Creating Engagement Before Training Starts

Creating trainings that create training transfer is always challenging. If your learners are working against you, it’s impossible. I hear you saying “my learners would never work against me -they love me!”  I’m sure they do, but have you ever heard any of your staff or volunteers say anything like the following:

I can’t wait until this training is over so I can go back to my unit and learn what we really have to do.

This is a waste of time – I am already really good at my job.

This trainer/supervisor/coach/administrator doesn’t understand how we really do our work.

That would never work with a real family/child.

My time is already full – I don’t have time to do this, too.

That is what I mean by working against you. Adult learners are almost incapable of learning things in which they don’t see value or utility.  One common (but sub-optimal) approach to overcoming this problem is to make your new process supervisor-able. This is fine if you are introducing a new filing system or something similar.

Learn how to use this new Electronic Records System because you are now required to and your supervisor will be checking compliance regularly.

However, it often comes across as a burden, and creates extra work for everyone. This can create resistance at all levels. Moreover, this approach doesn’t work at all with less tangible goals.

You must be strengths-based at all times with families, and your supervisor will ask you if you are during check ins.

See the problem? Supervision and coaching should be part of the mechanism to institute changes, but not the motivation.

Think how much better the whole experience would be if your learners were excited about what you could teach them. They would listen closer, ask better questions, make stronger connections, and be much more likely to actually make changes in their behavior going forward. Clearly, strong trainings that create training transfer have to start with engaging the learners.

You have to create excitement about the new way or tool your training will cover before you can seriously train your staff or volunteers.

Part of this work should happen before the training itself. Supervisors, senior staff, leadership, everyone who was involved in choosing to make the change should share why. What does the new way offer that the old way didn’t? Does it:

  • Improve outcomes for families?
  • Create less work for staff?
  • Create stronger plans?
  • Open up new funding opportunities?
  • Make some existing problem or gap go away?

Articulate those reasons widely and often. Have formal and informal conversations about the benefits of the change you are making. Use a mix of reasons: good for the clients you serve, good for the agency, and good for the individual staff member. This mix appeals to staff at a variety of levels.

Make sure to highlight how this will help them be better at their jobs, and any personal benefits for them. These things are the most powerful when work has run late and you just want to go home, but you have to finish something up first. In that moment, only true engagement will keep them on the new path.

Properly preparing your learners before class ever starts can dramatically improve your learners’ ability to learn what you are teaching. However, that only sets the stage for how your training begins. If you don’t capitalize on their enthusiasm at the beginning, it won’t carry over into the training itself.

Moreover – despite your best efforts – some people will be missed by these pre-training engagement efforts. Other groups are hard to reach before training starts in general (like new staff or volunteers). The inevitable missing of some learners makes your beginning of training engagement pitch even more critical. My next post will cover how you create this pitch.


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