A space by Acadal about business culture and people.

A blog by Acadal

How to maximize business results from consulting workshops

Why is it workshops have a hard time translating into business results? The answer lies in how we learn as a team — and the two ratios you always should use as guidelines for workshopping.

Workshop at a company

Hiring a consultant is an often-used shortcut to involve your people and give them new skills, knowledge, and inspiration. In fact, it’s the primary way for most companies to learn. The problem comes when that learning has to translate into business results.

That’s where a lot of training and consulting advice falls short. It’s hard to translate into new behavior at the hands of your people — and thereby into results.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like this.

Actually, the roadmap for translating consulting and workshops into results is pretty straightforward — and at the same time, grossly underused.

The reason is that most companies consider the workshop itself as the primary tool for learning. But in reality, it’s only the very start of the roadmap.

And to understand why, you need to know 2 ratio’s

The forgetting curve

For each hour of consulting training you receive, you must practice the learned 7 hours to make it into natural behavior.

That 1:7 ratio makes new knowledge and training stick, so it doesn’t get buried in daily tasks and to-do lists.

The research is called the forgetting curve. And the logic is, if you want to remember something and use new knowledge, you have to practice it immediately.

Hermann Ebbinghaus is the father of this research, and there has been much further study on the topic.

One of the more interesting is from the University of Waterloo.

It takes the forgetting curve and applies it to 1 hour of learning. And the information we can retain after one day is around 50% at best.

And then it drops, and on day 7, we are at 2-3% if we don’t actively work to recall it during the week.

So if you host a workshop, but the follow-up is 14 days later, you already lost.


Next up is looking at how we should spend that 7x learning time. Science also tells us what kinds of practice we need for best adoption, and here is also a ratio you should know; 10/20/70.

For optimized learning, you should have 10% formal training, aka the workshop, where you primarily receive new information.

Then we should make room for 20% social learning, aka learning together with others with the same journey.

And lastly, experince should make out the majority at 70%. So actually using the new knowledge in real-life situations.

The roadmap starts at the workshop.

The classic form of corporate learning and consulting delivery is workshops. But what we lack is the understanding of tailoring a program after the workshop to make sure the learnings are being translated into business results — and that’s where you need to activate the two ratios.

The problem occurs when we look at how most workshops are designed. Half-day, or even full-day workshops, are not a rare sight.

And it makes sense when you look at the cost of getting people together. Flying people in, setting up hotels, booking rooms, and much more.

Even if it’s internally, most workshops are never scheduled below 2 hours.

We put too much weight on the workshop itself and way too little on building out a plan for executing the learned.

The math don't add up

Do the math with the 1:7 ratio in mind: A half-day workshop with 4 hours of learning translates into 28 hours of practice — that starts tomorrow to retain as much new knowledge as possible.

Try to convince your people to clear their calendar for 28 hours to learn in the next 2-3 weeks.

The KPI game is way too strong for that ever to happen.

So the result is that some will stick, but most will be forgotten. And then, the business outcomes follow. Half-assed when greatness was just around the corner.

Here’s what you should do instead:

Sprint for better results

The key is to host smaller events with a clear practice plan and further exploring with the two ratios in mind. Think of it as small sprints where new knowledge and practice are bound together, but with weight on the latter.

1 hour of new knowledge must be followed by timed slots of social and experience moments.

But don’t get religious with it. Use the ratios as guidelines to build a mindset of making it a part of your team’s learning journey.

It also makes it easier to host virtual events or even video training because we have reduced the size of the learnings. Of course, you need to do it more often to get the same input an 8-hour workshop would bring.

But you are going to translate a lot more into business results. And that’s the learning here. Don’t overfeed the brain before the hands can react to the inputs.

No consultant can ever make you grow. Only executing what you learn will do that. We need to stop glorifying the workshops and start hailing the work.

And on the final note: I’m a big advocate of workshops. Being together releases all kinds of greatness and fuels growth.

But it’s not for classic stage training. When you have people in the same room, let them talk, co-create and build. It’s a WORKshop.

So work — don’t have the team sitting down and listening for a full day. Science tells us it’s terrible for learning, and hopefully, this also convinces you that it’s bad for business.

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