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Asking the Hard Questions: Design for Performance


Wed Aug 04 2021

Asking the Hard Questions: Design for Performance

People often ask me how they can show the value of learning in the workplace. I reply that they need to identify what will be considered a success for learning participants and how you will measure their success. Sounds easy, right?

Not so fast.


One issue I have seen is that organizations and learning professionals are only asking easy questions when they take on a request for training. Examples of easy questions include:

  • What do you want the people to know?

  • When do you need this training by?

  • How many people need to take the training?

When we ask questions like these, success is hard to define and not of real value to the organization because training is designed with knowledge and topics, rather than on-the-job performance, as the primary focus.

Max Cropper and I will be presenting Asking the Hard Questions: Design for Performance at ATD 2021 International Conference & Exposition. During this session, attendees will practice asking hard questions so that we can design training that changes behavior and improves performance rather than training that builds knowledge.

To create relevant and task-based training, we need to ask hard questions of the requestor. When we ask the right questions, we can demonstrate the value of the training to stakeholders. Examples of hard questions include:

  • What is the current level of performance of the audience?

  • What is the problem people are having?

  • What are the traits of a top performer?

  • What on-the-job behaviors are measured on the job?

  • What are some of the barriers and obstacles to the desired behavior?

To answer hard questions, you need the requestor to know what is going on in the business and how aspects are measured on the job. Oftentimes, a business leader who knows the answers to these questions is too busy to meet with the learning professional, so they send a subject matter expert (SME) to the meeting. The SME knows the process and the information for the training but is not clear about the problem, the desired change, or how many people are having a hard time on the job. You need to meet with the right person who can answer the hard questions.


If you are tired of developing training that is not fully effective, then take a look at the questions you are asking when you receive a training request. And consider adding a few of the harder questions so that the training is valuable, applicable, and impactful.

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