Start With “Why?”

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Simon Sinek’s TED talk, “Start With Why,” is one of the most viewed of all the TED talks. His message is simple but powerful: To inspire people to action, you have to start with “Why?” The problem, as Sinek sees it, is that most companies, sales pitches, and communications start with “what” or “how” instead of what people really want to know: “why.”

How this applies to training and development

One of the fundamental principles of adult learning is that adults want to know why they should learn something before they will willingly do so. Likewise, if we want managers to willingly send their direct reports to training, and support the application of that training afterward, we need to be able to clearly and succinctly explain why they should do so.

In corporate training, explaining why means explaining the benefits to the business and the individuals. That requires we thoroughly understand the business goals and drivers for the training request and that we define the desired outcomes in business terms.

It doesn’t mean the learning objectives. Learning objectives are prerequisite to designing instruction. They explain what people will learn, but not why. As such, they do a poor job of inspiring learners and their managers to actively engage in the process.


That’s why the first discipline we teach in the Learning Transfer Certificate program is to define the business outcomes. Through conversations with the business leaders, clarify why they have asked for training in terms of the benefits that will accrue to the organization if the training and training transfer are successful.

Then use these benefits in all communications with business leaders and participants to explain why they should actively engage in the training—even down to the level of individual exercises. Start each exercise with the rationale for including it, rather than the administrative details (group size, time, and so forth) so that participants have a reason to actively engage.


Is it worth the effort?

Absolutely! In The Field Guide to the 6Ds, Patricia Gregory and Steve Akram of Oracle credit a renewed focus on business outcomes as transforming employees from “order takers to business partners.” Sujaya Bannerjee and her team at Essar explain how a rigorous exploration of expected business outcomes enabled the learning teams to avoid “another feel-good training program,” and instead contribute to a successful business transformation, earning acknowledgement from the CEO.

If you want your training efforts to be rewarded with even greater impact, start with “why.” To learn more, join us at one of the upcoming ASTD Learning Transfer Certificate programs—the next program is July 14, 2014.

About the Author

Roy V. H. Pollock, DVM, PhD, is Chief Learning Officer of The 6Ds Company and co-author of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning and Getting Your Money’s Worth from Training and Development. Roy has a passion for helping individuals and teams succeed. He is a popular speaker and frequent consultant on improving the value created by training and development.

Roy has a unique blend of experience in both business and education. He has served as Chief Learning Officer for the Fort Hill Company; Vice President, Global Strategic Product Development for SmithKline Beecham Animal Health; Vice President, Companion Animal Division for Pfizer; and Assistant Dean for Curriculum at Cornell’s Veterinary College.

Roy received his BA from Williams College cum laude and his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and PhD degrees from Cornell University. He studied medical education at the University of Illinois Center for Educational Development. Roy served as a member of the faculty at Cornell for eight years, where he received numerous awards including the Ralston-Purina Research Award and Veterinarian of the Year.  He is a Fellow of the Kellogg Foundation National Leadership Program.

About the Author

Andy Jefferson, JD, is President and Chief Executive Officer for The 6Ds Company.  He is co-author of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning and Getting Your Money’s Worth from Training and Development. Andy is a frequent and popular global presenter who excels in helping companies maximize the value they realize from their investments in learning and development. He is an accomplished executive with deep line-management expertise as well as experience in strategic planning, sales and marketing, productivity, and technology development. Andy views learning as a critical source of competitive advantage in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. He knows the challenges of running a company and making every investment count. Prior to joining The 6Ds Company, Andy served as the Chief Executive Officer of The Fort Hill Company, CEO of Vital Home Services, and Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel of AmeriStar Technologies, Inc. Andy is a graduate of the University of Delaware and graduated Phi Kappa Phi with honors from the Widener University School of Law, where he served on the school’s Board of Overseers.

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