Do it Right or Don’t Bother: The Hallmark Of An Effective Learning Program in an Ever-changing Business

(Taken from an article I wrote recently for The Heavy Chef education magazine)

Consider this scenario: You’ve attended a lecture or workshop and have come away feeling hugely motivated by what you learnt. On the drive home, you start to formulate how you will start to take what you’ve learnt and implement it in your workplace.

Your notebook is jam-packed with useful titbits that are going to make a huge difference to your work or career. You even bought the book to accompany the training folder you were given, both of which will take pride of place on your desk as you work through your action plan. You arrive at work the next day, still hyped and raring to go. But first, you need to catch up on the work you missed yesterday. I mean, you were out for a whole day and if you don’t get on top of that first, everything will grind to a halt. By the end of the week you’ve finally managed to catch up and the weekend beckons, but you’re ready to hit the ground running with your new approach on Monday morning. Press restart.

You step into work on Monday only to face a barrage of emails and telephone calls. This cycle continues – days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months. The action plan quietly drops down towards the bottom of your to-do list and those notes, folder and book finally get moved to the shelf behind your desk and eventually stored deep in a drawer or at the back of a storage cabinet somewhere. I know you’ve been there.

This is a sad story I hear over and over again from people at all levels in business, from CEO to intern. I call it the bludgeoning approach to training. Get people in a room, either lecture or workshop key learning points. Keep reinforcing it throughout the day with the hope that bludgeoning it home will have an effect. Yes everyone may come away feeling positive, but ask them a month down the line if the session made a long-lasting impact on the way they work and only 10% will answer yes (if you’re lucky). The problem is that we keep putting the training budget towards this type of learning with little real measurement other than a feedback form directly after the session that asks us for our favourite part of the day, whether the facilitator was good and if the food was okay at lunchtime.

The real questions that should be asked a month or so later:

  • “How did the training impact you or your business?”
  • “Was that impact a positive one?
  • “What has changed since then?”

In an era of continual change, the change question becomes critical to any successful learning program. If you don’t consider it in your planning, execution and measurement, you’re just throwing your money and time away. If money and time aren’t important to you, then keep doing what you’re doing and stop reading here. If it is important (which I’m sure it is), here are my three key tips to ensure that change management is integrated successfully into your learning program:

1) Start With The End In Mind

All skills development needs to be aligned with business strategy. This informs the skills, knowledge and competencies required. If the skills being learnt haven’t been aligned with an opportunity to fulfil your business strategy, then it’s never going to relate back to the work you really do and you’ll struggle to implement your learning into the business.

Make sure you answer these questions first:


  • What is the current strategy?
  • What are the business drivers?

All skills development needs to be aligned with business strategy.


  • What are the current business challenges?
  • What issues in our current environment could have an impact on learning and application?


  • What are the critical competencies required to meet the above challenges from a personal, interpersonal and technical perspective?
  • What knowledge, skills and attributes are required to deliver on the required outcomes and strategy?

2) Confidence Is Built In The Classroom. But Competence Is Gained In The Workplace

Learners build confidence in their knowledge on a particular subject matter through experiential learning in a classroom, lecture hall or online. But they only build real competence through application and implementation in the workplace. To ensure that this happens, you have to clearly define the projects or workflows that the learning needs to be applied to, with a clear understanding of how that change will be measured.

When designing a development program with change in mind, you have to consider the following key questions:

  • How do learners apply/demonstrate these competencies?
  • What can they do differently as a result of attending training?
  • How does the learning program support this process beyond the workshop?
  • How do we measure application in the short and long term?
  • How do we measure ROI (Return on Investment) and ROE (Return on Expectation)?

3) Understand How You And Your Team Learn Best

Everyone learns in different ways. Some prefer self-study, some prefer conversation and collaboration, and believe it or not, some really do prefer role-playing. We also learn best at different times of the day and week, depending on our energy levels or deadlines. It’s important to find the optimum combination of styles and times that will achieve optimum results.

There are three questions you need to ask the learners before you design or choose a development program:

  • How do you feel you learn best (solo, workshops, online, etc)?
  • What time of the day do you feel at the most optimum to learn new things?
  • Do you have any example of where learning has worked for you, and when it hasn’t?

In conclusion, effective learning has to combine knowledge with clear intentions and objectives. These objectives are gained by conducting purposeful conversations with your team. The learning program itself needs to be tailored to help achieve those objectives. Combining knowledge transfer with clearly defined, the practical application brings about positive, long-lasting change.

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