Finding a Solution


Finding a Solution

You may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to nail down meetings with all of the key leaders in your organization, but don't. We have never met business leaders who wouldn't spend time discussing how an initiative could either contribute to their business objectives or save their units time or money. Most will be surprised that you are interested in understanding their needs.

Before you meet with anyone , do your homework. Arm yourself with a deep understanding of the business drivers in your company. Read the five-year plans of the company and each business unit; familiarize yourself with the established goals and processes of each area of your organization; and read the bios and background material of each executive. Look at your past training budgets and the allocation of funds to each unit. Examine the decision-making process used to choose and deliver training and the impact it has had on the business.

When you meet with these people, it's important that you come off as educated about the business and your role in it so that you can ask pertinent, open -ended questions and speak their language. If you go in blind and unprepared, you will look like an amateur and reinforce the opinion that trainers typically exist in a vacuum . This situation will do serious damage to an already tentative relationship.

Once you are confident of your company knowledge, contact each unit leader and tell them you need ninety minutes of their time to talk about their business objectives, their biggest concerns relative to the accomplishment of those objectives, and their honest evaluations of the current learning environment. You need at least that much time to capture their attention, gather information, and generate excitement about your plans, and it's probable you'll spend hours together during that meeting.

Ask open-ended questions about their needs and their biggest issues, then let them do the talking. This is not a time for you to promote yourself or your process; it's a time for you to learn about the needs of the organization. Listen to what they have to say about the organization and the role training plays. The information you collect at these meetings will be the foundation of your strategic learning plan. There will be plenty of time for you to talk later on.

As you explore the business through these interviews, get beyond details about the products you make or services you offer. Talk about the culture, the attitude, and frustrations they have with the existing processes. Although many leaders may not be able to articulate their needs in the language of learning professionals, they are more than capable of communicating the specific issues that affect their business.

For example, when we met with the vice president of operations, he didn't ask for a training solution to combat the loss of tribal knowledge. At the time, he didn't know enough about what the learning and development team could offer to put that need into a training context, but because we listened to his needs and asked about his obstacles, we unearthed the problem. His best people were retiring and taking valuable core knowledge with them. In response to that "need," The Performance Engineering Group (PEG) ultimately invented QuickLearns, computer-based tutorials featuring subject-matter experts performing key tasks . This cost-effective , rapid-development methodology revolutionized Rockwell Collins's ability to train product-development teams in a fraction of the time the old mentoring system took. PEG has since created more than 500 QuickLearns for Rockwell Collins, and these QuickLearns are a key component of our high-quality , cost-effective training system. Because we took the time to talk with executives in their language, we found a way to save the company millions of dollars, to vastly improve productivity, and to secure the company's ability to deliver products even if key people left the company.

When you conduct your own executive meetings, ask "Why?" at least five times to get at the heart of what concerns them. For example, an executive may tell you that training isn't of much help to his people. That information alone reveals little about the problems the organization faces. But further questioning will eventually reveal the real issue: Training isn't timely or it's of poor quality or there are too many scheduling conflicts.

Find out everything you can about their operations ”the day-today tasks of team members ; their five-year plan; and the biggest concerns they have about their people, their deadlines, and meeting their goals. Ask business questions, such as: "Who are your customers?" "How is your product manufactured?" "Who are your suppliers for the raw materials?" "Do you sell through distribution or directly?" Ask them how training has contributed to meeting their goals and how it's failed them. When you know what is important to them, you will better see where their training needs reside.

Before you leave them, set their expectations. Tell them what you plan to do with this information and when you will return with a plan of action. Let them know this isn't just an informational interview but the beginning of a revolution that will change the way your company conducts business.

Connecting with business leaders and tying their needs to training offerings is rarely considered part of the trainer's job, but it's critical if you are going to win the approval of management and ultimately be successful. Even if you learn nothing new in these meetings, the face time alone will be a valuable contribution to your process. It makes you familiar to them and it sets their expectations for more to come. It shows them that you are interested in their needs, not just in your own.

Be prepared to hear a lot of negative information and comments about the training department. You may have to go back two or three times before you get people talking about the future and positive changes. Don't be dismayed if you only get an earful of complaints about how HR and the training department have screwed up.

This is a time to build relationships and your integrity. It will likely be the first time any trainer has put in the time and effort to learn the intricacies of the business and their needs. They will appreciate and remember your effort, and this will aid you down the line. A manager of training who does just this one thing will develop a significant amount of credibility in the eyes of senior executives, which is critical because you cannot make this transformation happen without their support.

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QUESTIONS TO ASK EXECUTIVES

This is not a checklist so much as it is a guide to help you organize these meetings for maximum information gathering. The goal of the interviews is to find out the needs, values, and problems each business-unit leader faces. The following questions will lead you toward the information you need, but it's up to you to dig down to the root issues:

  1. Who are your customers?

  2. What positive things do they have to say about you? What is their biggest complaint?

  3. Who are your competitors ?

  4. What is the one thing that you are most concerned about?

  5. How is your product manufactured?

  6. Who are your suppliers for the raw materials?

  7. Do you sell through distribution or directly?

  8. What tasks do executives and their teams do every day?

  9. What skills do your team members need to do their jobs?

  10. Where do they most often fail or fall short?

  11. What is your vision for this unit?

  12. Tell me about the past five years . Have you achieved your goals? Have they changed? What affected your ability to meet your goals?

  13. What concerns do you have about your team?

  14. What are your business objectives for the quarter? The year? The next five years?

  15. What are your biggest challenges in achieving those objectives?

  16. How has training contributed to your ability to achieve your goals in the past?

  17. How has it failed you?

  18. If you were in charge of training, what would you do differently? What has been the biggest impact training has had on your organization?

  19. When or where has training been a failure?

  20. If you had a magic wand, and time and money weren't an issue, what would you have the training department do for you?

  21. If you don't achieve your strategic business goals, what will be the consequences to your organization?

  22. What will be the consequences to you, personally ?

  23. What will be the payoff to meeting your strategic goals?

  24. What do you like best about what training has done for your organization?

  25. If you could change any two things about training, what would they be?

  26. On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it for your employees to be able to access training immediately?

  27. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much "tribal knowledge" do you lose in any given year?

  28. How does that loss affect your ability to meet your strategic goals?

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