Last year I booked myself onto a training course so I could qualify for what was then called the Level A Occupational Testing certification.  This allows me to administer the types of test used by employers as part of their recruitment and selection process.  My colleague Spencer Holmes brought a group of 12 fellow trainers together so that we could all enjoy a group discount, and it seemed like too good a chance to miss, especially since it had been 6 years since I last gained a professional qualification, and I know how nice it is as a trainer to occasionally be on the “receiving”end.

The 3 day course proved to be a real challenge, for lots of reasons, and I learnt a lot about myself, including one huge reminder of a massively important principle of motivation.

The course is highly technical.  It has to be: you need to be able to distinguish people’s performance across a range of tests, know how reliable the results are, and how valid the tests themselves are and how relevant to the job.  Most test publishers give you important data which answers many of the considerations, but you still need to be able to do some of it for yourself.

By definition this class of 12 trainers was going to struggle with the maths part.  The trainer (I suspect unwittingly) chose a Numerical Awareness test to demonstrate to us how to administer a test, the results of which showed that with only 2 exceptions the people in the room had numerical awareness ability in the bottom 3 percentile of the norm group.  We’re arithmetically challenged, you might say.  We knew it, no surprises, mild embarrassment all round, but we have broad shoulders so can shrug it off.

Except that for the trainer this meant he was going to need to do some seriously good technical training to ever have a chance of getting this stuff into our heads.  Difficult but doable, I’d say.  Given a fair wind and some good explanation techniques, I’m sure we could have grasped histograms, mean, medians, modes, standard deviations, stens, stanines and T scores (to name but a few).

However, it didn’t quite go like that, and this is where my biggest wake up call hit me.  Because we were told when administering the tests that we should avoid technical jargon, it felt as though all this training that was causing our collective brains to squeal with pain was of little value:  it all boiled down to telling someone whether they were above or below average on this particular test.  What I didn’t get was a PURPOSE for knowing the information.  And the result?  I switched off, and turned into a disengaged frustrated learner who gave up somewhat.

It’s reminded me of the importance of providing purpose for people in the training room, and indeed beyond.  I bump into so many people who have disengaged at work, who wonder what it’s all about, where they fit in, and in fact what the point of it all is.  Without a seeing a purpose for their contribution they feel burnt out, undervalued and in many cases frustrated or stressed.

I use the Iceberg Model a lot in training to explain what leads to changes in behaviour.  Purpose is at the bottom, because it underpins everything.  It’s what gets you up in the morning and provides the drive behind your daily efforts.  Without purpose the behaviour of an individual will often not fit with what is wanted.  People need to see the point of doing something before they do it.

How well do you provide purpose for people you work with, and how well does your personal purpose fit with what is being asked of you?  If you’re feeling limp, demotivated, frustrated, is it because your Purpose is driving you in a different direction to the work required of you?

If so, what are your options?

  • Does it have to be this way?
  • What can you do about it?
  • Who can help you?
  • What conversations do you need to have?
  • How negotiable is it?

We only get one go in life.  If what I’m suggesting resonates with you and you can feel your heart rate increasing as you read this, chances are you need to do something.  How long are you going to wait before you do?