Successful training starts with Why
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Successful training starts with Why

Getting people to understand what development can do for them is a challenging first step

Have you ever attended a meeting or event and asked yourself. “Why am I here?” You may have thought that the topic was interesting, but you have more important things to do. Your people often feel this way about the development opportunities that land on them.

We are all busy. We all have meetings, clients, projects and commitments. We are all connected 24/7 to our mobile devices. At all levels, we are all under pressure to do new things, hence my next question:

Have you ever wondered why people in your organisation seem incapable of change?

Humans can change, but the number of times I have heard executives and leaders lament that despite spending resources on providing upskilling and reskilling opportunities, little changes.

Thirty-plus years working in the people and organisational development field has led me to more than one unfortunate conclusion. Despite an ever-increasing number of affordable options, most training efforts fail to deliver as expected. A Thinkific report recently claimed that 54% of learners don’t even open the online courses they are assigned.

There are many reasons for this, but I want to address one that I see crop up time and time again. In the words of the celebrated author and business thinker Simon Sinek, organisations and leaders fail to start with Why. They fail to adequately take a simple (but not easy) but important step and enroll their people in why they need to develop themselves.

Your people are not stupid. They are increasingly aware that the future of work will be very different from before, and everybody will need new capabilities. They are appreciative of efforts to help them develop their potential and prospects. So, why do so many not turn up to training, not fully engage in even the highest quality programmes, and fail to apply what they learn? You may have failed to get across the Why.

It is not simply a matter of communication. Poor communication is an easy scapegoat, but humans require more than being told. It takes more to change behaviour and develop new skills.

In this age of constant distractions, battles for attention and increasing pressure, organisations have to take the time to introduce and enroll their people in developing their capabilities via the opportunities provided.

We need to go beyond simply telling and explaining why they need to be here, why they are important and why they should do/learn this. Enrolling in this sense requires connecting your people to the Why and the What.

Rather than tell, you may need to hook them with a “have you ever …” issue. Getting their understanding and commitment and overcoming this first obstacle to better use of training resources requires giving them the facts, showing the need, and how it fits them at the individual level.

You can eliminate so much waste when you take the time to help them buy into the fact this experience is made for them — indeed, it’s necessary for them. But it doesn’t stop there. It is similar to a personalised marketing experience completed before the learning starts.

More than just knowing why they need this, they must understand how everything they will learn and experience will connect to them first. This includes starting with the situations they currently really face.

If you or your training provider do not make it explicitly clear to them that your development initiative is the right approach, help them understand the importance of the course, and why they are important as individuals, you’ll be lucky to get half their concentration and commitment at best.

Some learning and communication media make this easier or more challenging, but it is essential. It can be as simple as a video (not optimal), a social event, or a formal kick-off meeting with a Q&A session. If your people are more senior, it is worth making it more personal. Here are some practices I have seen in companies that have done this well:

  • They are exceptionally clear about the value and relevance AND create interest and excitement. They understand that it requires marketing and showmanship. They come up with a carefully planned campaign with multiple touchpoints because they know enthusiasm can flag amid day-to-day pressures.
  • They keep everyone informed. They communicate peer commitments and communications about the training and help others build and grow relevance. They find people who have already been through the exact or similar development process and used their learning successfully, making them advocates for the upcoming experience. They know social proof is more powerful than anything you can say or write.
  • They talk about the benefits of applying. They understand that most of your people don’t want to hear about the quality of the training, the trainer, or even the experience. They want to know what’s in it for them. They make this part of their “hook” and use the social proof from previous learners as noted above.
  • They speak to the individual (levels). They may be able to put their entire workforce through the same development experience, but they personalise the messages. They do not assume there is a one-size-fits-all message. They tailor messages to different levels and opportunities for application. They also focus on the immediate time frame because they know people will not commit to learning something they may need in the future but will have no immediate use for it in the next month.

Making assumptions and seeing capability development as a box-ticking exercise is a recipe for disaster. Of course, there are no guarantees, but starting with Why can increase your returns measurably.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer, Managing Director, and Founder at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Centre. She is fascinated by the challenge of transforming education for all to create better prospects for Thais and people everywhere. Reach her email at or

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