How to get more bang for your training buck

Categories: Winnthinks

There are, it is said, three types of training course participant:


  • Holidaymakers
  • Prisoners
  • Learners

Holidaymakers are those who put themselves on a course – usually an in-house one – because they see it as an easy day’s work and a lazy tick on their appraisal form. They will be happy enough to be there, but don’t expect them to work particularly hard. They’d probably rather chat with their fellow- holidaymaker (they usually travel in pairs) or check their Facebook under the desk.


Prisoners are those who have been ‘put on’ the course by their manager. When as a trainer you step out front and survey your room full of participants, they’re usually sitting there with their arms folded. Their eyes will either be looking everywhere but at you, or boring into you like a death ray.


Learners are those that actually want to be there, are curious about what you have to say and intend to engage fully with the learning process.


Recognise these? It’s quite likely you (like me) have been all of them at some point. What every trainer dreams of, naturally, is a room full of ready-made Learners, and although this may happen where people have dug deep into their own pockets to be there, those of us who also do a lot of in-house training will be all too familiar with the other two types.

Holidaymakers and Prisoners waste their time and their employer’s training budget. They are also a threat to the trainer’s results and reputation because the odds of achieving the desired outcomes from the training are shot to pieces. Knowing this, good trainers put considerable thought and energy into converting a mixed room full of participants into a room full of Learners – if they can – by the end of the opening exercise. (What? You thought Icebreakers were all about the group getting to know each other? Nah. They’re almost entirely for the trainer’s benefit, a way of sussing out and neutralising poor attitudes in the room to avoid wasting valuable course content on people who otherwise won’t be listening).

And you would be shocked at how often trainers find themselves explaining to participants, in the opening half hour of the course, what the course is about and what they can expect to learn. It is not at all rare for people to turn up not even knowing the name of the course they have been booked on, let alone why they are on it. How can they possibly arrive ready to learn under those circumstances?



So how can you make sure you are sending fired-up Learners into your expensive training session?


Here’s just one way (several others should have suggested themselves from what you’ve already read) …

It is a truth universally acknowledged in L&D that people will only learn and change how they are doing something if THEY want to. It’s often referred to as the ‘What’s In It For Me’ (WIIFM) mindset, and I have yet to meet someone it doesn’t apply to.

Let’s say you need your team of 10 to go on a training course about… um… a brand new approach to Widget-Wrangling. What you’ll do is book all 10 onto the same course, because that way you can be confident they have received the same training and a consistent message. That makes sense, right?

Assuming you are going to tell them anything about the course at all beyond the date, time and venue (see previous observation), you might also tell them they need to do this course because it will enable them to wrangle 50 widgets an hour instead of the current 35. You might tell them they need to understand the company’s newly introduced Widget-Wrangling Protocol before it is implemented next month. You may tell them it will provide a better service to their customers, and that it will improve productivity, the company’s reputation, its profit margin. This may all be true, but from their point of view, where’s the WIIFM?


Most people are driven to learn either because they understand that what they’re about to find out will get them more of something they want, or less of something they don’t want. THEY. Not you. Not the organisation. Not the customers. Not their colleagues. They.

So, tell them how what they’re going to learn on the course is going to make their job easier. Or will do away with a persistent issue that customers frequently complain noisily to them about. Or it will open up a path to promotion or a pay rise. Or that it will make their job more interesting. Or that it will give them greater confidence when dealing with something tricky. You get the idea?

Next time you commission some in-house training, help your people arrive at the session as ready-made fired-up Learners. You’ll get a much higher return on your investment, and so will they.