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What Happens When Companies Do Not Engage Training Participants Early?

By Joane Ramsey

Do your employees know why they are in training? Has the strategy behind the training been shared? Are the trainees Participants, Vacationers or Hostages? In Episode 31 of the Strategic Insights Podcast, Joane Ramsey and Tim Deuitch share strategies to prepare your company for a more impactful training initiative.

Joane Ramsey: 00:01 Hello, and welcome to the Strategic Insights Podcast brought to you by Strategic Enhancement Group. I'm Joane Ramsey and I'm joined today by my colleague, Tim Deuitch. Welcome, Tim.

Tim Deuitch: 00:10 Thanks, Joanne. It's great to be here.

Joane Ramsey: 00:12 I'm glad to have you here. Today we're going to discuss what happens when companies don't engage their participants in the training from the beginning.

Tim, I am sure that you have experienced that dreadful moment when you start facilitating a training program and you quickly realize that the participants are not engaged, have no desire to be there, and furthermore, have no idea why they're there in the first place.

Tim Deuitch: 00:36 Yes, it's true. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, you know they're not engaged.

Joane Ramsey: 00:43 I think it would be wise to discuss today, when those moments happen, what can we do to prevent them?

Typically, they're not involved in the process and not understanding the need behind being there. Can you share with us, Tim, in your experience, how you have handled that in the past?

Tim Deuitch: 01:04 Yes, I can. Training attendees come in three buckets. The first bucket is Participants. If you're a participant you are there to take part. You know why you're there and you are ready to go.

Another bucket is Vacationers. These are folks who come in, maybe they're just used to, "It's that training time again." They come in and they sit back and they put their hands behind their head and they're chill. Maybe, if they're not engaged it's at their own doing.

But then the third part, and I think that's what we're talking about today, that bucket is Hostages. Those are folks that come in and you feel and see on their face and their body language that this is not a place that they're going to be comfortable being in. The reason behind that is they have questions unanswered. Or, when they ask those questions they did not really jive with the answers they got.

Joane Ramsey: 02:07 Tim, can you walk us through those unanswered questions and some of the ways that we can prevent that from happening?

Tim Deuitch: 02:17 The questions themselves aren't that complicated. It's, why are we doing this? Why are we doing this now? What are the expectations of me? If I understand why we're doing it now, what are the expectations of me? How will I be supported if I'm expected to do things differently than I have been? The fundamental question they ask is, "What's in it for me to engage and maybe to change a behavior? What's in it for me to fully participate?"

If we don't answer these questions early on in the process they simply won't be engaged. Even more so, they'll be skeptical. When they're not clear, here's the clunkiness of it, the trainer then has to, once they identify it, get those questions answered for the employees. I remember so clearly being in these moments where I look at them and I put everything down and I just say, "Let me check in with something. Do you all know why you're here?" And it's like this audible release.

Joane Ramsey: 03:25 Silence.

Tim Deuitch: 03:26 This release of breath, and they're like, "I'm so glad he asked that question because it's been in the back of my brain and it's been bugging me," and you have to go through that.

Here's the thing. Okay, great. That's a way we react to it at that moment. But here's the reality, if a person is feeling like that hostage, they actually start to resent the employer for not answering those questions fully beforehand. You have to draw that out of them as well to feel a little bit better about being there, to ask everybody to lean in and say, "Yeah. Hey. Look, we're here. Let's make the most of it." But without any question, it's a mess for a while.

Joane Ramsey: 04:08 Yes, it's clear that when a participant is not engaged you can't maximize the skills they will get out of it. They can't put the skills to practice because they are not involved in the process. I think it's important for us to make the distinction that we're not talking about engaging the employees in the decision of the training, but rather, engaging them in how the training will be rolled out and helping them understand how that ties back to the strategic initiatives of the company, the business issues that they may be dealing with, and what they will be getting out of it. What are the benefits for them? As you clearly pointed out, what's in it for me, to go through this and be part of this?

Tim Deuitch: 04:52 Well, when they have those questions answered it's night and day. They walk in. We're ready to go. You see it in their posture. You see it in their attentiveness. In fact, you know that when they're locked in, when you know in the beginning of some trainings, there's sometimes this interminable welcome and introductions, and we go around one by one. You know they're actually engaged when you can see on some of their faces, "You know what? We don't need to go through all this introduction stuff. Let's just dive in."

Joane Ramsey: 05:20 Yes. They want to participate. They want to get the most out of it.

Tim Deuitch: 05:25 Yep, let's go.

Joane Ramsey: 05:25 Yes, absolutely. I think it's important to point out some mistakes that companies are sometimes making, regarding the difference between a training event and a training done in a way that is looking to improve performance. I think we all have experienced that. Tim, can you talk to us a little bit about that?

Tim Deuitch: 05:47 Answering all those questions up front is really key. But one of the things I've seen, that mistake you mentioned, is that when a company tees up the importance of a particular training or skills being introduced, or what have you, they tee it up really well. But all of a sudden the training is only one or three hours long, sometimes a half day where it just scratched the surface, and the result then is a frustrated employee. Their frustration comes from having a full understanding of the imperative for this, the topic, and so forth. But it needs more time. We didn't give it enough time. So there's that disconnect between the importance of the topic being addressed and the actual time allotted to it.

Joane Ramsey: 06:35 I think it's the main difference between creating awareness within the company regarding certain skill sets and really providing the employees with the actual skill sets that you expect them to deliver afterwards. I think it's also critical to involve the managers in the process because sometimes, how many times have we been at a client site where managers don't have the skills themselves, not only to move forward with that, but also to coach and reinforce the skills?

Tim Deuitch: 07:09 It's the sweet spot. There's the classic set of FAQs before a training session, yet they've got to be answered. "The why?" "The what?" "The when?" "The what now?", and so forth and so on. And the manager's involvement in it, and then the full time committed to give the topic and the subject matter its do for the participants.

Joane Ramsey: 07:29 Yes, absolutely, Tim. I think it is important to summarize this, that when putting a training initiative in place, it's clearly important to put a clear communication strategy together that answers the question of "Why is this important?" "Where can they go for feedback?" "Where is the support going to come from?" "What is expected of them?", and most important, "What will they gain as a result of participating in the training that will hopefully help ensure full engagement and participation in your next training session?" We appreciate you listening to our podcast. If you have any additional questions or thoughts, please visit us at StrategicEnhancement.com.

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Published: September 29, 2020

MEET THE AUTHOR

Joane Ramsey

Senior Performance Improvement Consultant

A native of Brazil, Joane first came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student with AFS. She returned to Brazil where she successfully ran and sold two different businesses. Returning to the US in 1992, Joane put her business ownership experience to work with a small manufacturing company running the day-to-day operations and facilitating sales with South American companies. She joined SEG in 1999, where her experience has helped her clients get the results they desired. Joane has a B.S. degree in business management from North Central College, where she majored in international business and Spanish.

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