I recently led a session for a client that totally bombed. Quantifiably.
It was new material with the objective of laying the groundwork for a more complicated-than-usual 360 assessment. The intent is to help participants understand their strategic approach to solving problems and leading change. To be fair, you’d almost have to be the kind of person who likes reading about adult stage development in your spare time to think the content was remotely relevant, let alone "cool."
It’s safe to say that wasn’t true for any of these participants. For them, the workshop was merely a test of enduring "concept" before getting their own concrete results. It’s kind of like just wanting to eat your hamburger without any cognizance or curiosity about what it took for it to emerge instantly from behind the counter of a fast-food restaurant. But I digress.
Following the session, we gave participants the standard smiley-sheet to complete, and, of course, the very point of post-course evaluations is to get ideas for continuous improvement. In this case, there were several spots where my co-developer and I definitely needed to go back to the drawing board.
As we read through the survey comments, he shared his philosophical belief that, "there are no bad participants, just bad design.”
It sounded logical, almost spiritual, at first.
But then I thought, "Really?" I found myself reflecting on some of the workshops I’ve led in the past – especially the ones where people were required to attend. The more I thought over the hundreds of workshops and training sessions I’ve led I realized, no, there actually is such a thing as a crummy participant.
I think there should be a way to evaluate a crummy group …
So here’s my fantasy participant evaluation:
On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate this participant’s ability to (rating for the aforementioned client session that bombed in parentheses)
- Wean themselves for more than 2 hours from their Blackberrys
Comment: Sending the text “not much, you?” does not warrant an emergency
- Avoid middle school humor:
Comment: While mostly annoying, although sometimes you land on something pretty funny
- Recognize nuance and irony:
Comment: N/A (note to self: design change: explicitly provide an example of nuance and explain how ironic it is to have to do it)
- Take long unexplained absences from the session and then feel totally justified to rate the course they attend for only 5% of the time.
Comment: it’s just not in me to pander spoiled brat behavior
- Ask a question. A real question. Not a pretext for spouting a meandering, obtuse point of view.
Comment: Google the difference between question and statement. Then try writing down key words in advance so you make an actual point.
Yes, the Participant Evaluation. A fantasy payback for all those adolescent boys masquerading as corporate executives…