HomeNovember 2010The Power of ‘What’

The Power of ‘What’

Keith McCarthy looks at a simple technique which will enable you to maximise the value of your training and development.

Keith McCarthy
Keith McCarthy

What value are we gaining from training and developing our people? I am always amazed at the investment that many organisations make on training and development and yet the question as to whether it was a good investment or not is rarely asked.  What tangible change in behaviour etc. is visible since the individual attended the course/conference?  There is a tendency for participants on training programmes to leave the training course with a warm fuzzy feeling, the feel good factor or a renewed enthusiasm and vigour. Back at the workplace, however, the reality is that they get caught back up in the daily chore of working life and the learning and warm feeling from the course is quickly eroded. What about the learning?

This article is going to focus on a very simple technique aimed at reflection and application of learning.  The technique, while very simple in approach, can be applied to any facet of life, where of course learning occurs.  The technique involves the application of three very simple ‘what’ questions:

  • What?
  • So what?
  • Now what?

While the technique is aimed at the participant there are also responsibilities for the participant’s manager.  Let’s look at them in more detail, from the participant’s perspective.


A very simple question, ‘what?’  The aim of this first ‘what’ is to consider and clarify what it is that you have learned. What new piece of information/knowledge have you acquired? What new skill have you experienced that will benefit you in the future?  Too often, when we attend training and conferences, the amount of information that we receive presents us with challenges.  The first challenge is the processing of the information/learning to see what it is that we can take from it.  Some might call this a filtering process.  The second challenge is the application of what you have learned back at the workplace.  Asking this ‘what’ question forces us to consider what it is we have just absorbed from this learning intervention.

Too often, when we attend training and conferences, the amount of information that we receive presents us with challenges

So what?

Having considered what it is you have learned/acquired, the next ‘what’ question focuses the mind on what does this actually mean. The key questions to ask around the ‘so what’ are: How can this help you and how will it/can it benefit the organisation, your colleagues or patients?  ‘So what’, is about considering the benefits of the new skill or knowledge that you have acquired.  If you were to apply it back in the workplace how would it be of benefit? The ‘so what’ is about consideration of the learning from your own circumstances. It involves contextualising the learning to fit it in with your own environment, needs and wants. What will this mean for me, my department, my colleagues, my patients, my home life and so on?

Now what?

And finally the difficult one, ‘now what?’  Of the three ‘what’ questions, this is the most difficult one.  Why? Explicit in ‘now what’ is that some kind of action is required.  The basic premise of this question is about doing something with the new information or skill that you have acquired. The ability to transform learning into action back at the workplace is not as simple as one would think. It takes a conscious decision and a commitment to oneself to begin. The challenge is to transform the learning into meaningful statements of action and intent.

There can be a tendency when people are contemplating the ‘now what’ element of this technique to create vague actions with limited value.  For example, at a recent course one of the participants committed to ‘implementing the qualities of an effective manager.’  With the best of intentions it would be difficult to effectively evaluate the implementation of this learning. The ‘now what’ question as an outcome should have actions attached to it that are practical, achievable and measurable.  What are you going to do with this new knowledge, skill or experience?

The power of this simple technique should not be underestimated. As organisations invest in their people, particularly in these difficult times, there is an onus on everyone to ensure that the learning from any intervention is implemented back in the workplace. As a manager, who has invested time and money in developing your people, there is a responsibility on you to ask the question ‘now what?’

So let’s start as you mean to go on.  Having read this last article of 2010…..now what?

Perhaps it could be your new mantra for 2011 – Happy Christmas!!