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.