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5 Game-Changing Tactics to Drive Lasting Impact in Your Training Program

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Thu Jul 20 2023

5 Game-Changing Tactics to Drive Lasting Impact in Your Training Program
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Imagine a traditional employee training session. What comes to your mind?

You might imagine a dimly lit room, employees sitting slouched in their chairs, their eyes glazing over as the monotone trainer drones on, reading slides word-for-word. The air is heavy with yawns and stifled sighs, and the clock seems to tick slower with each passing minute.

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Or maybe you’re thinking of a time you were forced to stare blankly at a talking head video, your attention waning as a monotonous voice narrates “workplace safety” rules. The chat lacks interaction, as participants struggle to stay engaged amidst the sea of pixelated slides and endless screen sharing.

Corporate training doesn’t have to be this way.

Now, envision the first time you played with Legos or when you learned how to count by creating piles of M&Ms. The tactile learning probably excited you. Although corporate training may not involve hard candy, you can infuse that spirit into experiential learning—a transformative approach that immerses participants in real-life scenarios, encourages active involvement, surfaces friendly competition, and fosters a genuine thirst for knowledge.

Here are five tactics to ensure your training program has a lasting impact:

1. When it comes to leadership, there’s no substitute for experience.

In 2009, Captain Chelsey Burnett Sullenberger III skillfully executed an emergency landing on the Hudson River after hitting a flock of geese, saving the lives of all passengers on US Airways Flight 1549.

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When asked about his heroic feat, he attributed his success to the belief that true mastery requires at least 10,000 hours of practice, as famously discussed by Malcolm Gladwell. He also added, “There is simply no substitute for experience,” chalking up his fast thinking to the more than 20,000 hours of flying experience he had achieved.

As an L&D leader, your goal is to make a lasting impact on the leadership development of your organization and employees. People resist most training opportunities not necessarily because they don't value reflection and meaningful learning but rather because the content is likely not engaging enough.

Rather than asynchronous, self-paced modules, you can provide opportunities for leaders to grow through experiences—whether it’s stretch assignments, simulations, or immersive activities. It's these impactful moments that shape the future leaders in your organization. When you prioritize facilitating those moments and invest in long-term, sustained leadership development efforts, you’ll see retention, engagement, and promotion rates skyrocket at your company.

2. Successful learning experiences include collaboration and emphasize teamwork.

In today’s work environment, collaboration and teamwork are pivotal in achieving long-term positive outcomes. Regarding training programs, simulations and experiences should be intentionally designed to be competitive and team-based to ensure maximum engagement and foster collaboration among participants. By introducing a competitive element tied to team performance, you can keep individuals motivated while emphasizing the importance of collaborating with peers.

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Bjorn Billhardt is the CEO of Abilitie, a leader in simulation-based experiential learning programs. “Social learning is often overlooked in education,” he said. “It’s the main reason e-learning hasn’t replaced classroom experiences. But the interesting thing I’ve found is, you go to a university to get a degree, but also to benefit from the knowledge of your peers.”

Having peers in the learning environment provides a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and validation. Interacting with other learners allows individuals to assess the effectiveness of their thoughts, approaches, and leadership styles. This real-time feedback and collaborative atmosphere are the primary reasons many prefer traditional classroom learning over self-paced courses when seeking personal growth and improvement as leaders and managers.

3. Staying industry-agnostic will benefit your learners more than an exactly true-to-life training scenario.

In designing training programs for your workforce, it’s important to balance realism and distraction. When business simulations and learning opportunities look too much like the real world, learners can become distracted by the small percentage that doesn’t resonate with them. By keeping your learning experiences industry-agnostic, you can promote cross-functional collaboration, stimulate creative thinking across different roles and modalities, and encourage participants to reflect on their managerial skills and practical application. This approach fosters a holistic mindset asking, "How can I become a better manager, and how can I implement these learnings in my own practice?"

After more than two decades in L&D, Billhardt often compares business learning to flight school when discussing the effectiveness of hands-on modalities. He said, “When you’re training to become a pilot, you don’t jump into a super-realistic flight simulator of the exact aircraft you’re going to fly. Instead, you experience a flight simulation that focuses just on keeping the rudder in the path and the functions that affect it.

Once you practice that function repeatedly, it becomes muscle memory. The same applies to leadership development. Start with decision-making, then people-management, refining your skills until you can apply them holistically in the real world.”

Achieving a successful, hands-on learning experience that directly translates to the day-to-day lives of your leaders requires incorporating sufficient realism. By removing industry-specific details, learners can focus on acquiring transferable skills and knowledge that can be applied across various contexts, fostering adaptability and promoting broader skill development within your organization.

4. Facilitator-led debriefs are critical to learning application.

A more scalable solution compared to customized learning modules is the incorporation of facilitator-led debriefs in your experiential learning program.

Facilitator-led debriefs following training sessions offer a valuable opportunity for reflection and growth. These debriefs allow leaders to delve into their experiences, identify personal realizations and areas for improvement, and connect their learnings from the simulated environment to real-world scenarios. Facilitators are crucial in guiding these discussions, tying together the insights gained during the experiential learning process with practical applications unique to your managers and your organization. This dynamic creates a powerful, impactful feedback loop that enhances leadership development and drives meaningful change.

That said, you must involve facilitators in the training from the jump, educating them on your organizational culture and challenges.

5. Executive involvement in the learning process creates buy-in and cross-functional collaboration beyond the training program.

Executive involvement in the learning process creates an even more valuable and rewarding experience for learners. When an organization’s executives actively participate in the training and engage in gameplay alongside their teams, it creates a remarkable environment of collaboration and learning.

In fact, facilitators of an Abilitie business simulation for a global technology company in the Bay Area witnessed this principle in action. The experience was so captivating and impactful that the participants decided to postpone a scheduled wine and cheese-tasting event. With executive approval, they continued playing another round of the simulation instead. This remarkable blend of real-world colleagues and simulated learning created an extraordinary and transformative environment where genuine learning thrives.

Additionally, executives bring personal stories of frontline experiences, vulnerability, and critical decisions that:

  • Inspire and humanize leadership for learners.

  • Reinforce the notion that leadership is a continuous journey of learning and skill development.

  • Develop an understanding that senior leaders were once in their shoes, fostering a sense of resonance and connection.

When creating training programs for your organization, try drawing inspiration from hands-on learning experiences. Recall the impact of activities like building bottle rockets to better understand gravity, participating in mock spelling competitions, and counting hard candies to solidify abstract concepts in your mind. Applying this approach to engage learners prioritizes incorporating tangible and experiential elements—and reaching for a bag of your M&Ms can’t hurt.

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