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They’re Going to Hate This Class

What do you do if you’re pretty sure people are going to hate a class, but they have to take it anyway?

07-01 Daisy

Here’s an example…

I had to teach people who were losing their jobs how to coach the new people who would take over their work. (Yikes!)

A big company (which shall remain nameless) decided to move their Finance department out of San Francisco to a less expensive city. They would save millions of dollars.

Note that this was Finance, so everything had to work. Month end. Quarter end. Paying invoices. Accounts receivable. All of it. The first time. With over 95% new people.

The new people traveled to San Francisco for training. Part of that would be to shadow the people who currently had the jobs and receive coaching from them.

How much do you suppose the San Francisco employees wanted to learn how to coach the new people who would take over their jobs?

So here’s what we did to make this half-day a little more palatable:

  1. After the first class, we scheduled the sessions in the afternoon (8:00 a.m. was deemed too depressing a time to figure out how to turn your job over to someone else).
  2. For the rationale, we emphasized the future usefulness of having coaching skills and experience. These would come in handy in future positions and in their personal lives, too.
  3. Further, they could put the class and their new experience with coaching on their resumes. This would give them something useful to share with future employers.
  4. We built lots of engagement into the class (almost always a good idea, but even more here). This way, they could focus on learning a new skill instead of having too much time to think about why they were learning it.
  5. As their instructor, I was from outside the company, and therefore I didn’t have anything to do with the decision to let them all go. It was just me with these folks in the classroom. That also helped them to focus on learning.

So what can you take away from this?

  1. Ease the logistics. In a situation where people are likely to hate everything, try to make the logistics as comfortable as you can: schedule, location.
  2. Emphasize value. Find something, or several things, that your participants can use that they will value: a new skill, a helpful process.
  3. Search for benefits. Point out different ways they can benefit from what they’re learning (in this case, beyond the upcoming assignment that they were dreading).
  4. Increase engagement and focus. Try to take their minds off whatever’s bothering them (while not sweeping it under the rug). Do this by helping them to be engaged and focused on learning something that they think can (possibly) be beneficial.
  5. Use a neutral facilitator. Use a facilitator who is removed from whatever is causing the situation to be difficult. This could be someone from outside the company or from another division that isn’t involved in the upcoming changes.

Sometimes you have to look pretty hard to find a rationale that will resonate with your participants. In this case, we had to stretch for it, but it worked. At least, it worked well enough that their coaching was successful. The new people were able to take over the whole Finance function—and their month end, quarter end, and other measures for success all went well.

What do you do to help your participants stay engaged and learn, even when there’s a good reason for them to be distracted or even resentful?

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