In developing your last online training module, you likely poured significant effort into choosing the right training vehicle to solve the business problem, creating engaging content, mapping learning to expected outcomes, etc. Good stuff, and essential to excellent instructional design. But did your training inspire action? Post-training, did the learner change her behavior or attitude or apply her newfound knowledge to improve workplace performance?
These questions are extremely tricky to answer.
We spend a lot of time on the What and How of training. (What does the learner need to learn? How should I communicate the concepts to meet learning objectives? How do I make learning engaging?) Time very well spent. But telling someone what to do and how to do it—no matter how engagingly—only demonstrates what actions you want the learner to take. What and How do not inspire action. Connecting to the learners’ Why—their beliefs, purpose, or cause—inspires action. If a learner cares about your content and sees the connection between your training and their raison d’être, they’re engaged emotionally and intellectually.
I recently viewed Simon Sinek’s TED Talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Sinek says the bulk of organizational communication and marketing is “outside-in”—starting with what, moving to how, and stopping there. In short, pedantic and uninspiring. Truly influential people communicate contrary to the crowd: they start with Why (their purpose, cause, or belief), then How, lastly What. Sinek’s talk inspired me to ponder: Can great (learning) leaders inspire action in learners by starting with Why, too? I believe so. And I believe that doing so ensures meeting learning objectives and inspires lasting action.
So, how can we start with Why in our training content?
Know your learners’ WHY
Before you create any content, figure out your learner’s Why. What is their purpose, cause or belief? Why do they get up and go to work each day? (“A paycheck” is not a Why. It’s a result.)
If you’re unsure of the answer, ask your participants directly. Add a specific exercise at the beginning of the training module that elicits the learner’s Why. Or, send a pre-training module or poll to your learners to find out. Then, when developing your training content, continuously and explicitly tie back the Why to your subsequent content on How and What.
Or be a corporate sleuth. Review the company information section on the corporate website. Look at your participants’ LinkedIn profiles and see what they write about themselves and their company. Chances are you’ll find the Why buried in the words people write and share.
Communicate from the inside out
Traditional learning design entails figuring out the What and then the How. This process is rational. Don’t stop following it. But, do continue to dig up the reasons why the learner will care about What and How. Then flip the order of your training content. Communicate Why first, then How, then What. If you start with Why, everything else will follow organically.
And, imagine a pestering two-year-old version of yourself sitting on your shoulder. When you feel you’ve found the core Why statement, test it with an inquisitive, “But why?” from your two-year-old self. It’s a potentially annoying—but highly illuminating—exercise.
Know your personal WHY
Can you articulate your personal Why? Why do you care to create engaging content, or that the learner actually learns? Whatever your answer, no one will know why you do what you do unless you show them. Before you start to develop the content for your next training module, write down why you care that your learners will learn what you are teaching. Then, demonstrate your Why to your learners continuously through your content.
Great (learning) leaders inspire action by connecting to the Why. If the learner has a visceral, emotional connection to your content based on why he cares, he will likely be inspired to internalize your content and embody the concepts you teach through positive action.
What is your Why? What tips do you have to create training content that looks beyond What and How to the core question: Why?
Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.