Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.
I’m not a superstitious person, but I do have a set number of training rituals I adhere to. You know, things like always using a three water-cup rotation to ensure I stay hydrated, and never, never, never (and I mean never) training with spare change in your pocket—I find I’m just too tempted to break out in a stirring round of “I got change that jingle, jangle, jingles as I go trainin’ merrily along.”
One ritual I never miss is handing out the evaluations at the end of the course—because you need to know how you did, right? In fact, this ritual is so regular and significant that I started thinking of trainings in terms of the overall score from the eval. When people asked how my session had gone, I’d respond with something like, “Well, you know, it was about a 5.7.” I even got pretty good at predicting the overall scores before I finished the training.
Last week I taught back-to-back classes. The first session was okay (it was about a 5.4), but the second session was on track to be at least a 5.8 and maybe even a 5.9. Just as I was whipping the class into a late afternoon learning frenzy, with a 5.9 clearly in sight, a participant from the previous day peeked through the door and beckoned me out of the class.
I knew if I ducked out to talk to this guy, I’d be looking at a 5.4 at best. I looked over and saw he was still there waiting for me, so I took one last look at my 5.9, gave the class an exercise to work on, and slipped out of the back of the room.
He apologized for interrupting my session and then said, “I just wanted to come by and let you know that I had a crucial conversation this morning with my boss that I’d been putting off. It was a conversation I had thought was hopeless, but in the end it turned out great. In fact it worked out so well this morning, I’ve set up another one with my director for this afternoon. I just wanted to let you know that all that stuff you were teaching us really worked. Thanks.” We talked for a minute more before he took off for his second crucial conversation.
It’s experiences like these that help underscore that some rituals aren’t the driving reason for why we do things. In other words, it’s not all about the evals! Yes, they are helpful. Yes, they provide valuable improvement feedback. But, in the end, the reason we step in front of any class shouldn’t be the elusive 5.9, but to help individuals meet and overcome the significant challenges they’re facing. Thank you, Justin. I’m glad you took the time to remind me of this last week.
Steve Willis’ From the Road column will now be published in the Trainer Talk Newsletter, our e-newsletter for VitalSmarts trainers. To read past From the Road articles, visit the newsletter archive.