Hidden Benefit of Well-Designed Training Initiatives – Clearer Messaging

Written by Seth Derner
Training efforts are designed to have impact by changing behaviors, improving skills, and introducing new approaches. Often, though, we find that one of the most consequential outcomes is a simple one – more clear and consistent messaging. This was the case with a recently completed project for an international chemical manufacturing client.

At the end of every project we meet with the client to deliver final files and gather feedback on our performance. Following that, we conduct an internal post-project review meeting.

In our internal wrap-up call following this particular project, the project manager shared that the client was very satisfied with everything about the process and with the deliverables they had begun to use with internal sales teams and external channel partners. The thing, though, the client most appreciated was that after working with us, the benefits and features messaging for the new product was stronger and more focused. This increased their confidence in how to position the new product with their customers.

Here’s the thing — we weren’t hired to help with messaging. In fact, we don’t consider that a service offering. What we do know, however, is that clarity is a foundational consideration for learning design.

So, how did we do it? The training we had designed for this client was scenario based – we developed a potential, real-world scenarios to demonstrate how to position this new product in a competitive marketplace. Through this process, we all discovered inconsistencies in how our client wanted people to talk about their product to customers.

This isn’t unusual in our work. Why? Most of the projects are big, new initiatives — new product launches, new systems integration, new strategy. The prepared communication plan often has not been tested outside a small group of leaders, or it may still be in development.

In many cases, the first time messaging is tested is when we show up to help design the initial training efforts. That is when we start asking the right questions. Questions about real-world situations where employees will be asked to use these key messages. It’s often the first time “the rubber meets the road.”

If you’re designing training for something new and big — where you expect a lot of people to adopt new language that supports a new way of thinking, here are three actions that will lead to asking the right questions:

Number 1

Develop a list of words/phrases that matter and a list of those that are inconsequential.

Listen to leaders talk about needs and goals. Try to identify those words or phrases that must be stated in an exact, consistent manner. If you’re not sure, ask. Different leaders will almost certainly talk about the initiative with slightly different language because they likely have different perspectives. Figure out which language is personal preference, and which is important to be consistent across the project.

Number 2

Find real-world scenarios with shades of gray to test key messages.

If you’re building training that includes scenarios (and you really should if you’re striving for any hope of application) you’ll likely be given “black and white” examples. These are useful to get started, but most people taking your training won’t experience anything like this in the real world. You’ll need to push and ask probing questions to develop the messy/complicated/not-clear-cut scenarios that will be more common to the audience. These scenarios will result in more nuanced responses. After you develop feedback to these more realistic scenarios and share with your subject matter experts, that’s when you’ll see how well the initial messaging holds up.

Number 3

Challenge leaders to deal with inconsistencies and/or gaps in messaging.

When inconsistencies or gaps are exposed, you may find leaders aren’t overly enthusiastic about addressing the problem. While that is their choice, we believe it’s our responsibility, as professional learning designers, to push for what’s best for learners. Designing learning where we know there is lack of clarity in messaging is a disservice to learners and, let’s be honest, not a great use of our time. Of course, you seek additional clarity in a respectful, professional and humble way (because sometimes it is clear to everyone but you). But, don’t avoid those tough questions that will push your client to a more successful experience in the long run.

Seth Derner
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