Are your’s firm or fluffy? (Outcomes that is)

image used with permission: barnabywasson

image used with permission: barnabywasson

Over the years Accelerated Learning has, in some quarters developed an unfortunate reputation for being a little bit “fluffy”.

Someone recently told me that they overheard a delegate saying:

“I thought I was going on a training course not back to infants school”


This has come about, in my view,  because some practitioners have lost sight of what the point is.  It has all become a bit of a tick-box exercise:

  • Koosh balls – tick
  • Baroque music for quiet bits – tick
  • Up-beat music for up beat bits – tick
  • Table toys – tick
  • Flipchart pads X 6 – tick
  • Post-its – tick
  • Bouncy facilitator – tick
  • etc…

All fine and dandy but if there aren’t clear and rock solid objectives or outcomes underpinning every aspect of the session then it really is just so much messing about. And no real surprise that we get disappointing feedback.

All too often when I am out and about with clients I still hear conversations like this:

Manager: I need to arrange some management development training for my team

Trainer: OK, no problem. I’ve got some really great exercises for that (and they have too!!) very interactive, full of opportunity for self discovery and really good fun. Your team will have a fab day with me.

Manager: Sounds great. When can you do it?

The result of this is that the happy sheets reveal that, yes, the group did indeed have a great time, learned lots of new things and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Six weeks later however the manager is less pleased as nothing much seems to have changed and the group still aren’t managing their teams effectively. The manager’s perception may well now be:

“My guys had a great time but clearly the training department don’t understand the real world.”

However there is a better way.

Manager: I need to arrange some management development training for my team

Trainer: OK, we can do that but first let me ask you some questions. (Check out the post on asking excellent questions) Firstly which particular aspect of management do you want you team to get better at?

Manager: I’d like them to get their teams to focus more on their KPIs

Trainer: Are any of the KPIs more important than the others?

Manager: Oh yes definitely.  The KPIs around generating ideas for improvement from within the team and the one about increasing our customer satisfaction measure are critical at the moment. Our competitors are hurting us in the customer satisfaction surveys and we know that the team members already have some great ideas for how to improve this. It’s just that managers aren’t encouraging them to share their ideas and they don’t offer enough support for people when they do.

Trainer: So if we developed a programme that firstly enabled managers to understand why these two KPIs were important right now and then developed their ability to motivate and support their team members to bring their ideas forward, would that be OK for you?

Manager: It would but I would also like them to be more skilled at dealing with their under-performers

Trainer: OK. I understand. Here are my initial thoughts. By the end of this training intervention your managers will:

  1. be able to tell you which 2 KPIs are important and why
  2. be able to select an appropriate strategy from a small selection that will encourage team members to come forward with ideas
  3. have discussed ideas with their peers to keep their teams motivated and have some top tips that they will use
  4. have developed some ways in which they will support their team members when they do come up with ideas
  5. have practiced some coaching conversations to increase the effectiveness of their under-performing team members
  6. have committed to take action on a minimum of three things and have written that commitment down and sent it to their line manager

If we design something that would deliver these outcomes, what difference would this make to your department?

Manager: I think it gives me something to manage my managers with. I can keep tabs on how they are doing compared to what they said they would do and monitor how this is affecting our KPIs. Then if something isn’t quite working for us we already have some alternatives to try. And that sounds great.

Trainer: Good. I will go back and develop a top line design that I will then share with you. Once we have agreed the top line I will then design a detailed session to achieve these outcomes and send you some dates for when the sessions can run.

Manager: Thank you.

By getting clear outcomes or objectives the trainer now knows why the manager wants some training for his team, how success  will be measured, what difference it will make to the business and can be confident that the training department is fully contributing to the support of the key KPIs in the business.

The trainer may well have some great exercises for this session but it is only now clear which ones are appropriate. They can be incorporated into the session plus any other strategies the trainer wishes to develop knowing that, when all is done, they deliver against these 6 outcomes.

So here is our call to action:

Ask yourself HONESTLY how often, when asked to deliver some training, you dive straight into your huge library of content (and even mentally start writing the course) before clearly understanding what your internal customer or client (or even your organisation) actually wants or needs from the session.

AND should you find that you have to admit to doing this sometimes, imagine what difference it would make to you, your client / organisation and their performance if every training intervention was based on rock solid outcomes.

We would love to hear you thoughts on this topic so please post a comment and lets start a conversation about outcomes. I reckon they are still much underused, but you may think differently so let us and the rest of our Brain Friendly Trainer community know.

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  1. Posted September 9, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Great post Paul, establishing outcomes is the very first stage in our design process. So in the same way you approach designing a workshop – starting with clear objectives/outcomes, you should use this in every conversation you have with potential clients, be that internal or external customers.

    One thing I would add is ensuring you are also clear about measurements… so as you are clarifying outcomes for the piece you also establish what the measurements of success will be using questions like:

    How will we know when we have achieved the desired outcomes?
    What is our starting point and how far do we want to go…?

    This helps you get some evaluation information up front so you can measure and celebrate the massive difference your solution makes to your customer.

    Enjoy! x

    • Posted September 9, 2009 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Totally agree with you Carly.

      Establishing effective measures is also a critical part of the process. And, it makes the difference between level 2 and level 4 evaluation.

      Really good call.

  2. Paul
    Posted September 10, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    There is quite an interesting discussion going on within the Training&Development group on LinkedIn about this posting.
    Here is a link but you may need to join the group to read them and participate. Here’s the link:
    Training&Delevopment Group on LinkedIn

  3. Posted September 10, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I was working in a hotel in Milton Keynes a few years ago and was setting up the room, ready for the learners to arrive for a 2-day Management Development course.

    A young Mum walked passed and called her toddler over, they walked in, sat at one of the tables and started drawing using the smelly pens and glitter pens…

    She thought it was the nursery!!

  4. Posted September 11, 2009 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Great article Paul. In these challenging economic times it is all too easy for clients to cut their training budgets. However, if we can deliver clear ROI on the client’s objectives and (hopefully) link in cost benefits or increased revenue, they might even increase their training spend! Here’s hoping!

  5. Posted September 13, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    When I am teaching trainers and non trainers about using toys, I tell them not to use a toy unless you have 3 reasons i.e. makes people move about after a sitting exercise; increasing the oxygen levels in there blood; backs up a learning point with a visual or sound.

    What toys do you use that you can give 3 reasons for using them?

    If you are clear about the reasons for using toys it makes it easier for participants not to see your training as a nursery! However saying that I was once called to run an event and the client phoned adn asked was I the ‘Fuzzy Felt’ girl.

    Sheila in Scotland

    • Posted September 13, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Hi Sheila in Scotland,

      I like your thoughts around toys.

      It reminded me of a time I used to run a management development programme that included the use of “Bop It”. The idea was to get the group into a circle and pass it on whenever the instruction “pass it” came up. Their initial instruction was to keep trying and see how far round the group it would go before someone failed. After a while it became clear that some were better at Bop It than others.

      The outcome for me was to demonstrate 3 key management topics:

      Because Bop It speeds up as you go along, the best way to achieve the task is to put the less able boppers in first while it is still fairly straightforward and have the more competent towards the end of the circle when it was more difficult.

      This then linked to discussions around recognising team strengths and exploiting them, how to delegate effectively without affecting people’s sense of value and worth and doing things that don’t work differently.

      It was always well received and responsible for many “light bulb moments.

  6. Posted September 18, 2009 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with all the comments about using accelerated learning techniques to help learners meet business needs and the way I ensure that this happens is remember Pragmativity!

    This is a made up word (by me) that combines pragmatic use of creative techniques, so if doesn’t move learners on through their learning – don’t do it! That way, you only do what works rather than leaving people thinking ‘great fun … but what was all that about?’.


    • Paul
      Posted September 18, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Oooooh Jooli.

      I really love Pragmativity. What a great word and does exactly what it says on the tin. Thank you.


  7. Cindy
    Posted October 14, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    I have worked with one of my clients for years. They know that every time they request a new training the first place we are going to start is with the objectives. What do they want to accomplish? What should participants be able to do differently? They used to roll their eyes at this exercise but once I explained the value of objectives and they began to use the materials and see the value first hand – now I don’t have to bring up writing objectives – that is the first place they start!

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