Effective training program design is not one-size-fits-all. With so many levels of performance in your organization, are you focusing on the right people?

In a recent pursuit of a new training and development opportunity, the training buyer commented that we were the only training supplier that talked about the design of the program.  I asked what my competitors were talking about, and the buyer then said, “They were talking about their content and models.”

This is not a unique experience. So, what is going on here? Why would the major training and development companies not lean into their approach to design? Or perhaps the better question is, why would they emphasize content and models almost exclusively?

Well, I think the answer is clear:

Intellectual Property (IP)-driven companies believe that their model or content is both brilliant and the answer. That is mostly what they talk about – because it is what they value most. Design takes a back seat.

Creative training program design requires a different talent that is often undervalued in traditional training. The emphasis becomes on writing good learning objectives and creating a design that can be easily delivered.

There is an unspoken belief that an engaging facilitator will make it all work just fine – and, in fact, they have convinced several buyers to focus on facilitator selection to drive engagement versus the underlying design.

It is much easier and cost-effective to design when you are focused on teaching a model versus dealing with the importance of relevance and context.

Finally, the premise of most training companies is that we need to get people from either bad or in most cases unaware to good – this thinking leads to a fairly basic design. Introduce concept, discuss concept, apply concept. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Focused Training Program Design for Better Results

We have found that the typical training program design attempts to meet the needs of multiple levels of knowledge and motivation. In the pursuit of meeting these varying needs, the designs tend to be geared to lower performers, an attempt to make sure everyone is covered.

We have heard for years that high performers are not interested in attending training – they are often encouraged to go to “help the other participants out.”  

We believe a training design and delivery approach that caters more to lower performers is at odds with what we know about another development area – employee coaching. Research shows that businesses are most effective when leaders spend more time with their high and middle performers than lower performers. We think this paradigm applies to training as well. Conservative estimates indicate that the top 10% of performers are accountable for 40% of the productivity in a company. Tapping into the skills and experience of high performers and challenging this audience’s mental models and approaches should be the design goal.

While designing and facilitating to the lower performers in the room is understandable, we recommend designing high. Designing high recognizes that the majority of the participants are middle to high performers and should be treated as such. 

Designing high shifts the focus from the facilitator to the participant. It assumes that they are knowledgeable. The design quickly gets the participants to engage, and it tests their thinking. It is an approach that is both effective and inviting. It is the engine that will drive behavior change.

So, the next time you are thinking about investing in learning and development, make sure you don’t get distracted by models and methodologies. Look under the hood where the real action is.