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Tick Box Delegates


During the course of our work we meet many delegates who attend our training courses because they’ve been told to. They’re not there out of choice and consequently arrive with little interest in what is on the agenda, other than the finish time. 

Of course, this is nothing new and something all Trainers are used to dealing with; winning people over and engaging them through various facilitation techniques is all part of our job. But, unfortunately that just isn’t enough. Even when they are participating in activities, involved in discussions and even (gosh!) enjoying themselves, the learning that happens for these delegates will always be minimal. 

So why is this? Fundamentally, it’s because they arrive without an objective; a development goal or at least something they want to achieve as a result of this training (and, no, going home early doesn’t count as an ‘objective’). 


The science behind this is called psycho-cybernetics, the self-improvement phenomenon identified by Dr Maxwell Maltz. Humans are designed to be goal seeking beings, it’s part of our make-up. When we have a goal to aim for (and it needs to be one that we believe we can achieve and is important to us) our unconscious springs into action and seeks out the information it needs and wants. When we have no goal to strive for we end up spinning aimlessly around like a speed boat without a rudder – lots of energy but no direction. 

Furthermore, when faced with information the mind perceives it doesn’t need, because we believe we know it already or we have no meaningful purpose for it, we tend instead to look for patterns. Patterns that match what we know already. Delegates who attend training courses without a specific objective to achieve will look to match what they know already with the content, rather than seek out what they need to know. 

So, the delegates who attend the training without any learning aspirations will relate well to information that they have current experience of. They will provide their Trainer with examples of how they have successfully implemented or observed the management theories we are discussing. And, that’s not a bad thing. After all, we all need to be aware of what we are doing well so that we can keep on doing it. 

But is it enough? Organisations need to be asking themselves what return on investment is the business deriving when delegates are given learning interventions to participate in that are not truly meaningful to them. Development goals should be agreed by both employee and manager and ideally aligned to personal values and aspirations as well as business ones. 

And as Trainers, when we are presented with reluctant delegates who don’t feel the need to learn, we have to be even more creative when it comes to drawing out some kind of learning objective and generating genuine desire to learn something new. 

March 9 2016Karen Fleming



Karen Fleming





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