Stop Skills Training.  Wait, what?

The problem with a lot of the learning and development offerings out there is that the focus is on developing skills.  Even if it’s the best, most interactive, well-facilitated, highly practical workshop, the focus on skills alone is not enough.

What if delegates do not want to change?  What if they do not believe they can change?

If the success measure of any learning is the change in thinking and behaviour that follows, then learning skills alone is unlikely to be as effective as delivering a more holistic learning experience.

Think about it – why would you change the way you drive your car?  Or change the way you run team meetings?  Or change the way you talk to customers?  To change habits, you would need:

  1. Motivation – you’ve got to want to do it and see that somehow you will benefit from the shift
  2. Knowledge – yes you do absolutely need to know what to do
  3. Skill – and how to do it
  4. Self-Belief – you’ve got to believe you can make this shift and not have people dragging you down, thinking you look foolish or indeed being so afraid of failure that you don’t try this new thing
  5. Expectation – there’s got to be a reason, a system, a process, someone telling you to do it, or everyone else is already doing it – for this new habit to stick

That last one is the often the most difficult for the learning professional, as arguably we can cover the first four in the learning environment.  But making sure the manager of the delegate is pushing for change, or making sure everyone else is already displaying the desired behaviour, or that appraisals, bonuses, systems and processes all align to encourage the new behaviour – that’s a challenge.

So in this article we’ll look at a few tips on aspects 1, 4 and 5 – as you’re probably already doing 2 and 3 in your skills development work.


As Simon Sinek famously highlighted in his TED talk, we need to start with why.  Why is this skill or change in behaviour important?  What are the benefits to the individual, team, business, world?  Connecting behaviour with impact and outcomes is critical for helping someone to feel motivated to change.  Common sense right?

But how often do we skip over this to focus on practical skills development?  Make sure you invest time in elearning and workshops to explain why something is important – and ideally ask delegates to reflect on what’s in it for them.  “What is there about the impact of this change that could be motivational for you?”


Carol Dweck’s work on the Growth Mindset is incredibly useful here.  Help learners to understand that their beliefs about their ability to learn, develop and change make a huge difference to their behaviour.  This is not just about reviewing our beliefs, but spotting our thinking patterns that reveal our beliefs.  Sound strange?

Here’s what we’ve noticed on loads of workshops we run where we look at the growth mindset: people tend to think that they have more of a growth mindset than they display in their thinking and behaviour.

As an example, we have heard people talk about their growth mindset, yet they become defensive when receiving feedback.  Or they feel threatened or intimidated by others’ success.  It is easier to say that we believe in the ability to learn and grow than it is to consistently display the thinking and behaviour that truly reflects that belief.

Help people to challenge any fixed mindset behaviour or thinking by spotting the signs and changing their thinking.  Classic examples are when noticing a feeling of anger or defensiveness over feedback, challenge yourself to see the feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow.

When noticing a feeling of frustration or threat as a result of someone else’s success, challenge yourself to see that other person as an inspiration: if they did it, so can you.


So now to the most challenging one.  Here are our top tips:

Find out what systems, processes or cultural norms are getting in the way of the change you want to achieve.  Is the P&L encouraging silo working?  Is the manager’s approach to team meetings stopping people from being innovative?  Find out what is going on and talk to stakeholders about what can be done to change things for the better.

Share this context with your delegates and/or ask them to work out what the barriers are to change themselves.  This way you get the learner engaged in solving the problems and working towards overcoming barriers to the application of learning.

Get the delegate’s line manager involved in the learning.  This might involve having a telephone call with the manager to explore with them what change they would like to see and then coach the manager to have impactful conversations with the delegate.

It could involve getting all the delegates’ managers together on a mini-workshop to talk about getting good ROI from the time out of the office – teaching them coaching skills to hold their people to account for applying learning.

The manager has been shown in every study of learning to be the make or break of learning application, so make sure you involve them.

Set up peer accountability.  If all else fails, you can help delegates to be more accountable by having to report back to their peers on the workshop.  Regular action learning sets and peer coaching sessions can leave delegates feeling a useful amount of pressure to change and bring new challenges to their peers, so this can be a helpful alternative to line manager conversations.

And a key tip for all learning: talk about applying the learning all the time.  This is not just a 10-minute action plan activity for the end of a workshop!