When asked to develop a learning program we are often provided, initially at least, with three pieces of information.
- The context is usually provided and you know the typical scenarios . . . “we need to roll out a new system”; “we need to increase sales”; “there been some customer complaints about service” . . . and so it goes on.
- Then the conversation usually expands along these lines . . . “we want to roll-out a new system and everyone needs to know about it”; “we need to increase sales and everyone needs to know more about product A”; “there been some customer complaints about service so everyone needs to complete the customer service course”. We ask a few more questions and, not only are the subjects revealed, we might get an idea of what the content may consist of, but we are feeling a bit unsure . . .
- Then we receive the “bottom line” which is almost a caveat on the request . . .
- Do it as fast as possible
- Do it as cheaply as possible!
- Do with as few people/resources as you can!
- Do it here in head office – I want to make sure they come!
I have painted an exaggerated picture to make the point (you can be the judge of that!). There are certainly many questions to ask in return in a situation like this, and we can get frustrated with the assumption that training is the solution to the “problem” and that rather than meaningful discussion about time, cost and resources, constraints have been laid down at the outset.
This dictate about speed, cost, resources and how/where the training will take place can stem from the requester exercising power, the realisation that costs will be incurred and therefore must be minimised, through to inference that the learning and development can’t be trusted because the last time training was developed it was expensive and it didn’t “fix the problem” (so this time we’ll make it harder for them)!
The main reason, in fact the only reason for requesting training is to enable people to perform better than they are now. The key words here are “perform better” and, dealt with in that light rather than from a “learn better” perspective, focussing on them provides the platform for the Learning and Development professional to do their best work uncovering true needs and realistic ways of meeting them. But, rather than getting on our high-horse venting frustration with the way the typical learning and development function is fed work, it can help if we approach our response from the perspective of the person requesting our assistance with a problem that is obviously concerning them.
The business reality is that:
- Speed is a principle element in offering value.
- Economic survival is about investing the least to earn the greatest return.
- Resources provide value and to waste them saps the energy they provide.
This is the business world we operate in and where we seek acceptance and credibility. Yes, constraints and unrealistic expectations abound, but how that is dealt with is the very essence of professionalism – in our case the field of learning and development. No, we don’t want to compromise too much, we want to ensure “learning integrity” and that we provide value, but the reality is that we will not always have all the ingredients we need to produce a flawless learning intervention.
I think we are at a point now where we (collectively) need to reflect on our expectations and hone a range of skills, based on negotiation probably, which help us accept the constraints, listen carefully, and ask the right questions at the right time while focussing on performance rather than learning. This extends to boldly recommending non-learning interventions when appropriate, and all this while applying fresh ideas aimed at to out-performing what we have achieved in the past.
The Futurist Joel Barker, in his video “Paradigm Pioneers” speaks of two important characteristics for learning and development professions, and they are worth pondering. The first is intuition – the ability to make good decisions within incomplete information. The second is courage – the willingness to move forward in the face of risk and to act on intuition.
Fortitude – the mix of intuition, courage and boldness