Seeing the Training for the Trees

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The popular philosophical question goes, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” The 18th century Irish philosopher George Berkeley is known for his belief summed up in the Latin phrase Esse Est Percipi, “To be is to be perceived”. The commonality in these two statements is the position that reality is derived by people’s perception of action and events.

In reflecting on many of the conversations I’ve had with corporate leadership development groups, I  began to wonder whether these two philosophies that define reality also define a learning initiative. Instead of talking about trees falling, the training and development version would go something like “If a leadership development program is available, but no one knows about it, does the program really exist?” Or, “If a leadership development initiative gets rolled out and no one can show evidence of performance improvement, did the program really make an impact?”

Are the results of your program as perceptible as the man in the picture?

These questions are challenging many leadership development stake holders to take a hard look at their current approaches.  Most companies recognize the need for corporate training to attain company objectives.  The challenge for many companies is that they fail to align the learning initiative with a company goal.   When management asks the question, “what was the impact?” it becomes difficult to respond.  Regardless of the feedback or the skills learned, it could be perceived that the course failed, falling like that lonely tree that no one noticed.

So what are the right steps to make sure your training makes a measurable impact?

Pick a Business Goal – Align the training so it causes employees to perform task, operations, or behavior that will achieve a stated goal of the company.

Design Courses for Performance, Not Just Information – While information is important, failing to act on knowledge makes it as irrelevant and nonexistent as that lonely, falling tree. Make sure your training includes practice and practical application activities. This is more likely to affect real impacts.

Keep Strategies and Content Relevant and Current – This has the potential to save the company a substantial amount of money in “sunk costs” that can be utilized to make a more performance-driven experience for learners.

Participation Motivation – Managers, directors and executives are busy.  Motivating them to be involved and participate in training can at times be difficult. The method of delivery, the amount of time the training takes, the presenters, and the incentives all drive motivation and – if done right – increase participation, on the job application and performance.

Account for Sustainable Change – Learners need to leave the program ready and willing to apply what they have learned. You can prepare them for this by incorporating several tools, processes and technology into the training.

Flaunt Results – You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but many training and development departments don’t report results to executive management. It’s important to share result metrics in the form of case studies, collaborative conversations and more.  Let senior management know that the course had a measurable, perceptible impact, and didn’t just fall silently into the corporate jungle.

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  1. You are exactly correct in stating “Managers, directors and executives are busy. Motivating them to be involved and participate in training can at times be difficult.” In order to be successful Leaders will have to come up with creative yet time saving ways to make sure their people will be engaged in any training.
    The results of training and the success of training will largely depend on organizations implementing what you have laid out here.

  2. Tom Strawn

    An excellent article that is refreshingly clear and to the point.

    I think the last step, “Flaunt Results” is actually one of the most under utitlized in this process. Suspect some folks are a little apprehensive about doing it thinking that it is “their job to produce results” so be careful about flaunting results. Actually, what you are doing is establishing the ROI on this investment of resources as it applies to driving the business. This becomes a really critical step when you are asking for more resources to drive training initiatives as you have now established a track record of ROI to support your request.