‘One and done’ doesn’t equal lasting results

As someone who spent a huge chunk of their professional life working in the keynote and corporate training industry, I can confidently say that hiring someone to speak at your conference or sit down with your staff for half a day of training doesn’t work – at least, not if your goal is to create lasting, sustainable change for your company. 

Time and time again, back in those days, I found myself frustrated with the limitations inherent to the ‘one-and-done’ delivery model. I knew that real, long-term results were impossible without follow-up and accountability, but more often than not, that wasn’t what companies wanted to hear. They wanted the quick fix. 

This couldn’t have been more clearly illustrated to me than during a session I was leading for a big multinational organization about 10 years ago. 

I was there to facilitate training on how to improve your presentation skills, but I decided to start the session by asking the following question: “Who is your favourite speaker or trainer that you’ve ever seen?” I gave everyone in the room a couple minutes to write down their answers, and then asked them to share. 

As we went around the room, it turned out that about 80 percent had written down the same person – a national trainer for their organization. I thought, ‘isn’t that interesting?’ and asked them to elaborate. “What did you like about him?” I asked, to which most replied something along the lines of: “He was really funny” or “He was super nice.”

Before I go any further in this story, I want to make it very clear that I don’t intend to downplay the importance of these qualities in someone who aims to inspire. Humor and kindness can go a long way in reaching your audience. But then I asked the following question: “What is one thing you learned from him that you’ve applied to your work – and it’s changed your results?”

Suddenly, it was like I was at the front of a ninth-grade math class. Everybody was looking down, hiding their faces. Not one answer. These were the same people who, moments ago, were so happy to share how much they loved this guy. This was their rock-star teacher. And yet, not a single person could tell me something they had taken from that session that actually made an impact on their day-to-day. 

I realized in that moment that it all comes down to action and accountability. Without these two essential ingredients, nothing will change. 

I decided to split that session up into two days of training at either end of the work week, rather than two days in a row, to try and test this theory. 

On Monday, I taught them some of the skills they would need to improve their presentation skills, and then I gave them a homework assignment. When I returned on Friday, everyone would have to lead a 10-minute presentation on what they had learned during the session. It was a microcosmic way of getting them to put their new learning into action. 

Fast forward to Friday, and the results were incredible. Some of the higher-ups came to watch the presentations and couldn’t believe their eyes. “What did you do?” They asked me. And as much as I would like to take some credit, the magic was really that they had to immediately apply what they had learned. Shawn was coming back on Friday and they needed to do something. 

The bottom line here is this: the keynote and corporate training industry is great. It can inspire some big ideas. It can entertain. But without application and follow-up, there is very little chance of changing the results, habits, and behaviours of you and your team. Without a plan, without accountability, that enthusiasm and energy will die very quickly. 

There is a fantastic little book on my bookshelf called ‘Know Can Do: Put Your Know-How Into Action.’ And when I read that book many years ago, it was like a lightbulb moment for me. I had finally found a book that was talking about the real issue. We don’t have a learning problem. We don’t have a content problem (Google takes care of that.) We have a ‘doing and applying to get results’ problem. And unless you’re committed to lasting change for you and your organization, I encourage you to save your money on the one-off trainers and speakers.  

Donald Kirkpatrick’s famous ‘Four Levels of Training Evaluation’ – also known as the Kirkpatrick Phillips Model – puts all of this into glorious perspective. 

I first learned about the Kirkpatrick Phillips Model from a long-ago mentor of mine, Chuck. Chuck was my boss at that big multinational company in Ottawa – the one I went to work for after quitting my job at the restaurant. 

At the time, I was developing and delivering corporate training in my role as ‘Head of Business Development’, and Chuck was someone who had a lot of faith in me. He had seen me work, and he knew I wanted to get to the next level in my career. One day, he pulled me aside and asked me if I had ever heard of the Kirkpatrick Phillips Model. When I said no, he gave me the Cole’s Notes (or, rather, the Chuck’s notes.)  

In a nutshell, the Kirkpatrick Phillips Model can be used to analyze the impact of your training – to determine if and how your team members learned anything – and to enhance your future training. It outlines four levels of evaluation; with questions you can apply to any session you lead. In its most basic form, it looks like this:  

Level 1: did your audience like the presentation? 

Level 2: did your audience learn something? 

Level 3: did your audience learn something and immediately apply it?    

Level 4: did your audience immediately apply what they learned and see a difference in results?

Chuck told me most trainers only ever hit Levels 1 and 2. He said that if I wanted to be in the top 10-15 percent – if I wanted to have a lasting impact – I had to hit Level 3 and 4. Every time. The only way to reach Level 3 and 4, he added, is with action, follow-up, and accountability. 

It was an ‘Aha Moment.’ I couldn’t believe no one had ever taught me this before.  

Twenty years later, I remain a faithful disciple of the Kirkpatrick Phillips Model. My work, and everything I do, is geared toward Level 4. I don’t want to be a one-off speaker, and that’s exactly why I moved to an ‘invite- and referral-only’ model a few years ago. I don’t take gigs unless you’re committed to doing the work and the follow-up. 

What I do is not for the faint of heart. I don’t run the kinds of workshops where you take notes in a boardroom all day and then never open that notebook again. I know that in order to get results, you need to take action and be accountable to those results, and this is at the heart of everything I do. 


Takeaway Tip: 

Whenever you’re learning something new, whether it’s from a speaker, a group coaching program, or even a YouTube video, ask yourself this question: “What is the one insight I’m going to take away from this?” 

Write down the smallest action step that you could do in the next six hours. And do it. 

If you really want to accelerate your learning, take that insight that you just learned and teach it to somebody else in the next 90 minutes.