Good versus bad scenarios in organisational training

learning training

Behaviour training is very common for customer interactions, health and safety, or many procedure based activities. When I moved from education to business and organisational communications, I was surprised how common presenting ‘bad’ behaviours followed by the required ‘good’ behaviours was in training materials.

Only occasionally does bad v. good occur in education. Would you expect a maths teacher to spend a lot of time showing you the wrong way to arrive at a solution, before showing you the right way? Would you expect a science teacher to show you the wrong chemistry procedure, before showing you the right one? Probably not, so why is there a difference in organisational training?

Two audiences for training materials:

In education, the ‘good’ is fairly defined by the specification and syllabus, and you usually have just one audience: The students. For organisational training however, the definition of ‘good’ may not be so clear, and the materials may try to serve two audiences:

Primary audience – The acknowledged people you want to train to do the ‘good’ behaviour

Secondary audience – The people who have commissioned, or are stakeholders in this training achieving the ‘good’ behaviour

The secondary audience may or may not be acknowledged, but they are likely to be the people paying for or controlling the communication. Keeping them happy matters, and unfortunately this can sometimes overwhelm the training needs of the primary audience.

The organisational appeal of ‘bad’

Compared to education, in business the ‘good’ may not so well defined and may be untested, or debateable. The illustration of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ appeals to the secondary audience as it helps to confirm the definition of the change required in the organisational context.

This secondary audience is also different in that it has probably contributed to designing the training, and so has prior knowledge of training content. This makes the secondary audience’s communication needs quite different to the primary audience coming to training issues for the first time.

The psychological appeal of ‘bad’

There is a psychological satisfaction with punishing social norm violations to give a pleasing sense of superiority. Giving someone a ‘telling off’ might feel good, but it is unlikely to achieve the aim of changing behaviour in an adult. Illustrating the ‘bad’ in this way can also be inferred as trying to negatively reinforce the power relationships within an organisation.

If you are updating a traditional way of working by illustrating it as ‘bad’, it may also be inferred as criticism by the audience you are trying to train. A sense of being ‘told what to do’, is unlikely to be received well.

The problem with ‘bad’ behaviour illustrations

As well as potentially creating a problem with reception by the primary audience, there is another difficult area with illustrating the ‘bad’: Memory. If you go back to the education examples you can understand the possible confusion of the primary audience in the following weeks or months as they try to remember whether their visual memory has retained the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ practices. Unfortunately for training, bad examples can be more memorable, with more opportunity for humour, and more familiarity if what you are seeking to do is update a traditional practice to a new practice.

Illustrating ‘bad’ can easily lead to a concentration on the negative. The training may be received as simply ‘don’t do the bad things’, rather than actually ‘do good things’. This can result in a rather neutral outcome of training, instead of achieving the desired behaviours.

Given the issues so far, I’m not convinced that a ‘bad’ illustration should be considered as a default solution for training. It does have some uses though.

When is a ‘bad’ illustration useful?

To show a very specific and particularly common ‘bad’ practice


Highlight potentially a dangerous ‘bad’ practice


Impact on a third party – maybe empathy with a customer point of view of a situation


 What to use as a default instead?

I would concentrate most of the effort on showing the behaviours you actually desire from your primary audience. You might want to produce a separate executive summary that outlines the ‘bad’ and ‘good’ as a definition for your secondary audience.

For the training materials, you can illustrate what a ‘good’ situation looks like, and clearly highlight key differences between the old way and the new way. To embed a new practice, you also need to make clear the logic of the right way and the reason for the change.

Illustrate examples where there are new demands placed on the audience, for example where there is a need to move towards more customer communication. Some people may not be comfortable with increased social interactions, so it is worth showing how these customer situations can be initiated and closed.

Turn a ‘bad’ illustration into audience problem solving. If you think that your specific situation calls for a ‘wrong way’ illustration, use it as a problem situation to be solved, and require the audience to discuss and make decisions about the right way. By developing their own solutions they will be much more engaged, and more likely to contribute to achieving the training goals.

There is a  comprehensive list of possible routes for developing training materials at:

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