How often have you attended a training seminar and left thinking “that was great… but was it really worth it?” In my experience, here is, broadly, what happens in a typical 2-day off-site seminar:
Much harried and run down from an exhausting Quarter, and despite having got up before the birds, you are thrilled to be driving to an off-site training seminar, some 2 1/2 hour drive away. The seminar is being held in a prestigious and beautiful location. The training session starts late and slowly as a couple of the trainees roll in confused having come from various far-off destinations. Once inside the training room, the tennis court and golf course, emblazoned by sun, stare at you through the window, and the spa, which is signposted everywhere in the hotel, seems to be there just to spite you. The only way you will be able to squeeze in a much needed massage is by cutting into your already shortened sleep by taking the 7am slot. The first day does not end on time as the trainer tries to download all the promised knowledge and more and to make up for the late beginning. Having sat on a chair all day long, there’s barely enough time to go to the room for a quick change of clothing, before you hustle back downstairs for a cocktail/dinner. The night ends later than you had expected as you take one drink too many, catching up on some gossip. The following morning, it is harder than you wish to get up. Breakfast is short. Coffee is flowing liberally. The training recommences at 8:30am and, before you know it, it is 4pm and some of the long-distance travellers need to start taking off. You check out and bid your adieus. It is at this point, as you are driving back home that you ask yourself, “that was great stuff, but what did I actually get out of it?”
What exactly is a training seminar for?
What if we actually reconsidered the benefits of a training seminar around a different set of expectations and outcomes. What would those benefits look like?
Done well, a training session is a great opportunity to create contact, share values, re-energize the batteries, build community and networks, share experiences, hone expertise and learn by doing. However, all too often, the power of the 2-day offsite training dissipates into the horizon as fast as you accelerate away from the tree-lined driveway of that divine hotel destination. And, yet, the opportunity to make the experience and the benefits last longer are now truly at our fingertips in the form of distance or blended learning.1
What needs to happen to improve the ROI of a training session?
- Create a before, during and after, such that the seminar has a longer and more meaningful impact. This can involve ideas ranging from setting up an online group or space ahead of the seminar with critical information and blended learning modules (especially useful for leveling of knowledge). Why not also start the trainees getting to do some work together in advance of the seminar. During the seminar, training can be supplemented, for example, by some serious games2 or simulations. In terms of an “after,” aside from creating an ongoing blended component to the learning, you can create, for example, a wiki ‘sum up’ page which encourages all the participants to collaborate around a recap of key points learned.
- Savour the silence and make difficult choices upfront. Just like the power of silence in a speech, high impact training takes silence and breaks to help the learning sink in. Too often, there is not enough time to network effectively, not to mention to enjoy the hotel amenities, removing all the motivational aspects of the deluxe surroundings. Trying to say it all and to cram in too much is just not effective. Too much information kills the information — and in today’s over-informed society, it is not about the amount of information, but the right information (and source) that is truly vital. Choosing what NOT to cover is strategic as it allows for deeper penetration of the remaining material. Moreover, with longer gaps, trainees are better able to absorb the information, digesting it over a cup of coffee and, perhaps, in mulling it over with some colleagues. Some ideas: create lengthier breaks, make the ‘coffee zone’ as loungy as possible.
- Learn by doing. The problem with “doing” is that it takes time and, too often, trainers misjudge the timing and/or do not allow their trainees to do solid role playing or to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty. Not only does learning by doing accentuate the doing, it caters to the different ways that people learn and breaks up the routine of sitting in a single chair all day long.
- Learn by sharing. Peer to peer sharing is an online habit nowadays, yet in business, such a practice is encumbered by a whole variety of problems such as territoriality, unaligned goals & objective setting, not enough time allowed, poor systems for knowledge management… Creating a collaborative spirit in the office space is all about the mindset. A training seminar which enables peers to share their experiences and expertise is a great opportunity to try to evolve that myndset.
- Bring in the big gun executives only to listen and energize, not to pontificate. If having the CEO come to the meeting is good for motivation and provides a singular opportunity to reiterate the company’s mission statement, latest results and/or revised strategy, the chances are that the big gun will not help the objective of the training session. A training session, in the context of a Learning Organization3, is more an opportunity to share, build a collaborative spirit and a bottom-up mentality rather than reinforce the top-down chain of command.
- Watch out for death by powerpoint. If visual aides remain a completely useful — if not essential — tool for helping to pass along information, the vast majority of powerpoints are ineffective for being too wordy, too linear and too boring. A key consideration is the leave-behind, which enables the learner to complement what she/he is acquiring by (a) not having to copy down all the data and (b) by encouraging some amount of “personal transcription” which reinforces the learning.
- Create surprise. Just like the great brand experience you wish to give to your clients, a training seminar can be an opportunity to show how important you believe your human “resources” truly are. And, specifically, that they are not resources, but human beings, belonging to your company. A training “seminar” is a seminal opportunity to demonstrate your internal ubergeist and to walk the talk and cultivate the art of surprise. Surprising your trainees has the bonus of keeping the spirits high and the attention on alert.
It is my belief that continuing education in a company — whether it is subsidized by the government (as is in the case in France, for example) or in the form of an established Sales University — will be one of the distinguishing forces that sorts the great from the good brands (to cite Jim Collins). Great education is not just motivating. It is not just a way to improve skills and acquire knowledge. Great education is a fundament to creating a corporate “culture” and transmitting and living corporate values. If innovation, collaboration and fluid communication are vital for creating a successful client-centric organization, a training philosophy that is itself innovative, collaborative and interactive is a great way to set your company on a successful trajectory.
1Blended Learning refers to a mixing of different learning environments, combining face-to-face instruction with computer-mediated instruction, videoconferencing and other emerging electronic media.
2Serious Games are games, using advanced technologies, whose purpose is other than pure entertainment. Typically, a serious game has a pedagogical focus and uses the game as a conduit for learning.
3A Learning Organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. Pedler, M., Burgogyne, J. and Boydell, T. 1997. The Learning Company: A strategy for sustainable development. 2nd Ed. London; McGraw-Hill.