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Beyond WIIFM

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

At my mom’s 90th birthday, I found myself in the midst of 300+ friends and extended family. There were many people for one matriarch to greet when they all arrived, so my mom did what she has done flawlessly in the past. Like any true learning professional, she asked everyone to be in groups of 10-15, asked them a series of questions, and each group synthesized their responses for common experiences and in turn shared that with the whole party. Laughter was the thread that kept everyone reminiscing and sharing additional stories.

That experience made me think about sharing and shared experiences. When we were growing up, we learned about the importance of sharing – sharing with siblings, sharing with friends, sharing with the less fortunate. It is a foundation for becoming a good person.

As we started our careers, we learned about WIIFM: “What’s in it for me.” Dr. Redman once wrote, “Once you’ve asked for what you need, actively engage your supporters in the effort. Help them see “what’s in it for me,” and ask them to do specific things.” Is there a misalignment between sharing and WIIFM?

As learning professionals, we design and deliver content for the purpose of our audience’s WIIFM. However, this is contextual. “Motivation by self-interest is not solely a main reason for action,” said Christopher Witt. The challenge is that when left unchecked WIIFM can become a crutch instead of a benefit for all parties within that context.

How about refocusing and instead use WIIFA: “WHAT’S IN IT FOR ALL?” Or at least the ‘contextual all.’

As a learning leader, there were times when I found myself cobbling information to form concrete solutions only to find similar actions previously implemented but not shared. Providing information at the onset can save time, financial, and human resources. It is one thing to have legitimate reasons for withholding information but another matter when it stems from avarice. When the goal for sharing is to build upon previous effort’s strengths to create next level solutions, then I think WIIFA and not WIIFM prevails.

If intent were clear of inequity or unabashed self-aggrandizement, would there be any reason for exclusion, refusal, embargo or outright inability to access information?

Human behaviour is fascinating to the point of predictability when it comes to perceived self-preservation. Fight, flight, or freeze is but a natural reaction. When humans fill in the gaps due to incomplete information, an unwarranted reaction can occur. Then there are the perceived judgments directed to us. Seth Godin said, “The fear of being judged is palpable, and the digital trail we leave behind makes it feel more real and more permanent.” As the Internet of Everything has become our new normal, the very action of idea sharing allows for engaging in a culture that is less “me” and more of “we.”

Therefore, our task is to ask probing questions to get clarity of intent. In addition, yes, there will be times when we do not have anything to share… and that is ok.

Studies do show a correlation between information sharing and profit. Profit is not just financial but increases in relationship building, credibility enhancing, and the ability to leverage each other’s expertise. Those who share information with transparency of intent become more prone to being trusted.

This is important information to remember the next time someone asks you for a copy of your learning materials. Are they trustworthy?

Your next probing question would revolve around your ability to co-create the solution. If you were sharing learning material, would the next iteration then be a collection of your combined efforts?

Is this then but mere “collaborative work?” At first glance, yes, but it is more than that. Collaborative work, for the most part, are temporary fixes to address specific issues like completing a project. There are initiatives for collaborative cultures, which requires guidelines that need to align to skills that may be counter to personal motivation.

For WIIFA to exist more effectively, I propose a state of intention in mind. An environment where transparent intention, clear shared goals, alignment of skills and permission to address encroachments of whatever kind, are a matter of daily etiquette.

Lofty goals? Yes, but change focused global initiatives do look lofty at first anyway.

Researchers intrinsically know this. They build upon the work of others to add to the body of knowledge. There are safeguards in place like providing appropriate attribution. The ultimate goal is to have a culture of building upon each other’s efforts. This idea of scholar-practice is not new, but somehow lost, in our world of selfies.

If we were to push our learning, development and performance industry so that Canada would be the premiere country that other learning professionals around the globe look up to, then it is imperative that we take our roles as agents of change to heart. If we profess to be in the learning field, do we not need to be continually learning ourselves? Does learning mean building new ways to address a common issue? Does continually learning mean we see our world as one learning opportunity after another, outside of the classroom? Outside of work? At family gatherings? Does it then mean we readily share in the hopes of co-creating to produce inventive approaches to previously held beliefs? Does it then ultimately mean that best practice today is but child’s play tomorrow because our best practice is to actually just to “be better?”

My passion for learning started from growing up in a school, as my parents were both educators. We try things, we sometimes miss, we sometimes succeed, and then we try new things again to address old ways to see if we can do it more effectively, more efficiently, and ultimately be better people.

Seth Godin’s words are apropos for the current state of our industry, “We'll judge you most on whether you care enough to change things.”


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Farias, M. (March, 2013) The Doctor is In Everyone tunes into radio WIIFM. Stone World, 30(3), 12-13.

Godin, S. (2015). You are what you share. Retrieved from Seth's blog on 22/7/16 at

Levi, A. (September 2015). Why and WIIFMs. Plumbing & Mechanical, 33 (7), 16-18.

Lorence, C. (July 2015). Addressing the Three W's. Independent Banker, 65 (7), 77.

Trunick, P. (January 2013). 3PL Mergers: WIIFM? World Trade. 26(1), 30-34.

University of Nottingham. (July, 2016). Fight or Flight response. Retrieved from the Counselling Department website of the University of Nottingham on 26/7/16 from

Note: The abridged version of this article has been published in the newsletters of the Institute for Performance and Learning as well as George Brown College's newsletter



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