A good place to start with any training exercise is often the end: the deliverables, the take-home messages … in other words, what it is that you actually want to have achieved by the time your audience are packing away their bags and walking out of the room. What do you want them to remember? To embed into their daily practice? To share with colleagues and coworkers?

The Road to Delivery

Starting with the end means that you know where you want to go. But knowing your destination is only the very start. Knowing which is the best road to take to arrive there is a whole other story – one that requires planning and strategic thinking about the needs of your organization and the requirements of its people. And much like you might use a map when driving on the road, you might start the planning process by creating a series of step-by-step directions for how you want to guide the thought trajectories of your audience at each of the mental crossroads you will come across.

There are many ways to make sure that the road you choose is straight and clear of traffic and that your audience won’t get lost along the way. And just as a driver’s curse is coming across an ambiguous sign, the same applies to your audience. The adult human brain hates ambiguity.

The Fear of Ambiguity

Your brain hasn’t always felt this way. When you were an infant, ambiguity was the norm in a world so novel and surprising. Coming across something ambiguous wasn’t something to be actively avoided. In fact, it was something to be explored and learned about.

But in adulthood, we have developed a bias against ambiguity, because it is associated with risk and uncertainty. Because the brain computes many of its decisions in terms of risk and uncertainty, it will often avoid something that may seem ambiguous, where it doesn’t have all the facts.

Framing your training program in a way that removes ambiguity means that you are less likely to be met with this fearful resistance. This type of program will remove the uncertainty, and therefore the risk, and the brains of your audience members will be more open to engaging with what you are proposing.

Setting the Goals and Rewards

While removing ambiguity and providing clarity in your training content and approach are important for getting your point across, you also need to be clear about the goals and rewards – in other words, what your audience will get out of it. It is one thing knowing what you should be doing in practice, but it is another actually implementing it in the workplace. The power of procrastination is one barrier stopping your audience from taking action.

A Strategy That Ensures Action

Although procrastination is a multifaceted concept at the level of your brain, it is also something that is made worse when the goals and rewards are poorly defined. When the brain hasn’t been given sufficient information or encouragement, it is not motivated to complete the desired activity (and therefore is on the lookout for more interesting distractions).

Create a training program where the rewards are tangible and have a near-future time scale – whether they are personal growth, cognitive enrichment in the form of building new social relationships or knowledge, reducing stress and conflict, or enhancing pride or happiness. That way, you can help your audience members overcome their tendency for procrastination and implement what they learn into their everyday work with a clear and rewarding sense of satisfaction.

A Nudge in the Right Direction

Of course, the training program doesn’t stop when your audience walks out the door. It is an ongoing process of change, a shift in thinking or perspective that needs an occasional nudge in the right direction to keep it on track.

Luckily, the brain responds well to nudges. Those subtle hints are considerably less obvious than that back-seat driver telling you to turn left at the next junction. In other words, a nudge typically appeals to your brain, often without your even consciously realizing that you are being nudged. Designing a set of strategic nudges, which you can roll out in the weeks and months after the training program launch, increases the likelihood of compliance to the proposed behavior changes.

Strategic Alignment Between the Organization and the Brain

Creating an effective training program, therefore, benefits from the strategic alignment between the deliverables that you are trying to achieve as an organization and the way the human brain works. Avoiding ambiguity, emphasizing rewards and including follow-up nudges are just a few of cognitive tricks you can implement to ensure that you are training in line with the way the brain works, rather than going against the neural grain.

In doing so, you are ensuring that you are growing potential and, ultimately, building a set of better brains within the individuals who are critical to the continued success of your organization.