Big Three Essentials For Learning Excellence
There comes a time in every learning professional’s life when you are faced with heading back to the drawing board or scheduling the celebration party. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference between getting something right or getting a “do over.” After nearly 30 years in the development field, it seems to me good work boils down to three simple questions:
- What am I trying to do?
- Who cares?
- How will I know?
When the answers to these questions ring true, you probably have a winner on your hands. When the responses are unclear, you’ll find yourself asking, “Why did I ever do that?”
What Am I Trying to Do?
Learning and development efforts live in the land of good intent. We want to help and add value. The trap is anything that sounds like a request for help and smells like smoke. It rings an alarm to send the training fire truck to put out the fire. Sometimes, in our haste, we forget to confirm the address of the burning building.
There have been times in the middle of implementing a training program when I wished I asked more questions upfront. Too often, there was a quick jump to a solution, a drive to get in motion, a desire to not appear “slow.”
One of the most successful executives I ever worked with said, “The times in my career when I had the most trouble were when I didn’t know exactly what I wanted.”
To dig deeper into knowing exactly what is wanted, ask questions such as:
- What does success look like?
- What’s the gap between the situation and desired performance?
- If we do this, what will happen?
Participants are the first group to ask, “Who cares?” This question speaks to the core of motivation and engagement and can make a critical difference. We’ve all sat in a classroom or attended a webcast only to become distracted or apathetic.
Great learning is grounded firmly in the point of view and the motives of the participants such as the new employee trying to get traction in new surroundings, the experienced manager grappling with another round of corporate initiatives, the up-and-coming executive stretching to succeed in an expatriate assignment.
Walking in the learners’ shoes makes an incredible difference. When I forget, I find myself leading an elegantly designed learning parade without anyone following.
Once the link between learner motivation and a training offering is established, consider other stakeholders. “Who cares?” can be aimed at the learner’s manager — often the biggest leverage link missed. Before heaping tasks on the learners’ managers, first understand how they will benefit from improved performance.
Also consider team members who can provide support to learners. Senior leaders can signal the value of the learning program, contribute resources and, best of all, they can be visible role models for learning.
How Will I Know?
Clear answers to the first two questions are usually the transition point from inquiry to action. I’ve learned to pause and dig deeper with another question: How do I know the results have been achieved? It’s difficult to put time and energy into the hard work of evaluation when the next unmet learning need calls. If learning is about making positive change and making a difference, however, then skipping evaluation is not an option.
Mentoring change requires linking back to the first two questions of intended impact and addressing needs. Reinforce the learning through a follow-up process that actually begins upfront — looping back to key stakeholders to talk about assessing impact and accountability before starting the big program.
I also see following up as a way of continuing the learning. I ask participants to assess progress against their original improvement goals and determine what new tools or learning resources are needed to encourage a next step. I also ask direct managers to evaluate impact and encourage them to provide additional coaching or encouragement.
Choose Your Essentials
Simple as these three questions are, I experience better learning connections when I use them. When I forget or do a superficial job attending to my big three, I find myself going back to the drawing board. So, whether you are facing the “do over” drawing board or starting to design on a fresh canvass, I encourage you to apply the essentials first.
© Kevin D. Wilde