Here at Knowly we’ve helped thousands of training participants get started with new behaviours after training sessions. As our product designer, I’ve talked to hundreds of them in person, over the phone and via email (if you’re one of them — thank you again for your time!). I’ve gone out of my way to become a training participant myself, attending training after training.
“As a participant, I’ve been to trainings where at the end I wrote down what then seemed like a super-duper important goal, only to watch it get buried under non-training related tasks as I got back to work. And it sucks.”
Here’s how we figured out a way to make goals from a training session stay relevant and top-of-mind even when facing the inevitable post-training onslaught of daily duties.
I had just returned from a one-day leadership training session, and started off with what I considered to be a small but motivationally draining failure — I didn’t succeed with prioritising reflection about the training over my other to-dos.
At this point I was pretty sure that the stuff I learned at the training would just fade away from my memory, like it so often does. But I was wrong.
As the training concluded the day before, the trainer had urged us all to create action plans using the Knowly app. Happy as always to see our product in the wild, I had enthusiastically thumbed down my goal, a few potential obstacles and a next step for the upcoming weeks.
I then selected that I wanted to receive follow-ups every Wednesday at 09:00. Lastly I picked my friend and colleague Johan as my supporter.
⏸ Let me just pause to explain what a supporter is in this context.
In the Knowly app, each training participant gets to pick any two people among their peers to be their supporters after the training session.
The supporters help the person returning from the training to get started with new behaviours. Those who get picked as supporters are usually colleagues or managers, but can sometimes be a significant other or a friend outside of work.
Knowly then supplies the supporters with various tips on good ways to help, depending on how much or little they want to get involved (if at all).
One such tip we give them is to set aside time for a conversation with the participant.
At their best, conversations can be a fantastic learning tool, providing opportunity not only for active recall of training content, but also for role playing and light-weight coaching.
Being a caring and enthusiastic supporter, Johan seized this opportunity and made sure we sat down in our lunch room one afternoon to talk.
At first, we both thought this was a big win for the product: Thanks to Knowly, we were now sitting down, having taken time off from other work to actually talk about the training back at the job. Awesome. However, it soon dawned on us that this wasn’t as easy as we thought…
I mean, what were we supposed to talk about? We had both been coached by experienced coaches in the past and knew that a talk like this could move mountains, but only if the supporter — Johan in this case — would magically turn into a proper coach.
So the conversation shifted. How could Johan turn into a coach, with or without magic?
After tossing some ideas around, we soon came to pretty much the same conclusion: What if there was something on the table in front of us that just told us what to do?
We started scribbling down notes.
What job did we want this thing to do? What would we want the experience to feel like? If I was to introduce the thing to a stranger, what analogy would I use?
We decided to call the thing we were sketching out conversation guides. Here’s what we wrote down:
A conversation guide should…
- 💬 Make it easy to turn a conversation between two regular people into a coaching session.
- 🥇Be rewarding for both parties, so that neither side feels the need to reciprocate after.
- 🎲 Give both parties instructions that are clear enough to get going, but loose enough to allow side tracks — much like a chill board game.
- ⏰ Not feel too long, so that neither party feels that “this took way too much time, I’ll never do it again”.
So we got to work.
We spoke to a bunch of trainers and coaches among our customers, asking them what they’d say to a supporter if they could tell them what to say through an ear-piece.
We created rough drafts, tossed some in the trash and created new ones. We asked training participants we knew to use the guides with their supporters. They even kindly allowed us to record the audio of their attempts at deciphering our first attempts.
The four guides
Eventually we came up with four guides, each with a distinct job, designed to be used in sequence with a week or two in between, after someone returns from a training session.
How the guides work
The supporter or participant either prints the guide or reads off a screen. They follow the instructions, which usually tell them to walk through a battery of coaching questions and suggested follow-up questions.
At the end, the participant is encouraged to write down an update of some kind in their Knowly profile (updated goal, new tactics etc).
The whole thing should take no more than 30 minutes.
How we decided on content
The questions we considered including come from a variety of coaching sources, but are primarily from the solution-based family. This means that they focus heavily on the present and future, and that the coach asks questions that help the coachee come up with solutions him- or herself. Often follow-up questions are added that aim to make each answer more precise.
Which questions eventually made the cut, however, was determined through user testing — whether or not supporters managed to deliver the question somewhat similarly to how a coach would have, simply by reading it aloud word by word from the guide.
Conversation guide 1: Refining the goal 🏁
Many participants realize when they return from a training session that their goal is far from optimal, or even downright wrong. Instead of guilt tripping them, this first conversation gives them a chance to sit down and rewrite it, making the rewrite an expected part of the journey.
Example question from guide #1:How will people around you notice that you’ve reached your desired outcome?
Conversation guide 2: Managing obstacles 🧗♂️
Sitting at a training session, it’s hard to foresee what obstacles will be thrown at you once you get back, and yet just a single one of those obstacles can completely derail your behaviour change journey. This conversation aims at finding potential obstacles and coming up with tactics to avoid and/or deal with them.
Example question from guide #2:Describe a situation that you think is going to be challenging on your way to your desired outcome. What would it take for that situation to never occur?
Conversation guide 3: Acknowledging progress 🏃♀️
A feeling of progress being made is an effective way of boosting your motivation (Amabile, 2011). However, to get the boost, you don’t just need to make progress, you also need to notice the progress that you’re making, which can be easier said than done. Therefore, this conversation helps the participant think back on the time that has elapsed since the training and look for signs of progress.
Example question from guide #3:Looking back at the past weeks, what are you most happy about having accomplished?
Conversation guide 4: Investing in the future 🌅
Getting started with new behaviours is tough, but maintaining them can be just as challenging. More often than not, there’s also a need for a new desired outcome, as circumstances around the participant change from when he or she wrote the original. Thus, the final conversation builds on the previous three, offering the opportunity to write a new goal and come up with corresponding tactics for reaching it.
Example question from guide #4:If we were to speak again in three weeks and you then feel that you’ve really made progress from today, what has happened?
That’s where we are now — the guides have just launched for all our users and we look forward to seeing how they perform on a larger scale.
Meanwhile, we’ll be prepping version 2 in our lunchroom lab — what do you think should go into them? Perhaps you have some other idea of how a colleague or manager could support a person returning from a training? Then we would love to hear about it in the comments!