A great deal of time, energy and money go into two important components of learning and development (L&D): content and delivery. Designers and instructors obsess over considerations like whether the training should be digital or in person, self-led or instructor-led, video-based or experiential and just how much wham-bam, new-fangled technology can and should come into play. And, of course, they know they have to get the content right; if they teach a team to screw in a light bulb with “lefty-tighty, righty-loosey,” then everyone will be working in the dark.
While content and delivery are essential, there’s another component that’s often overlooked but that can make or break any training initiative: love. Without love, training lacks the power to transform its audience.
The cynical might respond, probably with a snort, by saying that the point of training, whether it’s functional or leadership training, is to teach a person or a group to master the material you are teaching. Results are what matter, not love. After all, if you teach someone to correctly screw in a light bulb (righty-tighty, lefty-loosey, by the way) — or to sell the benefits of a car battery, or to lead with the organization’s core values — then it doesn’t matter whether you loved the training, they loved the training or the training was created with love. What matters is whether they can screw in the bulb correctly.
Results matter, but competence with the materials isn’t the only measure of results. The value of love is that it supercharges the effectiveness of training results. Imagine a world where you, as training manager, instructional designer or instructor, do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. You love creating and delivering amazing training, because you know it makes a difference in people’s lives — both the people who go through the training and benefit from the trainees’ doing their jobs with higher levels of excellence. They love what you’re providing, because you invest your heart as well as your mind in the training. It isn’t boring, they actually learn something worth learning and implementing, and they grow personally and professionally.
On the flip side, you can develop and deliver effective training that’s devoid of love. It might work, at least initially, but you’ve given trainees no reason to care for what they are learning. This reason is why so many workers associate training with drudgery. They’d rather have a root canal then sit through four hours of mind-numbing instruction or plod through another e-learning produced with clip art. They might pass the course and even implement what they’ve learned, but not with passion and joy that produces long-term engagement. Over time, they become as cynical as the designer or instructor who subjected them to their misery.
New York Times columnist David Brooks points out that neuroscience has confirmed the importance of a positive relationship between teachers and students. “Children learn from people they love,” he wrote in January, “and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.” It’s also true of adult learning, and it extends to how you create the content, as well as how you deliver it. “The bottom line is this, a defining question for any school or company is: What is the quality of the emotional relationships here?”
The proof of a love-based approach in business training, not just in schools, is hard to dispute. Trailer Bridge, a shipping and logistics company based in Jacksonville, Florida, provides a great example of how operationalizing love as a leadership strategy can profit a business. The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2012 and then had four CEOs over the next three years. It was earning about 1% return per year when Mitch Luciano took over in 2014 and began building a culture that operationalized love.
Luciano made seemingly small love-based changes, like focusing on the consistency of his own behaviors and following through on the promises he and his leadership team made. He made cosmetic changes to the working environment by bringing in new carpet, furniture and the requisite foosball table, but he and his human resources (HR) director, Indie Bollman, also launched a love-based training program for the leadership team that taught members what it looked like to embrace and model loving one another. Then, they began incorporating the LEAP model (love, energy, audacity and proof) as a means of infusing love more deeply into the culture. A few people quit, and some were fired, but the people who stayed bought into the changes and reaped the benefits — as did the company’s bottom line.
Turnover at Trailer Bridge has steadily decreased, more and more employees are recommending it as a great place to work, and it landed on the Jacksonville Business Journal’s top 10 “Best Places to Work” list in 2017 and 2018. It’s gone from a company seen as a bargain carrier (according to independent surveys) to one that competes on service as well as price. Customer retention has increased every year since 2015. Ships that typically left the docks at 75 to 80% capacity in 2015 now sail at 95 to 100%. And Trailer Bridge has seen record profitability for four consecutive years. Earnings from 2015 to 2017, in fact, were better than the previous 23 years combined.
Luciano and his team created training with love, because they do what they love in the service of people who love what they do. Their training programs, including the ones that teach functional job skills, are infused with love. People love what they’re learning and, as a result, love working there. It’s not rocket science. In fact, you might say it’s as easy as screwing in a light bulb.