On Resistance
Five Technology Tools for Capturing and Sharing On-the-Road Learning

When is Training a "Success"?

Yesterday I finished the second day of a two-day training gig (same training each day, different groups) and it left me wondering how you measure success as a trainer. I'm not taking Kirkpatrick's levels of evaluation right now as much as defining it in terms of me as a trainer walking away from something and going "that was great."

Although I faced some resistance from the two groups I worked with, overall they were very engaged and enthusiastic, asking lots of questions, making good connections, etc. They worked on case studies and everyone contributed (not always the case). Based on their participation in our discussions, I could tell that they were getting the concepts. And at the end, I received the highest praise I could get from a woman who stood up and told the class that she'd been "dreading" the training, thinking it would be "useless" and "boring," but that she was really glad she'd attended because she got a lot of good ideas. Someone else said, "I didn't fall asleep ONCE!" (High praise indeed, for a trainer!)

By a lot of measures, the last two days were successful, but I'm still left with this niggling doubt that always plagues me as an outside consultant coming into an organization. I keep thinking "So what?" Is anything really going to change from the day I spent with these people? Or is it just one of those things where they were more entertained than they'd anticipated?

I've tried to set my sights small, thinking that if they change one thing, that's good. I've had a lot of people I've trained approach me in other venues to tell me about the "one thing" they've changed thanks to attending one of my sessions and it's always gratifying to hear that. It's a little unsatisfying, too, because so often I've given them 50 things they could do differently and I'll walk away thinking, "You only did ONE thing of those 50 we talked about?" Then again, if I've only spent a day or even half a day with them, is changing one thing the best I could hope for?

This is why I'm no fan of "one-hit wonder" training sessions, although I find myself doing them more often than I'd like. Training shouldn't be an event, but a process. It's also frustrating to find myself in situations where I'm teaching people how to work around their existing policies and procedures in order to actually do a good job. This happens more often than I'd care to say, especially since so often "management" doesn't attend the trainings or even get terribly involved in planning them. All of this is a reminder of why training often isn't the answer to the problem.

But I digress. Mostly this is me wondering about my own professional practice and how to define success in that realm. Is it enough for people to be engaged in the day I've spent with them and for them to walk away having learned something different that makes them change how they do their work in one small way? Maybe. Maybe it IS those small nuggets that end up making a bigger difference than I know. Still, there's this lingering feeling of doubt that makes me impatient for more. . .


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Great post focusing our attention on the idea of what makes a "success" in a training intervention. From your description of the event, it seems that it was an overwhelming success! I certainly understand your uncertainly about what kind of impact it will eventually have. Ironically, your question today actually brought back to my mind your July 9th post about Steve Jobs and calligraphy...you might not be able to connect the dots with respect to what they have internalized from your training event and even they may not be able to recognize it right now or articulate it either. (Remember, Steve Jobs couldn't articulate it at the time, he just know that he found it interesting and fun.) Just think...EVERY TIME you offer one of these training sessions you have the potential to touch off a world altering event similar to font types on a computer! Now that's success.


I mostly do training in my college, but was asked to do a university wide one this past week. It amazed me how much I depend on the repore I have with my faculty to get my point across. There wasn't time to make a connection in such a 1-off situation. It was a bit disconcerting to me.

Maybe I just need to keep building relationships so I know everyone and there are no 1-hit settings :)

Kia ora Michele!

Congratulations on reaping the immediate benefits of meeting first needs in delivering training. I think that this is so important, for even if the training is great, it has limited success if the participants don't think so :-)

The acid test, of course, is still to come. It looks, smells and tastes like good training (and probably is). The real proof is whether the trained actually implement what you think you've delivered. So you will have to do some follow-ups to find that out - I'm sure you have already planned to do that. Good luck with your findings!

Ka kite

Thanks for your great comments, John, Bethany and Ken!

John--You're right that it's possible that I've planted seeds that may take roots in ways I don't even realize. That's the thought I comfort myself with when I start wondering if what I do makes a difference. Wouldn't it be nice if we could know for sure? That's the thing I keep trying to figure out. :-)

Bethany--That relationship building is SO important, isn't it? I've been fortunate in that I'm usually able to develop a good rapport within my one-day classes, which is part of what always concerns me about them. I start to really care about what happens when these people go back to work and are operating in systems that often don't support what they learned. If we didn't create that connection, it probably wouldn't bother me as much.

Ken--I wish I was going to be able to go back and measure with follow-ups, but unfortunately this was one of those cases where I was hired as an outside, one-day trainer and I've found that it's hard to do follow-up in those circumstances. I try to check in with people via email a few weeks later, but that has only been marginally successful for me. I keep trying though. . .

Michele - I just got back from co-running an all-day training today and I'm also finding that I'm not sure it was a success. Lots of smart people say that you should determine your goals beforehand, and then you'll know if you met them. Well, we did that, and we definitely met our goals.
But I still have that "so what?" feeling, that doubt that this one day actually made enough of an impact, did all that it could have done.
I guess at the end of the day you do what you can do and, as John was saying, hope the seeds of learning will grow. It's just hard to keep going at a faster pace than your results return.

Bottom line: Did the trainees' behaviors change as a result of the training session? The only way to find out is to wait an appropriate length of time and ask them.
Online surveys, telephone interviews, personal interviews, mail surveys, etc.

Glenn--I totally agree, but as an outsider brought in to do a 1-day thing, the follow-up stuff is definitely an issue. Three quarters of the people I trained do not have regular access to emails and their bosses are not at all interested in me doing phone interviews with people. For that matter, staff don't feel that they have the time either. It's one of the frustrations of someone coming from the "outside."

Greetings, Michele! Ah, the eternal struggle for those of us in T&D! I, too, am no fan of training for training's sake - however, I have also felt the pinch of pushing back on a client at the risk of the job. That is no fun.

Ultimately, I am not doing my client any favors if I am just an "order taker." It is my job to ask questions to ensure I understand the true need, address it, and find ways to make sure the need was met. As an external, it is difficult to do the follow-up; even if we design tools for the clients to use, there is no guarantee they will do just that.

In your heart-of-hearts, you do the best work you can and remember that if you touched even one mind, sparked even one "Aha!" - your session was an immense success!

Shari :-)

My two cents?
Training is not a one-way, trainer-to-participants activity. The success of any training session is multi-dimensional. All the various agenda and relationships between and among trainer, participants, management (present or not) and co-workers (present or not)impact the session's success. The trainer doesn't control those dynamics. You do your best with what you can control. Everyone else controls their part.

I think that if the feedback from participants and client are both positive but you, as trainer, still question its value, then it's time to ask yourself some questions. Do I want to be doing something else with my time? Do I need a break? Am I suffering from burnout? Am I uncomfortable working with this client? etc. etc. etc.

Like you Michele, I am always wondering the long term impact I have had on people. Unfortunately, we want instant feedback/gratification. However, sometimes that does not happen. Also, we get the lip service when we are face to face (and even on simple surveys) but we wonder what trainees are saying behind our back.

It helps when those I have taught or trained come back to me years later and let me know the impact my teaching or training had on them. What is surprising is that many times it was not the intended impact. I think it is important to know that we can only create the learning opportunity but after that, the student (or trainee) must make the learning their own. It is difficult to give up that control over their "learning" and what might end up being relevant for the learner. It is times like that that I remember my own experience and realize the training I thought might be irrelevant at the time, made sense much later. This gives me hope for my own students.

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