By Dale S. Rose, Ph.D, President

Evidence suggests that as popular as e-learning is, most employees still prefer good old-fashioned face to face learning.  It’s not as convenient as an app on your phone, but it sure has a greater chance of making a difference in employee’s lives.

More than ever before learners are asking the question “what’s in it for me?” before committing their valuable and scarce time to training.  Whether they skip registering, or just spend their time in the classroom checking e-mail, the reality of today’s workplace training environment is that if learners don’t see value, they won’t invest the focus needed for you to achieve your training goals.

Countless gimmicks can be used to keep your learner’s attention.  Your online courses can embed quizzes on every other screen.  Your trainers can use activities and props.  Nothing is better than a trainer who seemingly has an evening gig as a comedian.

But at the end of the day, what you really need is learners in the classroom who care about the material, because it is personally meaningful.

The best way to make learning relevant for your learners is to show then in stark terms, where their gaps are on the material you are teaching.  We’ve had great success building individual assessments tailored to curricula, so that at the very outset of a training everyone looks at where they stack up on the material.  While self-report assessments can be valuable in the classroom, 360 Feedback is a far more effective tool for showing learners where their blind spots are with respect to the topics you are teaching.  If you’ve got a course for high value professionals on how to more effectively influence their colleagues, what better way to get them to sit up and listen that to ask their peers and co-workers how effective they are at influencing – and then give them the results!

In addition to making the topics immediately relevant in a personal way for each learner, 360 Feedback data also give you a critical tool for communicating the need for training to decisions makers who hold the purse strings for your training dollars.  If you can show that 80% of your high potential professionals struggle with influence, it is going to be a lot easier to justify that course on influence when it comes time to craft your budget.

And, just imagine looking at the data on a 360 that shows only 20% of this population struggles with influence…what then?  Well, now you can shift your training dollars to another topic that group of employees really is struggling with.   And, you guessed it, the 360 Feedback data for the group of potential learners is a great place to look for other, more relevant topics!

Two strategies can be used for leveraging 360 Feedback to make training more personally relevant. The first, is to build your course based on an identified need and then administer the 360 Feedback assessment right before the first class.  The second is to administer a standardized 360 tool and use the results to craft a fully tailored curriculum.  A couple of examples illustrate each of these strategies:

Case 1: Curriculum first, 360 Feedback second.  A larger real estate development company recently took the approach of customizing the 360 Feedback survey to fit the curriculum that had already been developed.  The company’s leadership identified a disturbing skill gap for many of its high potential individual contributors (e.g. very senior financial analysts, project managers running 100+ million dollar projects, and creatives in a variety of fields).  These brilliant individuals were struggling to influence others in the organization, even when they had exactly the information needed to make good decisions.  Without formal authority, they were at a loss about how to influence others.  More disturbing was they had no idea they could do anything about it.  These folks almost universally blamed others for foolishly ignoring their sound advice.  After building a course on “influence without authority” the training group built out a customized 360 that fit the course content like a glove and administered it to all the learners who had been registered for the course.  On day 1 they received their results.  Everyone was engaged (and some were enraged!).  At the end of the first day of a multi-session course, all the learners understood what influence without authority looked like and where they were struggling, and what aspects of the curriculum would be most immediately helpful to them in their job.

Case 2:  Using 360 Feedback data to design curriculum.  A petroleum pipeline company needed to conduct some supervisory training for 75 of its front-line leaders.  Leadership had a vague notion that the training should be more about management than technical skills but wasn’t sure what was needed most.   All 75 leaders participated in a 360 Feedback process using the Leadership Navigator for Corporate Leaders, which is a standardized off the shelf leadership assessment for mid-level managers that covers a standard set of management competencies.  Each leader received their individual repots and spent an hour with a coach prioritizing their individual development based on the results.  3 months later all 75 leaders attended a 2-day course that had been built based on their aggregate data.  It turned out they were conflict averse, tended not to mentor their people (despite all being very long tenured managers with plenty of wisdom to pass on),  didn’t build up their teams but rather kept information flowing vertically only, and lastly they were universally struggling to delegate (which further decreased people development).  Not surprisingly, the four topics were:  1) productive approaches to conflict, 2) effective delegation, 3) the power of teams, and 4) mentoring.  The first 20 minutes of the four days was spent sharing the group-wide results and explaining how the curriculum had been chosen and developed.  Even better, the two senior executives who had seen the data which prompted them to sponsor the training, presented the data to the group and explained the rationale.  Not only were the results personally relevant to these learners, but now they had a clear rationale for the course and senior leadership buy-in was locked in.

Assessments, and 360 Feedback in particular, are an underutilized way to draw in learners and engage them.  It’s a rare person who will open a 360 Feedback report and not care at all what the results say.  With this level of engagement, why not take it one step further and give these folks training they know they need?   This approach has three essential benefits: 1) learners are engaged because the material is clearly relevant, 2) training can be directly linked to needs and company strategy, and 3) the right training will get to the right people, which will drastically increase overall ROI for training investments.

“Using 360-degree Feedback to Personalize Learning and Improve Training Impact” was originally published on TrainingIndustry.com