By Gerald Matykowski, Inside Sales Manager
This is a very pragmatic discussion about a very difficult challenge. In a previous Allen Leadership Blog, You say Quantitative – I Say Qualitative: Whose ROI is this Anyway?, and webinar, Seal the Deal! Getting Executive Buy-In for Your E-Learning Needs, we provide perspectives to help instructional designers, developers, and learning practitioners influence their managers, directors, and CLOs about making forward strides in implementing effective e-learning design practices and performance-changing learning.
In addition to what you might say to a CLO, how you say it can keep conversations with stakeholders open and focused. Think about how a good interviewer questions a newsmaker―my favorites are the correspondents on PBS News Hour. Good interviewers almost never ask a question that can be answered with a Yes or No. They precede each ‘open-ended question’ with a summary statement that sets the context of the question to follow.
Six Fictitious Discussion Scenarios Between a Learning Practitioner & Business Stakeholder
Selling By Posing Ideas, Notions & Open-ended Questions
Below I've put together six ficitious conversation scenarios between a learning practitioner and a stakeholder (perhaps a CLO). One or more of these scenarios may resonate with you as they range from gamification to agile development to SME inflexibility. The examples demonstrate a selling technique as proposed in a sales skills discipline called Discovery/Fulfillment ® (a registered trademark of Dave Mrocek and Associates). The idea is powerful but very simple.
First, Floating an Idea or Notion serves the purpose of setting the context of the question to follow. You are basically getting the stakeholder to think about a critical topic before posing the question. An open-ended question about business impact does not let the stakeholder answer yes or no. Open-ended questions require a more thoughtful answer. Also, as we have documented in previous blog posts and webinars, your questions should not focus on ADDIE or SAM or gamification, but on business impact/outcomes and discovering what is important to the stakeholder.
Six Conversation Examples With Two-Part Questions
You might have such conversations with your manager, CLO, or an interested executive. These examples are meant to identify a technique that will keep conversations focused on business results. Naturally, your situations will be unique and require your skills to make this technique work for you. But, if you apply this technique, you will likely have more meaningful conversations, and perhaps influence, with the people that assign you projects, budgets, and timelines.
1) We can’t afford gaming. We need our people to learn, not play.
Idea or Notion: Jim, there are many levels of ‘gaming’ ranging from simple recall of selling strategies to simulating actual sales environments with various buyer types. We aren’t talking Jeopardy here. We are talking motivation, competition, and results.
Open-ended question about business impact: Suppose for a moment that you approved funding for a learning program that immersed our associates in simulated sales conversations, which they could use at their desks as they prepare for a sales meeting. At the end of the year, what type of results would you want to see in performance indicators like revenue growth, lower attrition, and employee engagement
2) Let’s just do the best that we can with the tools we have and get these courses out.
Idea or Notion: Jane, in the end, we are judged by how our learners perform following our training. Applying the same process to all levels of learning may not produce maximum results with our limited resources. We can save time and funding for performance learning by using simple PowerPoints or even emails for awareness-level learning and more interactive strategies for more critical programs.
Open-ended question about business impact: What value do you see in strategically distributing more funding and resources to those courses requiring higher-level interactivity and performance outcomes?
3) It’s compliance training so we just need to get it out and check that box.
Idea or Notion: Jane, auditing agencies are beginning to look at actual learning that is taking place in food safety training and not just completion indicators. On top of that, learner evaluations are telling us that our training is very boring and they click through just to get through it.
Open-ended question about business impact: If our employees are clicking through and yawning during our training, at what level are we really mitigating the risk of non-compliance behavior and a potential costly recall of product?
4) I’m the Subject Matter Expert (SME) and I know what our people need to learn. Just convert that content as it’s presented.
Idea or Notion: Jim, as an instructional designer, I can’t create this learning program without your help. What I hope to do in a short period of time is leverage your extensive knowledge and expertise to identify the most critical things that the learners must DO to demonstrate they understand the content.
Open-ended question about performance: If you spent a half-day with a trainee, list some specific things that a poorly trained employee would do to indicate they don’t know what to do, how to do it, or even when to do the right thing.
5) I don’t care about modern learning development processes out there. We can’t afford innovation.
Idea or Notion: Jane, Our process is currently a ‘ready – aim – fire’ process which can result in an expensive miss like the 2013 Project [fill in your favorite disaster project] that had to be redone even though the SMEs signed off on every phase. We are proposing a proven modern design and development process that will uncover mistakes early in the process, address the correct performance objectives, and address the desired employee behavior change
Open-ended question about business impact: If, within one week, we can show you a working prototype that is approved by SMEs and learners alike, and mitigates the risk of expensive design changes deep into the projects, what more would you like to learn about that process?
6) We will pay for training with the cost savings in classrooms, instructors, and travel. Reduction in the expenses determines the training budget.
Idea or Notion: Jim, I understand that the C-Suite looks at hard dollar savings. But I’m sure they also are considering scalability, globalization, and measureable gains in revenue and profitability.
Open-ended question about business impact: What interest do you have in discussing a learning development plan that rapidly creates reusable interactions or templates which can be leveraged for various learning populations and deployed across the enterprise?
Please send us your situations and scenarios and we will either answer them directly or provide potential strategies in future blog posts.
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