How to Learn from Training Failures: Improving Through Feedback

In late 2015, I received a phone call from IPS; they were looking for a Computer Assisted Design trainer and asked if I could refer anyone. To this day, I have no idea (nor concern) how or why IPS contacted me. I provided a name and mentioned that I would also be interested in any training opportunities that came along.

In March of 2016, I presented an IPS seminar on Robotics and Automation in Education to a delegation of Chinese educators, and despite a few hiccups received accolades and strong reviews. I was elated, and eager to continue with this new line of so-called ‘work’.

Several opportunities followed, with a variety of clients and with similar great results and ratings.

Sooner or later, though, ‘beginner’s luck’ runs out, and in my case I was faced with some less than stellar reviews. I take a lot of pride in my work (as most trainers do) and began an exhaustive session of self-flagellation and introspection that continues even as I write this. Here are some things I have learned, or figured out, about how to cope with the end of beginner’s luck:

1. As part of the introduction/icebreaker, I ask the simple question, “Why are you here?” – If the answer is “because we have to be”, it’s good to know this up front. If not addressed, this answer can cause attendee participation to nosedive; it indicates that participants do not buy in to the value of the training program. Gaining their voluntary buy-in equals success. We often talk about WIIFM statements at the onset of a training program. Connect the “What’s In It For Me?” with the participants expressed needs and you will surely raise their engagement.

2. I make sure I am fully prepared, technology and all, before the first person arrives. If that means arriving an hour or more early, that’s what I do. The time before the presentation begins is perhaps the most important time the facilitator has to sell him/herself to the attendees. I introduce myself and get to know the participants as they arrive. In other words, I should already know the answer to Question 1 before I ask it.

3. The more I talk, the lower my ratings are. The more the attendees talk, the higher. As I gained confidence, I talked less because I believed in my abilities to facilitate learning without just lecturing and information dumping.

4. I’ve not had an issue with this, but it bears mentioning – the bottom line is I am selling something – several things, actually:
a. Myself
b. Invista Performance Solutions
c. My Client
d. The Message

And as such, I work to get behind all of these things because I cannot sell what I do not believe in.

5. Look beyond the scores at the bigger picture. When I receive reviews or evaluations, I look at the questions and answers to try and figure out what parts of the session were good, and what parts need improvement. If they are less than stellar, I will place the data in Excel and see what the ratings are without the facilitator evaluation. If the ratings are higher, I look at myself because I dragged them down. If they are equal or lower, I look at other factors, like Question 1, and how well I was able to get the attendees behind the message and their employer’s decision to have us present the message.

In the case of the most negative experience I have had, there were many factors which contributed to the low scores:

a) The meeting was scheduled in two different places and half of the attendees were in the wrong place. They arrived a half hour late to a two-hour session.

b) The client had expectations that were not communicated to IPS and therefore not to me. The material I came up with on a moment’s notice was not optimal and was cited as biased in a comment.

c) The attendees had no real idea why they were there, other than ‘because we have to be’. Some found out about it that morning and had to work late to attend.

d) The session was 4–6 PM on a Friday; it was sunny and 70 degrees at the start of May.

e) The scores were lower with the facilitator rating removed. Apparently they were OK with me, but not with the overall presentation. I still call that a failure.

Perhaps there is no such thing as ‘beginner’s luck’. Perhaps this, like many things, can be related to sawing logs. The first few cuts with the saw are slow, deliberate, measured and focused. Once a groove is made, emphasis shifts to getting the job done – the focus and attention to detail are forgotten.

I have taken this failure, analyzed it, put it in perspective, and developed a goal and a plan to give each client the same experience regardless of my experience. We don’t need to fear failure.

Without failure, there can be no definition of success.


This was a guest blog written by one of our many talented facilitators, Landon Johnson.



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