Setting up learning for success

In the first of two articles looking at how to analyse learning need to establish successful training programmes, Paul Matthews focusses on setting expectations

So, you are running a training programme…


Somebody has asked for it. Perhaps many people have. Who are these stakeholders and what do they actually want? Or more importantly, what do they expect? What they want and what they expect may well be a little different.

If you want your work to be considered a success by all the stakeholders, you need to deliver what they want and/or expect. If these expectations are unrealistic, then they need to be managed into something that is realistic and achievable.

The first step is figuring out who is an interested stakeholder. Who will gain or lose when the programme runs?

It might seem odd talking already about losses, but if people are pulled away from their job to do a training course, that affects productivity. If they make mistakes or are slower when implementing new processes after a training course, that affects productivity. And of course, there might be budgetary implications, or impacts on other departments that are unexpected and perhaps unwelcome in the short term.

The concept of ‘measure’ here is very loose. This will seldom be a quantifiable metric

Now you need to meet with those who will be affected to find out their definition of ‘success’ and how they will know their version of success has happened. It’s important to realise that each group of stakeholders will have their own version of success, and these could be significantly different. Clearly, for your programme to be considered a success by all, you need to get these versions of success aligned and congruent. If one group of stakeholders is large, for example, the learners, you can meet with a representative sample and look for the common themes when they describe what success is for them.

Start with the people who asked for the course and find out what prompted their request. What ‘measures’ are they using that led them to think a training course is needed? The concept of ‘measure’ here is very loose. This will seldom be a quantifiable metric or data on a spreadsheet. It might be a simple feeling by a senior person that management is not being done well enough. It might be that a project failed, and the blame was aimed at poor communication skills. It might even be that a competitor is doing a particular training course, or an article in an in-flight magazine prompted the request. And it might also be ‘hard’ measures like first time resolution on service centre calls.

You must find out what ‘measures’ people are using because whatever they are using currently to conclude that a training programme is needed will be used again when the programme is finished, and they are judging its success. These measures will be idiosyncratic based on each stakeholder’s view of how things work and how they should work. If two senior stakeholders agree that the same training programme is needed, they will have different reasons for asking for it. You need to know those reasons before you go into your design process.

Of course, alongside these personal measures that the stakeholders are using, you should be proposing some other measures that help judge course impact and sustainability. The impact will happen if people start doing their jobs a better way, so you also need to talk to stakeholders about the jobs that need to be done. Outside of pure compliance, requests for training will usually arise when the jobs that need to be done are not being done well enough to execute the organisational strategy effectively and efficiently.

Therefore, you need to get clarity on the wants and expectations of the stakeholders in relation to the jobs to be done. In other words, how do you want people operating when faced with a task. What skills do they need to carry out the required behaviours to do the jobs well?

Behaviour change is a key measure of training success and therefore it is a good lever to use in the conversation with stakeholders. Ask them what behaviours are occurring currently that they want to stop, and what behaviours they would like to see instead. When you do this, it’s important to encourage them to be specific about how they notice the current behaviours, and how they will notice when the behaviours change to what they would like instead. What do they see, or hear or feel? What data do they have that supports these observations?

A useful pair of questions to ask is how they will know that the programme has been 100% successful. What will they see or hear or feel that means, to them, 100% success? When they have described the 100% scenario, ask them how they would know the programme was 50% successful. This will usually force them to think more deeply about what they want and what they expect. The conversation has circled back to getting clarity on wants and expectations.

Starting your programme design without clarity on what the stakeholders want and expect is a recipe for failure. Starting without ‘negotiating’ with the stakeholders to ensure that the outcomes are aligned and achievable is a recipe for failure.

So set yourself up for success by only starting your programme design after you are sure you have a vision of the future that everyone can get behind and support. After all, it is not just you delivering the programme. Most of the stakeholders will also need to be involved to ensure success. There needs to be a sense of shared responsibility for the outcomes and that is the subject of Part 2 coming very soon.

Paul Matthews is founder of People Alchemy

Paul Matthews

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