Waste time on training? No thanks.

Jacob Funnell on the key to inspiring employees to attend courses.

Getting people motivated to attend training can be a huge headache. Staff are often cynical about its real value, or it may simply be way down on their to-do list.

If you’re an L&D or HR manager, your natural response might be to rely on your powers of persuasion. But describing training as ‘engaging’, ‘fun’ or ‘hands-on’ only goes so far. Rewards schemes may help – but should you really have to bribe people to get them to invest time in their own development?

The problem is that these tactics usually mean you only start trying to convince people to attend after you’ve got the training in place – but that’s leaving it too late.

Instead, you should first ensure it’s relevant to their precise needs. Then remove obstacles that might get in the way of them attending. And finally, monitor and improve your courses, to turn them into an ongoing success.

Diagnostics before a course can motivate people by giving a tangible measure of how they as an individual could improve. The difference can be startling.

Let’s look at those three steps in more detail.

How to make your training more relevant

People won’t feel motivated to go on a training course if they’re not convinced it is going to be useful. So it’s vital to make sure your training is relevant. After all, changing people’s perceptions about training can alter their feelings about it, including whether they are keen to attend.

  • Collaborate effectively to create great courses. The best courses are a collaborative effort. This can be tough when team leaders believe that L&D can solve a problem single-handedly, without their input. But it’s worth pushing, digging, asking questions to uncover the real (often painful and frustrating) issues that need tackling – and feeding everything you learn into your training.

Usually it’s the team leaders most willing to share their knowledge, challenges and goals who end up with the most popular, engaging training.

  • Show how training can help staff achieve long-term goals. It’s essential to relate training to an individual’s wider goals. That’s because smaller, short-term goals (what psychologists call ‘proximal goals’), such as attending and finishing a training course, are much more motivating when they’re linked to the larger, longer-term goals a person really cares about. An individual may want to build their CV, or impress clients or colleagues, for example. Or they may be desperate to be less stressed or frustrated at work.

Try to find out what their longer-term, more deep-rooted, goals are when doing individual assessments. Training connected to these kinds of goals will be more relevant for them than generic ‘fun, engaging training that builds skill X’.

  • Use diagnostics to focus on individual needs. Diagnostics before a course can motivate people by giving a tangible measure of how they as an individual could improve. The difference can be startling. ‘Improving business-writing skills’ is a vague aspiration. But telling someone, ‘You’re great at grammar and punctuation, but you need to work on your overuse of the passive voice,’ gives them a specific thing they can work on right now.
  • Make your training sound more relevant. The more targeted your offer is, the more likely you’re going to get the attention of your audience. It’s the difference between calling out ‘You, over there!’ and ‘You, in the red jumper!’

You can do the same thing with your course names. ‘Advanced communication for senior management’ and ‘Communication skills for new hires’ might contain very similar content. But they’re likely to be better attended by their respective audiences than a generic ‘Communication skills’ course targeted at both.

How to remove obstacles to training

Now you’ve created some relevant training, don’t let all that work go to waste. Meet people face to face to see if there are any remaining obstacles to them attending. By seeing an individual or a team directly, you’ll get a better understanding of their needs and how to respond to them. And asking about their barriers to training can reveal issues you’d never get through other channels.

Here are some common problems to look for, and some potential solutions:

‘I can’t attend on that date or go that far away’

People can be less motivated when they have to travel a long way to attend training. Or they may be unable to make training that coincides with school holidays. See if there’s a way of running training remotely (or finding a closer location). And if several potential delegates are parents, look at scheduling training around school holidays.

‘I can’t get away from my desk’

You might find that someone is swamped with work and can’t get away for a full day of training. So remember to sell the long-term benefits of personal development over the short-term impact of getting stuff done.

Don’t let feedback forms accumulate in a folder somewhere. Have concrete plans for using that information to improve your offerings.

You could also think about offering a half-day workshop, or one-to-one training. You may even be able to get them direct on-the-job coaching. Use ‘lunch and learn’ sessions to fit in short, focused training on specific topics.

‘I don’t see the point in going’

Some people think training is a waste of time, as they don’t think they’ll be able to learn enough in the session, or they think any skills they do learn won’t ‘stick’. This isn’t necessarily an obstacle. Instead, see this response as an opportunity to discuss longer-term interventions that will complement (or even replace) the training you’ve proposed.

‘I don’t want to look bad in front of everyone’

Staff may well be anxious about being shown up in front of their colleagues. We know in our own industry – writing skills training – that most people do worry about the impression their writing makes, for example. Nobody wants to look stupid.

Be sure to offer reassurance, if possible highlighting how other people have had similar problems, and how common the issues are. And talk to training providers to make sure their course won’t throw the spotlight on reluctant delegates.

Monitoring courses and achieving long-term success

Do everything above and you’ll have taken huge steps in motivating people to attend training. But don’t lose hope if you’re still having trouble getting people on courses. However experienced you are and however much effort you put into making training useful and relevant, it can be tricky to get courses exactly right first time.

That’s why it’s important to have processes for improving courses based on feedback, not just from individuals, but from every level of the organisation.

Don’t let feedback forms accumulate in a folder somewhere. Have concrete plans for using that information to improve your offerings. Over time, this will let you build popular, valuable courses that people will want to attend.


About the author

Jacob Funnell specialises in promoting and filling training courses for Emphasis Training


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