The Training Formula:  START WITH WHY, then WHAT, then HOW – (with appreciation to Simon Sinek, Start with Why)

Recently, I was talking to an HR Director of a large organization about their training needs.  She made this observation:  “we don’t need to hear some training that people hear once, and then promptly forget.” 

Yep…  That is a problem!  Basically, anything we hear once will not register deeply enough to make a difference.

There is a Rule of Seventeen, that states that when someone hears a “new” message, it takes 17 exposures for it to finally and fully sink in.  17!  (Check this post: The Rule of Seventeen” – If you Want to Get Your Message Across & Accepted, Repeat, and Repeat and…..).

So, I agree with the premise that once is not enough to hear a training message; or, really, any kind of message.  (Have any of you seen more than one Coca-Cola commercial, or Sonic, or Apple, or…? You get the point!).

But there is another element to add to this mix.  And that is “what is training?”

Here is the dictionary definition:
Training:  the action of teaching a person a particular skill or type of behavior.

In other words, training is providing information, and then providing instruction and practice and correction, so that behaviors change for the better, all in pursuit of better outcomes.

If we divide the training task into three major aspects:
Why
What
How
we can see the issue.

it all starts with Why

it all starts with Why

One of the more influential books of recent years is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. It is a book about how organizations and companies need to help all of their people know the WHY behind their products or services.  (It is a very good book, by the way). In the book, Mr. Sinek argues that organizations need to START with the WHY behind their offerings.  Only after  the WHY is grasped, and agreed upon, can the WHAT and the HOW be tackled.

I think this concept translates well into the training arena.  In fact, I think it is essential to grasp, and follow.

Take diversity and inclusion issues.  Before one is trained to be more inclusive, wouldn’t a good dose of “WHY” help set the stage?  I am personally convinced that knowing the history of exclusion should precede attempts to build greater inclusion.  In other words:
“This is WHY people were excluded.  Now that we understand this WHY, let’s see WHAT we can do today that remedies this.  HOW can we implement what we intend to happen; HOW can we actually practice inclusion?”

So, the training formula is:

First, WHY
Then, WHAT
And then, HOW.

I admit my bias here, but I think that training could be helped with a substantive dose of WHY at the front end.  And a very good way to deliver the WHY piece is with a good book synopsis.

Say you want to train people on better leadership skills, with an emphasis on empathy.  Where should you start? What should come first?

I presented my synopsis of this book early in 2019

I presented my synopsis of this book early in 2019

If you ask me this question, I would argue that people should know the content of a good book that makes the case. for leadership with empathy.  A current great choice would be Dare to Lead by Brené Brown.  Note the subtitle:  Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. It kind of oozes elements of empathy.  That would establish the WHY.  Then you go to some of the WHAT behaviors of leaders, and finally do some practicing on HOW to demonstrate empathy.

Why a book synopsis?  It would be great if every member of the team read the book for themselves, and fully grasped it.  But, they won’t all do it, will they?  A good book synopsis helps them all get on the same page quickly.

There are other good ways to Start with WHY.  But, however you choose to do it, when you plan your next training program, may I encourage you to remember to START WITH WHY! Then, AFTER your folks grasp the WHY, should you move to the WHAT  and the HOW.


You might want to read these posts:

Start with Why by Simon Sinek – Here are My Four Lessons and Takeaways

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown – My Six Lessons and Takeaways


You can purchase my synopses, with audio recordings plus my multi-page, comprehensive handouts for Start With Why, Dare to Lead, and many other books, at the “buy synopses” tab at the top of this page.  (You can search by title).  Click here for your newest additions.

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