Happy Friday!

Just dug up this example of training a staff with purpose. I thought it was practical application that may be helpful for some, a little more practical than thinking about the fact we live on a planet.

My personal model of training can be expressed as this


You have to train the WHY before the HOW and the WHAT only after both. 

Originally posted March 1, 2010 re: training student staff in the context of higher education:

The “Why?” before the “How?”: Training with PURPOSE

Thirty-two summer orientation team members at Colorado State University, each recently selected and hired, sit in a dimly lit conference room and watch a polar bear and her newborn cubs emerge from a den after a winter underground on a screen in the front of the room. Eyes wide open, they watch as the Planet Earth clip comes to a close. They really loved the polar bears. You can even see the link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwZH_aT0FGI

Two hours later, each writes a purpose statement.

They read:

  • “My purpose is to be there for incoming students and know that they are moving within a time of transition.”
  • “My purpose is to change the lives of students coming to CSU, by being aware of their needs, that they may be in transition, and being there as a guide and as a friendly face.”
  • “My purpose is to promote the successful retention of students.”
  • “My purpose is to be a support as students face sometimes difficult transitions, and always anticipate the needs of myself and others.”

After the polar bears came out of the den on the screen, I paused that video and asked the students one simple question: “What seven things do you think these polar bear cubs need?” They hurriedly got into pairs, and began ferociously trying to anticipate the needs of these polar bear cubs. They came up with great life task demands of the polar bears. “Well, they will need guidance,” says one. “They will need food,” says another. “They will need to learn what it means to be a polar bear,” yells out another.

It was inspiring to see that after 2 short minutes, my student staff was emotionally invested in these polar bears’ lives. In a sense, they had created a “theory of polar bear development” by merely observing, anticipating, and above all, a permeating action of caring.

I then put a picture up of an incoming student at orientation, and asked the simple question again: “What seven things do you think this student needs?” This began our meaningful exploration of the purpose of orientation programs at CSU.

Many times in student affairs, we are timid about sharing student development theory with students. I posit that it’s because we don’t allow them to experience theory. From the time we are infants, we’re prone to ask the question “why”? As a trainer, I believe we need to get back to the “why?” of what we do. In this case, it is “why do we even have orientation programs?” Everyone wants to have purpose, and before we can expect a student staff member to dive in to a task, it is our job to provide them with a deep emotional connection to that purpose.

Train the person, not the position. Train the WHY before the HOW, and the WHAT only after both.

– Zach