The Why Conversation

It happened again. A participant arrived to attend a class and when asked, “Which class are you here for today?” their response was, “I don’t know. My company just told me show up. Here I am.”

The sympathetic look that passes between the participant and the MSEC staff speaks volumes. While not a frequent occurrence, it happens enough to merit a few words.

I get it. We all get busy. Sometimes we send an employee on their way to training and neglect to fully discuss why. Other times, the reason why gets lost in the Telephone Game from HR to the Manager to the Employee. And other times, we send people in order to intentionally avoid the “why” conversation in hopes they will figure it out for themselves. However, this is one of the most important conversations you can have.

“Why?” It’s a question we learn early in life (“Why’s the sky blue? Why’s the puppy brown?”) and only seem to ask more as we grow older (“Why didn’t I get the promotion? Why can’t I ask that question during an interview?”) And as we get older, the parental default answer “Because I said so” loses what little power it had when we were four. The Why Conversation builds meaning, and people are meaning-making machines. Left to our own devices, we tend to fill in the blanks on our own, and not always accurately. Training is not a place where you want this inaccuracy. Why? Because the in-class time of training is only part of the learning, development, and implementation equation. The expectations we build prior to training and how they are supported/applied after are key variables that make the most of the time, money, and resources invested into training. Without the Why Conversation, the time, money, and effort you are investing in training aren’t going as far as they could.

The Why Conversation prior to training is where the learner builds context for later application at work. Am I going to training as a function of improving upon a skill deficiency, to enhance my knowledge on a troubling topic, or to see a blind spot more clearly? The Why Conversation also sets expectations and builds a foundation for future discussions related to accountability. As the learner, what do I need to learn in the training and what will I be held accountable for upon my return? Even in those situations where training is being “sought” rather than “sent,” the Why Conversation communicates support and interest in the employee seeking further development.

So the next time you send someone off to training (even if it’s not here at your trusted training source), take a moment to communicate the important “whys.” You might not know why the sky is blue (answer: light-scattering molecules in the atmosphere) or why the puppy is brown (answer: pigmentation and genetics), but you know why you are investing in the development of your employees—the conversations just aren’t always easy.