Why workshops aren’t an answer to skills development

The golden age for learning and development (L&D) professionals was perhaps the 90s, the 2000s and perhaps the early 2010s. The industry has done pretty well for itself (multi-billion dollar!) and so have the trainers and facilitators (multi-millionaires). And the best of them may have delivered tens of thousands of workshops over these years.

I believe the industry’s changing for the good because it’s audience’s changing and adapting to the needs of their respective industries/sectors. What made the L&D professionals so much success may not help them grow in future. And no, better marketing (including everyone’s favourite — social media strategy) isn’t an answer.

Here’s what I think is fundamentally missing from profession:

  1. Over-reliance on half-day/full-day/multiple-day workshops/courses or seminar as the key delivery model. Though this is changing, thanks to the rise of the “coaching culture” but most trainers and facilitators aren’t skilled coaches. And the art of coaching is way different from the art of training & facilitation.
  2. Lack of implementation plans just as any consultant worth their salt would help the clients with. Mere talk, activities and motivation isn’t enough. What happens after the workshop determines the ROI for the money invested by the company.
  3. You can’t teach a kid to ride a bike at a seminar! (Thanks David Sandler for hitting the nail in the head. I stole that line from his book by the same name. If you’re in professional sales, you must read it!) It takes much longer and is almost always better with a partner (or a coach) who can keep you accountable and give you just-in-time valuable feedback for improvement. I should know because I learned how to ride a bike myself! And it took me close to a month!

While I don’t consider myself to be an L&D expert, I am qualified enough to create and implement L&D plans for teams. It’s one of my passions and something that I’m deeply invested in. I believe L&D professionals should reinvent themselves and begin to see themselves as a consultant who solves business problems instead of trainers who deliver programs based on a the ‘client’s needs’ or that outdated ‘training and needs analysis’ document.

Some of my friends in the fields get it and have reinvented themselves as organisational development consultants who can step in to deliver educational programs but help clients implement the learnings as well. Now, that’s value creation. Much more than trainers and facilitators (or “speakers”) who just wanted to educate and entertain the audience. You know how I feel about motivation, don’t you? It’s never enough. And to a large extent, L&D professionals do just that.

Sure, the low-cost of entry into the field appeals a lot of folks but I would encourage them to look beyond that and focus on creating value for the client. As with all things, ‘long-term’ is the only way to go because ‘short-term’ is for the impatient.

What might that mean to the wannabe or up-and-coming or the experienced trainer in 2019 and beyond? A lot of work. Switching from a lifestyle business to a hardcore one that may just require you to work around the clock, at least for a few months. Taking more risks by developing new programs based on your research and experience or revamping your existing to meet the needs of the audience.

Oh yes, let’s not forget pricing yourself competitively. It should make your clients uncomfortable so you have a chance to explain the value your bring to the table. If they say no, great! Get better clients. The idea is to do whatever it takes to move away from just the ‘workshop’ model. They’re important and have a place in a much larger engagement to build context and continuity to the audience’s learning and development needs. It’s definitely not the be-all-and-end-all of an organisation’s learning and development needs plan. And if you discover that is the case, you have an opportunity to help the organisation and influence change.

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