Conduct A Training CSI

Determining the root cause of an organizational problem requires L&D professionals to go in with a CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) mindset. Gather the tools, your observation skills, and your questioning mind.

You know the drill: Something has happened ...something is changing...a problem needs to be solved, and the Training department is called on to create a training program to make everything right.

But just as we cannot investigate a crime unless we know what crime has been committed, we cannot address a problem unless we know the true nature of it.

It’s time to put on our Sherlock Holmes hat. Where do we start? Most Learning professionals would raise their hands and state, “Training Needs Analysis” (TNA). They would be correct to start there, but problems arise when we look at the TNA through an incorrect lens.

Determining the root cause of the actual problem requires the L&D professional to go in with a CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) mindset. Gather the tools, your observation skills, and your questioning mind. Prepare for the investigation.

Yes, investigation. You are moving from a “Training Needs Analysis” to a “Training Needs Investigation.” Here are the steps:


Who is experiencing the issue? Sales? IT? Customer Service? Gather up everyone the issue touches. You need to find out how the issue is impacting business and the job at hand. What problems are people having that training is not touching?

The only way to discover information about an issue is to interview the witnesses and determine the motive. People don’t perform or stop performing for a reason. Find the reason. Missing skills, lack of knowledge, lack of motivation? Could the problem be process or technical driven? Question your witnesses to find out.


Data, data, data. Customer service issue? Dig up customer service surveys and call center recordings. Employee engagement issue? Go to HR and find employee satisfaction surveys or exit interviews. Lack of sales revenue? Analyze sales data from the “Sales Tracking System” and review coaching feedback forms. Safety incidents have gone up? Review OSHA logs or safety inspection reports. You get the picture: the more data, the better. A doctor doesn’t conduct surgery without an X-ray, and neither should you.


Watch. Look. Listen. Go to the scene of the crime. Customer service issues? Perhaps the true issue is a broken phone, a computer that always crashes, or a piece of equipment that never works. Sales problem? Ride along, record sales meetings (with permission), take notes during the close, review the current sales process with a reality check. You can’t determine the problem from the comfort of your desk.


This is the hardest part of your investigation. You may have to tell leadership that the suspect isn’t who they think. In the case of a customer service issue, the problem may not be the employee; it may be the faulty or outdated equipment he or she is forced to work with.

When reporting your findings, keep in mind the words of Spock: “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Leaders often don’t want to hear their conclusions were incorrect, so it’s up to you and the data you have acquired to convince them otherwise.

Are the conversations difficult? At times, yes. It takes courage to tell leaders they may be mistaken in their interpretation of an issue. But when presented with all the evidence, most do not argue with their own data.

Being a Learning business partner is hard, and requires having difficult conversations. You cannot have those conversations without supporting data behind you. So put on your CSI badge; grab your notebook, tablet, and camera; and start polishing your investigation skills. Believe me, the people who will not have to sit through another redundant, unnecessary training course will thank you—and you will feel better about yourself for being a business partner rather than just another training order taker.

Shannon Tipton is the owner of Learning Rebels. She is a skilled learning strategist with more than 20 years of leadership experience developing successful infrastructures for Training departments across North America, Europe, and Korea. She is the author of “Disruptive Learning,” and her blog,, is in the top 100 e-learning blogs.


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