You receive a call from Janice, the senior vice president of Sales. Tell me if this conversation sounds familiar:
“Our team isn’t communicating down the line effectively, and we want you to train them to communicate better. We’ve set aside training facilities for you, but you can only have groups of eight at a time. Oh, and we really need all of this wrapped up by the end of the month and all 200 team members trained and ready to get back to work on the new product line. The sessions should be 30 minutes or less. Oh, and I really hate PowerPoint, so try for something hands-on. Also, we just don’t have time to bother with post-event surveys for participants and managers. Sound good?”
In his book, “The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning,” Roy Pollack says, “Many business leaders have become accustomed to ordering training like they would order a burger.” After becoming responsible for leading our training request intake process, and having conversations like the one above, I frequently feel like I’m working a drive-thru window.
Recently, our team had to make a decision on a real training “order” that involved taking an existing virtual instructor-led training (VILT) that had a global audience and replacing it with a collection of short videos. Initially, reducing the training time and instructor effort seemed to be an efficiency gain. However, upon further investigation, it turned out the project stakeholders had data that showed performance issues were isolated to a group of people who were not required to attend the VILT. Needless to say, we declined their request and recommended they expand the audience to encompass everyone performing the task.
FAST FOOD VS. GOURMET MEAL
It is common to receive training requests with explicit specifications: We need two e-learning modules. We want face-to-face instructor-led training for 2,000 global employees.
Would you like fries with that?
We should remind ourselves that stakeholders probably don’t know they don’t have to settle for fast food but can order a gourmet meal. They likely have no idea what a well-crafted training approach looks like, or that the best solution isn’t an award-winning video, but a collection of job aids. The important thing is that the training works and there’s a measurable improvement in performance following a learning event.
This highlights another issue frequently encountered during intake: Stakeholders have no idea how the project will be successful, or they refuse to track evaluation metrics. When presented with this issue, we have to ask: “What’s the point?” Why go to the trouble of requesting training to fix a problem if you don’t want to prove it actually worked?
Another recent request involved adding scenarios relevant to functional groups that were not included in the original audience. The idea was that the additional scenarios would improve the work product for those functional groups. At first glance, the strategy seemed sound. However, when we asked if there was improvement across the original audience since the training was assigned, the answer was a resounding, “No.” Again: “What’s the point?” Why add content and expand the audience for a training that has no proof it is working?
Ultimately, project stakeholders retired the existing course and now are exploring process improvement and technology solutions. They did the right thing: They cancelled their drive-thru order and will settle for nothing less than a gourmet meal.
TRAIN YOUR STAKEHOLDERS
It is sometimes difficult to have these conversations. It is our responsibility to support the stakeholder’s training needs; however, we don’t want to do it at the cost of being effective. Creating training for the sake of training doesn’t add value in the long run. It mostly adds a burden on employees who would rather be productive than spend time on yet more training. And if the training isn’t effective, then it’s a wasteful expense for the company: for my time to create it and for the employees who must attend the training.
Training gurus Jack and Patti Phillips say, “Attempting to solve job performance issues with training will not work when other factors such as reward systems, job design, and motivation are the real issues” (“Eleven Reasons Why Training and Development Fails…and what you can do about it,” roiinstitute.net, orig. 2002). Unfortunately, such a perspective is not always clear to individuals requesting training services. It is, therefore, our responsibility to educate our stakeholders, to point out the whole picture of performance improvement and help them analyze those areas where improvements can be made. I don’t want them to end up disappointed due to the consequence of only implementing training and not addressing other performance areas where changes may be needed.
It’s really our job as Training professionals to train our stakeholders. We must inform them of the risk of using training as the only solution to a business problem. We must teach them that many factors contribute to a successful behavior change and create a business impact. Cook your stakeholders a gourmet meal, so they know what real success tastes like.
We had the opportunity to do just that for a global initiative launching in January. The request involved a pilot audience of 3,000 global employees on the topic of risk escalation. As it turns out, the “pilot” audience was the actual audience. We recommended a short launch delay so we could provide a comprehensive training solution. In a presentation to the project sponsor, we took up the mantle of trainer and received buy-in for an alternate solution.
In the end, while more challenging, it is our duty as Learning and Development professionals to push for the more effective solutions. This takes education on our part for our stakeholders, who don’t always have a full understanding of the options available to them. With perseverance and creativity, we can achieve the shift from simply filling drive-thru training orders to making a difference in performance and bettering the culture of learning that we all desire to achieve.
And, no, I would not like fries with that.
Amy Chapman, CPTD, is a Learning strategist at PPD (https://www.ppd.com), a leading contract research organization, which has placed in the Training Top 125 for nine years running. Chapman has 13 years’ experience in the training industry and was named a Top 5 Emerging Training Leader by Training magazine in 2018. Chapman values creativity as an essential tool for making learning effective and meaningful and strives to share her enthusiasm for creative approaches with all her clients and colleagues.