How Most Trainings Fail – Part 2 or How to Design an Effective (behavioral change) Innovation Training – Part 2

In the first installment of this article (click here to read), I claimed that most trainings that purport to change participants’ behavior fail to do so. I then mentioned 6 points that are in our (SIT’s) view crucial to the success of a training course, while emphasizing that even the best of courses would probably fail to achieve its desired impact unless it is part of a wider, big(ger)-picture program. In this part – #2 – we present 6 additional observations, this time about how an excellently-designed course can be embedded into such a comprehensive program.

1)    Immediate action. In my first ten years as a facilitator, I used to pepper my workshops with plenty of jokes. Once, in the outskirts of Madrid, I even got into a simultaneous match against 15 ad professionals from the local BBDO agency, in which they would take turns to each tell a joke and challenge me to retort with a related one, which I did until their stock was exhausted. They asked me to reveal my secret for remembering so many jokes, and, as a bonus to you – loyal reader – I will share it with you now, as I then did with them. The trick is that every time I heard a joke, I immediately found an opportunity, if possible even two, to repeat it. The same rule applies to participants in a training in which they are taught the use of a tool. First, obviously, they need to apply the tool immediately during the course itself (we referred to that in Part 1). But although this is a necessary condition, it is far from sufficient. The more elusive rule, let’s call it Moore’s Law of Application, is: for every week in which the alumnus of a course does not use a tool she was taught, the probability that it will become a part of her toolbox decreases by 50%. OK, it’s not really that mathematical, but there is no doubt that the principle is valid, and the reason is not only the fading nature of memories. Just like jumping into the water from a diving board, the more you ponder the possibility, the more frightening the prospect of actually performing the action. Build into the very structure of the course an opportunity (or several) to apply the learnings immediately after it. Do not leave this to the initiative of the participants.

2)     Create a community. Continuing with the sporting metaphors: no need to elaborate on how much easier it is to stick to a training discipline when you are doing it within a group, rather than pulling yourself out of bed at 5:30 am to run in the snow by yourself. Creating a dynamic and active community of practitioners is a formidable challenge, to which we will dedicate an entire article (click here to be notified, meanwhile, 3 points to consider:

a)     The best time to start crystalizing a group of people into a community is during the course itself – it is too late if you put your mind to creating a community after the course ends. Try to give the participants as many opportunities as possible to get to know each other within the course, whether remote or in physical presence. This may feel like a waste of time, that could instead be spent on delivering more “content”, but in fact it is usually the best use of participants’ time, especially if it is integrated with practicing or discussing the content (see Part 1 for thoughts on the “how” vs. the “what” of a course).

b)    First steps for creating a sense of cohesion can and should be taken even before the group meets for the first time. Participants can be asked, for example, to prepare a visual presentation of themselves, or a short video that can be circulated a week before the first online session.

c)    A cool exercise we use from time to time is to randomly allocate pairs before the course and have them meet each other virtually before the session (and possibly present something jointly to the rest of the group). This combines points (b) and (c).

3)    Someone with official dedicated time should coordinate the follow-up, and monitor alumni’s progress and needs. This person can distribute materials, encourage communication, help share success stories, detect need for support, measure levels of activity and results, and more. Since most participants of an innovation training will not typically be dedicating their full time to the topic, it is important that, at least for one person, making sure that course learnings are implemented is defined as part of their day job.

4)    As part of the program, you should conduct an activity with the direct managers of all participants. Sending a trainee back to their job without preparing their boss is counter-productive. Our experience shows that the single most crucial factor in a trainee’s performance is the attitude of their direct manager. The good news is, that managers can be trained to exhibit behaviors that encourage a subordinate’s innovative activities, and avoid those that stifle them.

5)    Our experience shows that conducting a 2 or 3 day course as a stand-alone is hardly ever effective. That is why we recommend structures like 3+1+1+1 or 2+2+1 or 3+2+1 etc. The +1 or +2 days additional training sessions should be devoted both to learning additional tools and – more importantly – to share experiences in utilizing the methodology, success stories, and challenges. Trainers should help solve common problems, while the participants support and learn from each other.

6)    In addition to, in parallel, and integrated into the training, participants should be assigned (or take on themselves) specific implementable projects, receiving support to complete them utilizing the skills that are being taught in the training. This serves as proof to participants that what they are being taught actually works, it also helps filter out trainers whose syllabus doesn’t really do the job, it gives trainees the opportunity to involve (and shine in front of) their colleagues and it offers the extremely valuable opportunity to put learnings into practice as soon as possible.

Adhering to these “Training Dozen” points (these 6 and the 6 in Part 1) may sound like a big headache, requiring what is often considered to be an excessive outlay and wasted time. But:

  1. Consider the true objectives of your training program. If it is intended mainly to “enrich” participants, you need not give these suggestions an additional thought. But, if your aim is to release back into the organization a group of alumni that will be active and generate impact, ignoring them is a grave risk.
  2. Although it seems as if this kind of program requires huge resources, they are actually pretty small in comparison with investments made in most companies on IT, machines, M&As, software and other areas. If you truly believe that “our people are our most important asset”, what is more important than maximizing this important asset’s yield?

Happily, in the past 3-4 years we are seeing a constant and steep rise in the number of companies that realize that innovation training programs should be substantial, with serious management backing and a comprehensive outlook. Apparently, experience is teaching the field that easy, inexpensive one-off training programs do not deliver the expected value. Luckily, there is also enough positive experience, both online and in person, to enable companies to run well designed successful programs.

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