As professional educators and consultants, we all understand the basics of designing effective learning curriculums. We focus on the needs of our audience, their objectives and how these elements relate to the purpose of the training. I couldn’t agree more with this direction … except for one missing key ingredient.

After spending more than 40,000 hours “in the trenches” with teams and their leaders, I have discovered the most vital element to learning assimilation is understanding the “why” behind the request for training.

You can plausibly argue that this is the training’s purpose – i.e., leadership development, skill attainment or continuing education – but I will argue to my death that it’s more about the “why” behind the purpose. For instance, with leadership development, is the company’s senior management on a short path to retirement? Are mid-level managers too new to make good decisions? Are cultural dynamics hamstringing autonomous decision-making?

These are the real issues you are trying to solve with your curriculum. In my experience, failing to address these “whys” will, in turn, fail to create sustainable learning and will have limited impact on performance.

Understand Your Audience’s “Why” Before You Develop Your Curriculum.

The key to effective learning is a clear and relevant focus on the “why.” These steps have never failed me:

  1. Understand and validate the “why”: This step centers on uncovering the real objective (i.e., what the company is seeking from the participants post-training). I have found that it is best to ask the question multiple ways and to multiple people. In some cases, L&D is setting up the training at others’ request and may be unaware of the true catalyst behind the request. Do your best to talk with all involved before designing content.
  2. Address the “why”: For your content to be on point, you must address the issues. Again, talk to multiple people within the organization, and gain real-life examples of their challenges, barriers and conflicts. Interweave these examples within your content for maximum relevancy and instant connection.
  3. Create metrics around the “why”: Your role is to deliver training that produces results. Define those results by creating metrics that can be reported on and, most importantly, calibrated with the client. This step validates that you and the client are on the same page before training starts, while creating a showcase for participants’ progress.

Deliver Against Their “Why” During Training.

Ensure that you’re on point and present by actively addressing their “why” in a variety of ways:

  1. Understand all of your roles: To truly be effective, recognize that your role far exceeds that of an information or knowledge sharer. Instead, you are an expert, facilitator, coach, mentor, consultant and educator. You will call on these roles at different points throughout the learning experience. Success here directly translates to skill/concept assimilation and, quite frankly, your being remembered as an effective trainer.
  2. Be “present” with your audience: An A+ curriculum can fail if it doesn’t flow with your audience. You must connect with the participants, build relationships, and listen and interact to effectively address their “why.” Needless to say, possessing and demonstrating high emotional intelligence will facilitate your ability to read and adapt accordingly.

Sustain Learning Post-Training.

Every trainer’s goal is to make an impact, yet few actively follow up to ensure that learning becomes application. Here are some proven methods to incorporate:

  1. Create scorecards for success in the workplace: If you’ve done your job well and addressed their “why,” participants should be energized to apply their newfound learning. Leverage this energy by incorporating self-designed scorecards where participants outline goals that describe what success looks like. This custom scorecard embodies engaged ownership while providing a personal roadmap for application within the workplace.
  2. Share the scorecards: Communicating the scorecards should become a ground rule of your learning session. By sharing with managers, teams, cross-functional stakeholders and others, the participant gains additional support – and accountability – to achieve success. It also becomes the ultimate means to measure actual benefits against proposed benefits, which is invaluable information to your clients and to you.
  3. Personally follow up on the scorecards: Recall the discussion on multiple roles? Now is your time to serve as a personal coach. With their permission, re-engage each participant on the progress of his or her scorecard. Not only does this step further employee growth and development, but it also cements value-based relationships.

Guarantee learning success by making your client’s “why” the center of every curriculum. Your participants – and organization – will thank you.