Saving People from Train Wreck Training

Have you ever made training that got hyped but then never saw the light of day? Or bent over backwards to reach goals that (oops!) actually hurt people more than helped them? Any experience delivering learning that got so confused along the way that it no longer made any sense to the learners…or to the business?

Through no fault of ours, some training projects are simply doomed from the start. If you haven’t run into one yet, consider yourself lucky. Stick around long enough and this luck will change. Even with the best of intentions, schtuff happens.

There are all sorts of reasons that good training projects go bad.

If you’ve planned to 100% of your budget or your timeline with no room for error, it’s easy to see that your project is about to go off the rails.

If you don’t know why you’re creating training or who it is for, no matter how good a job you may do, it is destined to crash and burn.

And these things do still happen — regardless of how obvious they may be to us from a distance.

Other “train wreck in the making” projects aren’t quite as easy to spot from a mile away. I’ve had some equally painful failures resulting from:

  • Gathering/following feedback from the wrong people
  • Not securing approval from all the right people
  • Relying on others to ensure delivery of content without testing
  • Using flawed development processes
  • Measuring the wrong thing

With experience (i.e. “failure”) one gets better at identifying and mitigating such catastrophe-inducing issues. Regardless, every time something we’re working on is headed down the wrong track — and we know it — the first duty is always to help the people involved.

How will our passengers survive the train wreck?

There is only one way. We must stand up. We must sound the alarm.

This is never popular or easy, but to save the greatest number it’s best to assume that no one else is going to do it. Scary? Absolutely. Important? Emphatically so.

Communicate what’s wrong to your stakeholders. Do it early enough and they may still be able to help prevent the crash, even if you cannot. Either way they deserve to know what went wrong. They have to know what happened here in order to help prevent future crashes.

Apologize to your Learners as needed…and tell them when the next train is coming to pick them up. They are inconvenienced, yes. But they can still be respected. Don’t pretend there’s nothing wrong, your Learners are smarter than that.

What’s at stake is trust in you.

Fail people and then ignore them or their needs, and you are breeching that trust. Once trust is lost, it never truly comes back. Not all the way. There will always be the nagging question in people’s minds “will they leave me behind again?” Also, people are less likely to place trust in your precious organization/department. And if you’re interested in job security, the last thing you want is that kind of association.

Things go wrong from time to time. Eventually sh*t happens to us. Most people accept this. Pitch in and help folks to safety when needed. For this, they will trust you more…not less.

Sam Rogers is President of Snap Synapse, which creates more effective, efficient, and engaging ways to deliver learning for global clients. Sam speaks frequently at L&D conferences, and was recently declared one of the “Top 5 Value Tweeters” on Twitter. @SnapSynapse

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