5 Easy Steps to Amazing Training Hypotheticals

One of the best ways to help employees understand a concept is to use hypotheticals (or in the elearning industry, "scenario-based training"). 

Unfortunately, in-house counsel often reuse hypotheticals from presentations not specifically tailored to their audience or the company's desired training outcomes. 

I've been there.

It's just easier to reuse hypotheticals without considering the impact your audience. 

But fear no longer. Making great hypotheticals is not difficult.

Here are the 5 easy steps to amazing legal training hypotheticals:

1. Know your audience

Knowing your audience is the most important thing to create amazing training hypotheticals. If you don't know your audience, it's impossible to empathize with the challenges they face - leaving you to create training that will likely be tuned out. 

On the other hand, if you're able to design training highly tailored to your audiences needs, wants, and challenges, you're likely to get a better training outcome.

What are some of the key factors you need to "know" your audience?

  • What level of authority do they have? Are these entry level employees, c-suite executives, or somewhere in between? Knowing what types of decisions your employees make, and what actions they have the authority to take will allow you to design hypotheticals that they're likely to encounter.
  • What department are they in? Even though this is one of the most basic differences you'll encounter, it's likely the most important. Don't give sales hypotheticals to your procurement team (and vice versa). 
  • What is their knowledge base of the topic? Is this something most people understand (like anti-discrimination training) or is this a more difficult topic that is not well understood (like anti-trust training)? When people understand the basics, wade into more complex hypotheticals. Do the opposite when it's a new, challenging topic.

2. Identify desired legal training outcomes

Identifying your legal training outcome is critical to planning a successful presentation and creating dynamite hypotheticals.

What is a legal training outcome?

Simply, it's the desired way your employees will learn and act after your training. 

For example, if you're planning to train employees on anti-corruption, your desired legal training outcome might be that they can identify 10-15 red flags of potential corruption when dealing with 3rd parties. 

Why is knowing my desired legal training outcome important to make great hypotheticals?

When you know the desired outcome, you can focus your limited resources on obtaining it.

Going back to the red flags example above, instead of doing hypotheticals on recognizing foreign officials, you would focus your hypotheticals on identifying potentially corrupt behavior by third parties. 

3. Choose relevant scenarios for your company

This step is pretty simple.

You need to create relevant hypotheticals for your legal training.

If you're a software provider, don't create hypotheticals involving sales of physical products. 

If you're a tire manufacturer, don't create hypotheticals involving a consulting business. 

Create hypotheticals that mimic actual events that could occur at your company. Your hypotheticals will be much more powerful if employees can actually envision themselves encountering the situation.

4. Make legal training hypotheticals complex, but not too complex

"Tim gave a giant chunk of money to a foreign official. Is that legal?"

This is a terrible hypothetical that suffers from a lack of complexity. There's really not enough information to make a call either way (but it sounds pretty bad). Additionally, how many of your employees can identify with delivering large quantities of money to a government official? Probably none.

Instead, try something like this for your operations employees and management:

"Tim works in operations for your foreign subsidiary in Jakarta, Indonesia. As head of facility operations at the only Jakarta manufacturing facility, Tim is in charge of the facility's expansion. Construction is expected to begin next year, but the company needs a permit from the local government authority to start building. 

Under local law, a company must pay $1,250 for a construction building permit to issue. Another government agency must approve the building plans, but the issuance of the construction permit is done by the local government authority. The authority has no discretion to deny a building permit once the other government agency approves the plans.

Tim received the approval from the government agency yesterday. He plans on going to the local government authority tomorrow to pay for to issue the construction permit.

Is this legal?"

This is much better.

It provides relevant facts for the employee to make an educated decision on whether Tim can move forward. It creates an important decision point which will challenge employees to recall information you previously presented. 

It is also built on a situation that employees can understand and appreciate. Many of your operations employees understand the world of government permits.  

Finally, the hypothetical provides facts, but not too many facts that might be a distraction. 

5. Make legal training hypotheticals interesting

Is it too obvious to point out that hypotheticals should be interesting?

Judging by some of the presentations I've seen, I don't think so. 

Ultimately if your employees aren't interested in your hypotheticals, you aren't getting your desired training outcome. 

How do you make hypotheticals interesting?

Focus on using detailed, relevant facts to challenge learners, and don't be afraid to have a little fun.