Tip #331: Training is Not Like Baking a Cake: It Is Not Always Easy to Satisfy Participants

“Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.” Theodore Isaac Rubin

A training program doesn’t just happen. After long research and worry and planning, after reorganizing, whittling, second-guessing and wordsmithing, a training design gradually takes shape. The final lesson plan identifies thoughtfully conceived learning goals and learning objectives, and plots out a variety of learning activities carefully selected to provide specific knowledge and skill sets. Participant materials are developed, along with supplementary handouts and audiovisuals.

In anticipation of the training day, the trainer trusts that the different phases of the lesson will play out as planned, the training modules and learning activities will flow smoothly, and the participants will be engaged to learn what they are supposed to learn.

That is what every trainer hopes and prays will happen. And when it does, when the training design works and the facilitated program accomplishes what it was designed to do, the sense of gratification and validation is amazing!

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to satisfy training participants. Providing effective training is not the same as baking a cake or building a house. The baker and the builder know the exact needs and desires of their clients, and better yet, are able to fulfill them. The trainer is in a very different situation, because the trainer’s clients are rarely the training participants.

Yes, the trainer, the baker and the builder each follow a plan: the trainer has a lesson plan, the baker has a recipe, and the builder has a house plan. Each plan identifies the necessary materials and ingredients, tools and steps, and recommended sequence of events and even timeframes. The difference is that the customer chooses the cake, the client chooses the house plan, but the training participants frequently do not choose the training.

When the baker uses the proper ingredients, follows the recipe’s instructions, has the necessary baking expertise and equipment, and, understands the baking process and how the ingredients interact, the cake will be made to order. Even if there is a power failure or other interruptions, the cake can ultimately be baked to the customer’s satisfaction. The baker knows that the customer wants this particular cake.

When the builder uses the proper building materials, follows the building plan, has the necessary building expertise and tools, and understands the building process and how the different components of the house relate to each other, the house will also be built to order. Even if there are labor disputes and weather delays, the house can ultimately be built to the buyer’s specifications. The builder knows that the buyer wants this particular house.

Conversely, the trainer can use the proper participant materials and learning activities, follow the lesson plan, have the necessary training expertise and tools, and understand the adult learning process and how the different training modules relate to each other, and still provide a training program that does not satisfy the participants.

There are two reasons for this. First, the trainer may know that the client wants this particular training. However, the client may have misunderstood or misrepresented the actual training needs, misidentified the appropriate target audience, or scheduled the training at an inopportune time. The client may have chosen to fill space in the classroom with individuals who have no need for the training. If the training is focused on the wrong topic, or if the wrong people are in the room, it is perfectly understandable if the participants are not pleased.

Of course, a seasoned trainer will adjust the content and learning activities during the training to accommodate the participants’ real learning needs, to the extent possible. It takes a lot of energy and quick thinking, but it can be done. (The trainer will collapse from fatigue after the workshop, when the adrenalin rush passes!)

Second, the purpose of training is often to push participants out of their comfort zones. It may require them to learn policies, procedures and skills that may be very different from those they have practiced for years. It may establish an expectation that the participants will change certain attitudes or behaviors. It may deal with topics that are uncomfortable. Satisfactorily completing the training may even be the basis for their job continuation, certification or promotion.

So the participants may approach the training with fear and trepidation. If the training is mandatory, they are often understandably resistant and unhappy. In those cases, the trainer is a very convenient target for their animosity.

A good trainer anticipates probable participant concerns, and designs activities to validate, address, minimize, or divert them. The unknown variable is always the participants. Will they cooperate with the trainer? Will they actively participate in the learning activities and willingly learn the training content?

Hopefully, everything comes together: the training is timely and necessary, the right people are in the room, and the participants see the benefit of learning the content.

Then training is just like baking a cake and eating it, too!

May your learning be sweet.


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