Talking to the People

Talking to the People

The meetings with executives should be the primary focus of this phase of the project. However, you'll also want to spend time talking to employees about the work environment. You need to understand how people feel about their jobs, their managers, and their goals.

If time permits , get into the trenches. Work with the team so you can understand the issues they face on the job. That experience will be invaluable in helping you to target training to meet their needs. It may mean getting your hands dirty on the factory floor, or working in the front lines for a few weeks. It may mean interviewing employees about their daily job tasks . The goal is to learn enough about the process so that you can empathize with the needs of management and employees. It will help you understand the cultural attitude of end users and the obstacles that frustrate their ability to perform their jobs and acquire skills.

If you can find a way to do so, get involved with the daily business of the units. The effort alone will show that you are committed to understanding the needs of employees and management and are interested in helping address them. While time constraints prohibited our spending much time on the line at Rockwell Collins, when Cliff Purington worked at Lockheed Martin he spent several weeks working on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral to learn the work environment, and he helped launch the Mars Observer.

Similarly, when Chris Butler was working on a major culture-change initiative for a health-insurance company, he spent a week in a claims center listening to the phone calls from insurance clients to customer-service reps. The experience gave him a sense of the skills used by, and problems faced by, customer-service reps in their day-to-day work, and it gave him real insight into the culture of the organization. The customer-service reps would frequently tell clients things that weren't part of the company policy but were enforced by a supervisor, usually to the detriment of the policy holders. For example, service reps were not allowed to suggest medical services to clients unless they specifically asked about them even if their policies covered them.

Find an approach that works for you and for the leaders of the business units. In other words, ask the business-unit head how best to learn about the environment. Don't just focus on what's easy for you. This phase of the process is as much about making yourself a familiar and friendly face in the organization as it is about learning the business. It doesn't pay to irritate executives this early in the process.

Meeting Leaders at Rockwell Collins

Within two weeks of our arriving at Rockwell Collins in June 1998, we met with all fourteen business-unit leaders and the CEO to find out how they felt about training and to explore the state of Rockwell Collins's learning process. We had long discussions about their priorities and problems, and what role training played in helping them achieve their goals. As a result of these conversations, critical issues came to light that would later become the basis of the six key goals of our strategic plan.

For example, through these meetings we discovered that:

  • Many of Rockwell Collins's units run on three shifts seven days a week but training was offered from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., Monday through Friday only.

  • There was no consistency in the processes used by project managers because they weren't getting project-management training and certification.

  • The training that was offered was not considered applicable to employees ' business needs and specific job tasks .

  • Training was needed at the worksite, but because all of the training was classroom based, anyone outside of the Cedar Rapids office ”60 percent of the employees ”had to travel to Cedar Rapids for training.

  • Senior people who'd been with the company for decades were retiring in masses, and their expert knowledge was not being captured for future employees.

This anecdotal evidence suggested that the training department was internally focused and explained why the business units didn't hold the training department in high esteem. This data showed that in order for the learning to have any relevance and value, it had to be linked directly to Rockwell Collins's business goals. It also showed us that learning needed to be as close to the work environment as possible; the level of quality needed to be increased; and learning and development activities needed to be accessible to Rockwell Collins's 17,000 employees worldwide, twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.

At this point in the process these were theories . It would take a great deal more research and several interviews to support this evidence before we built the plan.