Susan, an instructional designer with a large, multinational retailer, received a training request from the director of operations of customer and client relations. The request: “Please create a customer service e-learning course for our global retail sales associates.”
Susan spends three weeks putting her skills to work building this new customer service skills e-learning course. With a little help from a co-worker and lots of coffee, Susan finishes the first draft of the 90-minute course.
Susan sends the course design to the director of operations and her manager for their review. Two days later she arrives promptly to a training design review meeting, expecting to receive accolades. The design she and her co-worker have put together will make an amazing e-learning course.
However, in the meeting, Susan’s design is questioned. She is asked to explain how this e-learning course will help the retail sales associates respond to complaints in a more professional way.
“Respond to customer complaints?” Susan asks.
“Yes, that was whole reason we needed customer service training in the first place,” states the VP of HR.
“This e-learning course, while well done, does not address the original need for training,” offers the Director of Operations.
Susan’s manager suggests that she go back and add more of a focus on complaint handling.
Susan’s story is all too common. Many of our projects are initiated by a phone call or an email requesting training. But how, and by whom, was this need identified? Did Susan ever challenge the request or did she just move ahead with the e-learning development project?
One of the biggest risks in training development projects is the lack of understanding the true need. What initiated this training request? Why are you being asked to develop training? What performance problem or skill gap are you trying to resolve? In order to be successful, we must ensure we address the real needs of the learner and of the organization.
Perhaps you have received a request for training similar to one of these:
Senior management wants to make a change and has assumed that training will facilitate that change.
Performance results, such as customer satisfaction measures, are less than optimal. Management believes the scores are a result of employees’ lacking knowledge. Training is prescribed with the expectation that scores will increase when employees are knowledgeable.
A stakeholder has a strong belief that employees need more support in a particular area. For example, “All employees should have training in project management.”
Sometimes a request for a training project simply doesn’t address the right learning need, the right audience, or even the right content in order to effectively change performance for the better. So how can we ensure that we have done our best to identify the real intent of the training?
At Allen Interactions, this is an important part of our Savvy Starts (our proprietary project kick-off meetings). During the Savvy Start meeting, we question everything and collectively brainstorm a design that will meet the true learning need.
I realize not everyone has the opportunity to host a creative brainstorming session to start a project. My advice to you, when you seek to discover the true training need, is to: Confront, Clarify and Confirm.
- Confront* the request head on.
Ask the requestor how they came up with the project. Also question them about other stakeholders who may have had some influence on the project start.
- Clarify the data behind the training request.
After identifying the origin of the request, clarify the information that was used to determine the training need. Are there customer surveys, product returns, lower revenues, etc? Finding the number or data point that initiated the project will be helpful later.
- Confirm the connection between the requested training and the expected performance results.
“So by offering employees customer skills training, you hope to decrease the number of customer complaints?”
* I am not suggesting that you are confrontational. Just be inquisitive about where the request is coming from. At the end of the day, it’s not worth getting fired for being insubordinate.
By identifying where the training request initiated, the data used to support the request, and the proposed connection between the training and the expected performance change, you can more accurately determine the performance gap, instructional objectives, and measurements that will indicate success.
Word of caution: We all work in organizations with leadership. Challenging the initial request is part of your due diligence, but at times decisions will be made that you don’t fully agree with. This doesn’t mean they are wrong or unimportant. For those projects, you simply need to do the best job of creating an engaging learning experience for the learner.
We don’t have to live where wild requests roam for too long.