Tip #517: Do You Give Training Clients What They Want- or What They Need?

“The gift of teaching is a peculiar talent, and implies a need and a craving in the teacher himself.”  John Jay Chapman

Many years ago, at the very beginning of my career as an independent training consultant, my good friend, Scott Meeker, gave me sage advice. I had been struggling with how to respond to a client. I could see all of their training and system needs. However, that is not what the client wanted of me. At the time, I didn’t know if I would be betraying my principles if I only gave them what they said that they wanted

His advice was: “Give clients what they want, not what you think they need.”

According to Scott, if I wanted the work, I needed to accept and honor the client’s desires. He felt that I first needed to satisfy the client. After that, the client would be more likely to be open to additional assistance. There was no guarantee that I would ultimately get additional work with the client. However, if I refused to do what the client wanted because I thought the client needed something else, that would definitely guarantee that I would have no work with the client either then or later.

As it happens, I have been struggling with this very same issue for the past two months. My clients believe that their trainers need to strengthen their presentation skills. However, I have reviewed short videotapes of the trainers and feel that, with few exceptions, their presentation skills are quite good.

Instead, it is my opinion that what constrains their presentations is the actual design of their training programs. It is difficult for training delivery to be effective if the training design does not reflect a good understanding of adult learning principles, meet the needs of different learning styles, and incorporate learning activities that can achieve levels of learning beyond knowledge.

If I had several days for this training, I could easily give them what they want, as well as what I know that they need. Unfortunately, all I have is one day. So I have spent hours and hours designing and redesigning the training program.

One key message I want to get across to the trainers is that they overwhelm people when they throw a huge amount of information at their participants. Yet, even though it is not possible to cram the content of a four-day train-the-trainer program into one day, that is exactly what I have been trying to do.

This design process has forced me to redefine and reframe the content and learning activities I would typically include. It has actually been a fascinating, if very challenging, exercise.

For example: ordinarily in a train-the-trainer program, I would have the participants complete a basic training needs assessment. I love the discussion and insights that result from this learning activity. However, my clients’ organizational training needs are clearly defined and driven by highly technical process and procedural changes. Therefore, it is not necessary for the trainers to conduct a training needs assessment.

I have had to grudgingly concede that this content would take up precious learning time that could and should be used on more relevant content. Consequently, I have also had to completely rethink what constitutes effective training design.

This has pushed me to recognize and reassess my assumptions and biases about the learning process. In addition, I’ve had to accept the fact that I am not the boss of the world, or the final arbiter on what trainers should know and do. That is very humbling.

I have ended up simplifying the lesson design process by distilling it down to four key questions. I’ve modified the lesson design template to reflect the answers to those questions. (I’ll explain this in the next Tip.)

I am an independent training consultant, so I will definitely need to give my clients what they have asked for. However, since I am a trainer who wants to set my participants up for success, I will do my best to help them discover, through the one-day program, that what they asked for includes far more than they originally realized.

May your learning be sweet.


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