Applying Learning in the Real World : Part 1 What does it take to create an impact in the training room?

Meenu Iyer

Meenu Iyer

A Consultant at Vyaktitva. She jokes that she has turned grey doing Instructional Design. Her passion is to design and deliver Leadership programs that make an impact. In her books, learning should be fun and light, with serious outcomes.
She is best at working with a team and is also adept at building personal connects with learners in her programs. Singing her way through the day, baking and having a good time with friends and family are her go-to stress busters.

As leadership development program facilitators, we strive to inspire our participants to act; change their ways of working through the application of new knowledge – techniques, methods, tools – that we make available to them. We use creative and interactive strategies to engage participants deeply in our programs and encourage them to think about how they can apply the learning, so that they go with the confidence that they can leverage the learning. Being able to inspire participants to apply new methods and thereby change is a huge motivator for any Learning Consultant. 

Yet, if you ask Learning Consultants what the biggest gorilla for our ilk is, I would be willing to bet that it would be the question most Training Managers, Business Managers and CEOs ask us when we meet them before, during or after a program. Business leaders ask, “What will my employees show as a difference in their actions, behaviours, mindsets or attitudes after they are out of the program? What will the impact be?” If I were to respond with absolute honesty to this question I would most likely say, “Perhaps not much, and change will certainly not happen magically at the end of a couple of days or even a week of learning.” With that I would be digging the grave for the program (and perhaps my career too!!). 

So, what impact can we show to the sponsors of the training? What is it that we can do in those precious limited hours we get with our audience to inspire them to change? And how does one traverse the confines of the four walls we cohabit during a program to make that impact on each individual? These questions have preyed on my mind in every single program I’ve delivered. 

It took many experiences of facilitation and reflection on the not-so-impactful programs to identify some of the realities about adult learners, and the practices that I needed to implement in order to inspire my learners. As a newbie facilitator, my strong belief was that if a concept is great, learners would be motivated to implement whatever they learn. After more than 30 years of facilitation of live programs, group and individual coaching, I know that the cliché “Content is King” is a true fallacy. 

The other belief that influenced my early facilitation was that a fun and engaging experience would open my participant’s minds and stay with them, leading them to try out new learning. However, this turned out to be a myth too; meeting participants a few weeks or a couple of months after a program, I would hear them say sheepishly that they have had too much work and “could” not implement anything. These words are totally demoralizing for me, to say the least. 

Deeper connect with audiences during my pre-workshop analysis discussions and while in the programs revealed some patterns limiting my learners, and surprisingly these were common irrespective of both the vintage of the audience group and the type of organization they worked in — large Corporates or Small & Medium Enterprises. I realized that the reluctance, and at times the exasperating close-mindedness, to embrace that which is “new and different” stems from a range of diverse and deep reasons. I also realized that adult learning is not an easy space. A program isn’t a magic pill. Change isn’t a formula. 

Adults have old, hard-to-let-go-of experiences through which we have acquired opinions, views and attitudes, and developed habits, some of which help us accomplish and be successful. Why would anyone want to let go of years of learning that has brought the dividends he/she is receiving? 

Why fix something which is working, right? After all, it could result in failure. 

Another pattern I observed was a rigidity that stems from personal values and beliefs built over years of living life a certain way, or as a result of one’s upbringing. For example, a person who has experienced control all his life may well have a belief that “as a leader I should control.” A learner with this attitude may be quite unwilling to accept that inclusiveness or letting go of control can make one more successful. 

An obvious reason that was common across some learners was the lack of ambition, or conversely, satisfaction in how one’s life is today. This contributes to low learning orientation. Some people just love the comfort that their current position offers them. Some just don’t want to do more as they don’t want more. 

I also often came across this comment in Leadership Development programs, “Our managers should go through this program also.” To me this was indicative of a pattern … I saw this as a statement of helplessness, which in turn resulted in an indifference towards changing one’s ways of working. It’s almost like saying “I can’t do this because my manager doesn’t work like this. I can’t oppose him or her.” This never came as a surprise; after all the manager is the one person who plays a vital role in our professional growth. 

Often, I have experienced those naysayers in programs, who are so consumed with the achievement of the “numbers” that their KRAs/KPIs demand of them, that they reject leadership concepts, methods or tools that do not directly influence these numbers. At best, they sit through the programs and say all this is humbug. The culture of their business unit or organization may be such that achievement of outcomes is applauded and recognized, and that compounds the problem. 

One other important barrier to learning is ego. Ever experienced participants who say, “I am already there. I am fine. I have no issues. I am sitting here because my manager asked me to?” When I come across such people, I often find myself saying, “But how do you not have even one challenge?” 

I could go on and on with this list. Or, I could leave you to think about more. I will choose the latter; and I can say with a fair degree of certainty that this is a long and growing list. 

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