Those are not my goals!

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Written by Paul Matthews on 21 April 2017

The training is nearly over and one of the traditional training rites is taking place. The delegates are being asked, in the name of learning transfer, to make a note of some actions they will take tomorrow when they are back at their job.

You know how it goes.

'Hey everybody, we’re getting near to the end now so I want you to write down a few actions you will take and some goals you aim to achieve given all the material we have covered in the last couple of days in this workshop.'

And yes I know, there are some ways to make this process a bit more engaging, but something like it is happening every working day up and down the country as people start wrapping up their time in the training room. And every time it happens, whoever is paying for that training is being sold down the river.

And here’s why. Whoever paid for that training had some specific business outcomes in mind, or at least I hope they did, otherwise why were they reaching their hand into their pocket? So whether those outcomes are right or wrong, reasonable or not, they are what the paymaster is paying for.

Learning transfer should be about enabling the organisational goals that the learning is designed to achieve

The delegate should be sent back from the course with a list of actions and goals that will deliver on the desired, paid-for business outcomes. That is the core purpose of learning transfer.

And yet here we are, at the end of a long day in the training room, with people watching the clock and wondering when they can escape, and they are asked to come up with their own actions and goals. I’ve been in that situation more than once, tired and with a head full of new and un-assimilated information, and I can’t remember coming up with a decent goal ever.

So, I wrote down a few things to make sure I had some words on paper that looked like I had thought about it. I certainly was not engaged with whatever I wrote, so it had no power beyond helping me get the day finished.

Quite apart from my lack of ability to come up with a decent goal at that moment, there is another major problem. I never knew what the overall business outcomes of the training were, so even if I did produce a decent action or goal that mattered to me as a result of what I experienced in the training, it probably wouldn’t be enough to support the business outcomes of the paymaster.

If there are five key changes being sought by the organisation, it is most unlikely that each delegate will set five goals that align with those key changes, even if they cared about them.

Another side issue is that Carol Dweck’s work on mindset would suggest that half of the people setting goals will set ones that they would consider easy to achieve, or even ones they have secretly already achieved, so they know they cannot fail.

And it’s not just the delegates; I doubt many of the trainers who asked me to write down some goals knew those business outcomes either, so they couldn’t give me that goal setting exercise in class, and then debrief it by guiding me to better outcomes that supported the desired learning transfer.

Learning transfer should be about enabling the organisational goals that the learning is designed to achieve rather than allowing learning participants to replace them with their own personal goals which may not have that much to do with what the organisation is looking for.

If the paymaster wants some goals from the training, then those are the goals that need to be served by a learning transfer process. Don’t let these get diluted or side-lined by some brain tired delegates.


About the author

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, as well as management development and employee performance improvement. He is the author of “Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times” and “Capability at Work: How to Solve the Performance Puzzle”.


Read more from Paul here

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