Adding star quality to quality training

Article in Training Journal written by Mercuri’s Moyra Smith

What are some of the ways you can change your training to have more impact for the learners and the business objectives?

Employee training and development programmes should always be focused on meeting specific business requirements and have a measurable return on investment. Why else would you spend the money?

In highly competitive markets, any edge you give to your team through personal development programmes should help to meet pre-determined objectives. These could be to achieve a better sales-win ratio, improve customer loyalty or simply to generate more profit.

Innovation with purpose

A training session requires two essential components to come together to ensure a successful outcome: the content needs to be comprehensive, accurate and relevant; and the delegates need to be stimulated and engaged to take this on board and be able to apply it.

Engaging everyone in a classroom environment to learn effectively is a huge challenge for all educators. There are some people who can happily soak up information through lectures and business presentations, but there are many more who are easily distracted and require greater stimulation to remain engaged and alert.

The physical processes that form the core subject matter of a training session might be relatively easy to understand, but the emotional experience can often mean the content is not fully absorbed and the learning is lost. In an environment like business and personal development training, where there is already some cynicism around the commercial benefits, identifying creative methods to address the issue of individual engagement within a workforce is essential to delivering a successful and effective long-term training programme.

However, there is always a caveat in business – you cannot be creative for creativity’s sake. It has to show measurable benefit.

The magic touch

Having established the course content, you identify a range of delivery options that ensure everyone on the team is able to understand and retain the information being given and are able to apply it when they are back in a work environment.

One example from us is a course that opens with a short session that focuses on identifying how individual delegates learn best and how the session could be adapted to meet those needs.

This is followed by a 15-minute break, during which time a magician mingles with the group and performs close-up magic. This immediately changes the tone of the upcoming course, raising expectations that the unexpected is possible and stimulating the audience.

When the group comes back together the magician performs a trick to everyone and then shows the delegates how to do it. The delegates can soon see very clearly that learning how to do a trick (or a business process) is one thing, being able to perform it is quite another.

Processes are often clear and easy to learn, the delivery can be much harder. It takes thought, awareness, good communication and practice to engage an audience and bring a trick to life. Delegates soon learn that this is often the case for business processes, particularly in a sales environment.

Life’s a stage

Another innovative format for ensuring course content is presented in a way that is most likely to be retained and recalled by delegates is to simulate key processes. This doesn’t mean the dreaded standard role-play scenario, which generally serves only to embarrass people who find it hard to know what they ‘should’ say. One approach is to have professional actors who are able to recreate accurate scenarios relevant to the training.

Delegates are effectively placed in to real life situations and can see the consequences of their actions (or inaction). This style of training is hugely effective because it allows delegates to make the mistakes they can learn from in a safe environment. The retention of what they can learn in this format is much more memorable because it is feeding into their specific learning style.

Case study

The People Development Team were approached and asked if they could devise some training that would help improve pitching skills at Savills plc, a global real estate services provider listed on the London Stock Exchange. In 2011, the company looked at its pitch success rate and found that it wasn’t as high as they would like and they were losing out on some of the larger and more complex pitches that they particularly wanted to win. This was put down to their more experienced surveyors expecting the reputation of the Savills name to carry them through and putting proposals together at the last-minute with no rehearsal time. Sadly, this behaviour was filtering through to less experienced employees until the company decided enough was enough.

The context was cynicism around the benefit of training courses and with many employees stuck in their ways.  Therefore, finding a training format that would work quickly, effectively and would establish long term positive change, was a real challenge.

The core objectives for the training programme we identified: to deliver the skills to help the company increase its pitch success rate, particularly for the larger and more complex contracts; together with a secondary objective to use the opportunity to raise awareness of the range of services to offer to clients; the course had to be as practical as possible so that learners were able to immediately apply their new knowledge.

A two-day workshop was created called ‘Raising the Bar’, which comprised a series of masterclasses of best practice techniques, such as building personal and professional rapport and handling objections. Between masterclasses, delegates would take part in realistic and challenging simulations designed to resemble the entire sales process, from the initial fact-finding call with the potential client, to individual meetings with key stakeholders right through to the preparation and delivery of the final pitch.

The group would be split into teams and to compete with each other to win the contract, simulating the real-life competitive nature of the process. Coaches would work alongside the teams to encourage and support them as they experimented with the new techniques learnt in the masterclasses.

As a result of the Raising the Bar programme, Savills achieved a 10 per cent increase in its pitch success rate in the 18 months following the initial roll out. This dramatic improvement also led to Savills winning the Personnel Today Award for Learning and Development for Companies with more than 1,000 Employees.


Successful training is all about taking each and every person on an individual journey that results in achieving the key, pre-defined improvements required by the personnel development team. A session might include magic, singing, acting or something else altogether, but they are always focused on the end results. It’s creativity with a purpose.

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Contact us to discuss how you can add star quality to your training.

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Adding star quality to quality training