L&D Lessons from a Miserable Bills-Patriots Football Game

It’s been a terrible millennium to be a Buffalo Bills fan, yet here I am.

Yesterday’s loss to the Patriots was a bummer. The silver lining was that it highlighted a very important lesson for anyone in the learning and development space. The lesson is this: talk is cheap.

For the past week, head coach Rex Ryan and his Buffalo Bills team have been proclaiming to the world that they were ready to take on the New England Patriots. They were so ready, that Rex was going home early from practice this week because he already had his game plan in place.

Rex Ryan

In the end, the Bills were once again crushed by the Patriots.

As I reflected on this loss, and the words spoken in the time leading up to the game, it reminded me of similar comments I hear around the office and in the training room all too often.

“I already know this stuff. I really don’t need to attend this workshop.”

I hear it from participants who have been sent to my presentation skills training: “I’m a little annoyed I have to spend a day here because I’ve been doing presentations for 16 years!”

I hear it from doctors who show Rex Ryan-like arrogance when it comes to coaching on their next presentation: “I’m highly skilled in everything I do, I don’t need training on how to present.”

I hear it from people who are forced to sit through sexual harassment training or a workshop on organizational values or safety training: “This is a waste of time, I already know this stuff.”

Do they really? Or is it just over-estimating their abilities?

As Rex Ryan showed this week, talk is cheap. As L&D professionals, we’re doing our organizations or our clients a disservice if we take them at their word.

Do people really know what to do if they are witness to (or subject to) sexual harassment in the workplace? Do people really know how to live their organizational values at work? Even if people have been presenting for 20 years or more, do they really know how to engage an audience and effectively deliver their message?

How can we know if potential learners really know how to do something or if they’re overestimating their abilities?

  1. Let them “test out”. If it’s elearning, give them a few scenarios and see if they can successfully navigate them with the skills they need. If it’s classroom-based training, give them a paper/pencil-based test with some scenarios and how they’d handle them. If they’re competent, then the training indeed may be a waste of their time. If they’re not, well, then their talk was cheap!
  2. Put the skills to use. Sometimes compliance training just needs to be taken, and there’s no testing out. If that’s the case, then design time into the session to simulate real-life scenarios and make sure they know what to do and how to do it. Role play a situation in which they need to go through the correct reporting protocol for whistle blowers or challenge learners to deliver a sample presentation showing they can incorporate adult learning principles into their training delivery.

The list could go on. Do you have a good way to have your learners prove that their talk is not cheap? Let’s hear it in the comment section.

8 thoughts on “L&D Lessons from a Miserable Bills-Patriots Football Game

    • Hmmmm. I like the idea of having *them* teach things… it can bring the credibility of in-house experts (if indeed they are experts). One thing about that would be to be sure they are grounded in how to deliver/facilitate. We all know that people who may have expertise in an area (like mandatory compliance training) may not necessarily have the chops to be effective trainers (without some work/support).

  1. Brian,
    I agree that most times participants may know the content but not how to apply the information in a particular context. So, I guess it isn’t about necessarily about knowing the material but about when to use the information to accomplish a task. Sometimes this can be more straightforward that other times depending on the concepts being taught. I recall learning about project management tools, fishbone and problem statement for example, and thinking okay this is easy. Then actually have to use it and apply what I learned was another story.

    • Yes! Project management might just be the perfect example. The concepts seem straight forward. The tools seem helpful… and then you leave the class, spend the weekend doing non-work stuff, go back to the office on Monday and think: “Hmmmm, that fishbone seemed so natural on Friday when I learned about it.”

      I definitely think this is exhibit A for needing to design elements into session in which people do actual work (map out a project you’ll be working on when you go back to the office).

  2. I love the idea of using a soundbite from his press conference to highlight the point. Ask anyone else if they feel the same way. Then ask people to predict what the score was from the game. We don’t argue with our own data, but if I see someone who is overconfident like myself and I see the outcome, then I am more likely to realize that I need to step up my game a bit.

    Thanks as always for the inspiration!

  3. You’ve got to be proud of your Bills and their effort against the Patriots on MNF. They sacked Tom Brady, held the score really close, and almost won…in Boston!

    • Ugh! Sooooooo close. Sometimes all an organization (or a league like the NFL) needs is to show people what’s possible, then lots of people start to believe… Seems the Bills showed people what’s possible… Now someone needs to go out and finish the job and beat the Pats!

      Thanks for stopping by, Tricia. Have a great Thanksgiving!

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