was introduced to Mager and the Performance Analysis flowchart. I learned this late in my design career but it has deeply influenced how I go to business. Whether you are just getting started in designing training or just need a refresher, here are some things to consider before designing a training intervention:

  1. Do learners already know how to do the task? If so, do they need reinforcement or help prioritizing?
  2. Do they know the standard? Have you clarified expectations? Often our front line associates are happy to do the job, they just haven’t been told the standard.
  3. Are there obstacles to performing the task? It’s possible they know how to complete the task but there are obstacles or resource shortages that keep from performing to standard.
  4. Is the problem inherent in the task? It might be possible to simplify the task or reschedule it to make it easier to accomplish. This is a great area to shine as learning consultant and not just a learning developer.

There are several other factors that you can examine before deciding what your training intervention needs to look like. Regardless of what you decide, Make sure it targets true business needs and results. Simply offering a training fix may be counter-productive and force the execution arm of your business to make choices that diminish the results.

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