Successful Trainings Start with Engagement

Staff and volunteers who aren’t engaged with new processes and procedures will do exactly as much of the new stuff as they have to in order to avoid trouble. I’ve seen it again and again:

We created beautiful, adult learning principle informed trainings – but they aren’t working! Our staff members aren’t changing the way they think.

Of course they aren’t. Imagine that you have been successfully doing something a certain way for a long time. One day, someone comes along and tells you to do it completely differently. They show you the new way, and then leave. Do you struggle with the new way, or use your tried and true method that is easy and comfortable?

The only reason you might answer “the new way” is if you see some advantage to it. Your staff and volunteers feel the same way. Why should they change if the new way isn’t demonstrably better?

Last week, we covered how and why to do informal learner engagement before training even starts. However, the engagement building that happens during training is more immediate and all of your learners are present. This is a critical step that too many people miss.

What does engagement building at the beginning of a training mean? Simply put, it means showing staff why it is in everyone’s best interests to make the switch, and doing this in a way that gets them excited to try.

What does that look like? It changes from context to context, but there are some basic steps:

  1. Establish your (positive) feelings on the matter
  2. Explain the advantages
  3. Share success stories
  4. Share how this will improve outcomes
  5. Answer questions

First, tell the class that you are personally very excited for this change, and tell them why. Be specific and realistic. What makes you think the new way will be better? What problems does it solve.

Second, go in depth about how the new way will make things easier/better at various levels:


Third, give them examples of research or anecdotes from other agencies who have made the change and been more successful because of it. Show them that someone, somewhere has made this work.

Fourth, stress how much of an impact this can have on outcomes for your clients. Our staff and volunteers get into this work because they want to help people. Often, their reluctance to change is partially rooted in their uncertainty that the new way will work (or will work for them). Address this head on.

Fifth, give the class a chance to ask questions before you move on to the skills building portion of the class.  A learner preoccupied with concerns is not really paying attention to you. However, do be careful not to let this spiral into an airing of grievances – this is not the place.

I start every training I do with some form of engagement building. Engaged staff learn and make real changes in their practice. Disengaged staff don’t. It’s that simple.


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