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Are You Training for Ideas or Actions?

— by Trina Rimmer


I have a problem.  My husband doesn’t seem to understand how to take out the trash and recyclables. Friendly reminders, bribes, and threats don’t seem to have any effect on his behavior.  Clearly he needs some training. I’m considering one of these two training options:

Option 1: Give him an essay to read on waste disposal practices and share some impressive statistics about the positive impact of recycling on our planet.  I’ll email him a link to the recycling guidelines and our neighborhood’s waste collection schedule.

Option 2: Spend a few minutes demonstrating the steps of trash collection & sorting and then watch him perform the steps on his own.  When I’m satisfied with his performance I’ll review the collection schedule with him and quiz him to make sure he remembers when he’s supposed to perform his new task.

I’ve done a little list of pros & cons to work out which approach is better.

There may be an element of willfull ignorance that neither scheme fully addresses, but overall, Option 2 is the smarter way to go because it’s an action-oriented, hands-on approach that gives my husband the skills and knowledge he needs to change his behavior.

Why am I telling you about my husband-training woes?  While these concepts may seem pretty basic for many training pros, in our world of rapid-everything, no matter how experienced you are, it’s easy to lose sight of the end goal when you’re formulating a training plan and objectives.  I see it all the time: training with a focus that’s too heavy on communicating concepts and too lite on how to actually apply them on the job.

For example, you have a business goal to sell more widgets next quarter and you know your trainees need some refresher training.  At the end of your training do you want them to understand how to sell more widgets (ideas) or to be able to sell more widgets (actions)?  Which is more aligned to the goal — that trainees can recall widget specifications (ideas) or that they can apply their knowledge of widget specifications in a sales or service situation (actions)?

When you frame training objectives around observable actions you turn great ideas into behaviors that support your goals.  So the next time you’re given a 10,000 ft. business goal and not enough time to make sense of it, don’t throw in the towel and leave it up to your trainees to figure it out.  Instead:

  • Ask why? Why do we need training? Maybe there’s a better solution to the problem?
  • Ask what? Once you understand what needs to be trained you can focus on sorting essential ideas from the nice-to-know stuff.
  • Ask how? Seek out the details you need to translate essential ideas into meaningful actions.  As Thiagi says: Design activities not content.

For more ideas and perspective check out:

Where do you get hung up when it comes to training ideas or training actions?  Share your training challenges with us and leave a comment.

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