None of the information gathered in these meetings was a surprise because we had already done our homework and could see the writing on the wall. It was clear from the start that while Rockwell Collins wanted to be a learning organization, it didn't have the understanding or structure to create an atmosphere where learning was a valuable element of the organization's success.
Even though we didn't learn anything new, the real value of these meetings came from the fact that we met and networked with these leaders . We established their trust and promised solutions to their problems. We gave them the chance to vent their frustrations at the training process as it existed to this point, and we got them excited about the future. Our plans sparked their interest because we made it clear that our goal was to help them achieve theirs.
We pointed out that they were paying for training out of their annual budgets and asked if it wouldn't be great if together we could use those dollars to make sweeping changes that would directly affect their rates of success. By and large they agreed.
Managers are not interested in the philosophy of training; they are interested in success rates and dollar figures. When we made connections between the two and tied our vision to managers' needs, we could not help but capture their attention and support.
At the end of each meeting we clearly established what our intentions were: to further research the state of training in the organization and to be back in three months with a strategic plan. This plan would outline how we would deliver a critical targeted training solution that would help them achieve their goals better, faster, and cheaper.
Maintaining Business as Usual
Even though there were eighteen people in the existing training department at the time we began this process, we did not involve them in these initial meetings with the executives. Because Rockwell Collins is a medium- sized organization ”17,000 employees in 63 locations ”this process was manageable without involving a team of people. A larger organization would probably require several ambassadors to conduct the meetings. However, the fewer people you involve in this step of the process, the more succinct your information will be, and the message you send will be more consistent.
Our decision to manage these meetings alone was not entirely based on company size , however. At the time we began this process, the training department at Rockwell Collins was actually part of the problem. Its members were internally focused and unorganized, and they had gone months without any leadership. Their sole job was to field requests for training and find external experts to fly in, conduct a class, and leave. There were no needs analyses conducted , no knowledge captured, and no process in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the content.
After years of delivering these random training offerings that weren't tied to any business or learning objectives, the department had an indisputable reputation as a group that spent piles of money with no accountability. The members of this group were demoralized and frustrated with their lack of power and their inability to relate to the needs of the business units.
We were new faces and we had the power to establish new, lasting relationships with leaders who had long been skeptical of the abilities of Rockwell Collins's trainers . They had no existing bias against us and were at worst suspicious of our motivation and follow-through.
Even though our goal was to completely reinvent the learning culture and offerings at Rockwell Collins, until we were able to build a plan and launch it, training as it had existed to this point had to continue. It would be months before we would be ready to implement our plan, and employees still needed training, despite the fact that the current system was fatally flawed. So instead of sending the team out to be berated and ignored, we kept them working on business as usual, using them as sounding boards to discuss the information we uncovered.
We also gave them assignments to research training technology, such as learning-management systems, e-learning courseware offerings, and live-conferencing tools. This served dual purposes: It rounded out our research for the plan, and it educated the members of the training team, who would be the ones to create and support the transformation, about the tools and techniques available in the training market.
Eventually, the training team would be brought into the process, and their roles and tasks would be reinvented, but for the time being keeping them on task while we explored the culture of Rockwell Collins was the smoothest way to begin the transformation process.
You have educated yourself about the past accomplishments, future goals, and overall vision of the company and each individual business unit. This is done by reading the business plans, vision statements, and any other historical data that will inform you not just about the training history of the company but also about the key business strategies of the company. Gathering this information will establish a base of knowledge that will buy you infinite credibility with the executives whose support you require. It doesn't take much effort and it establishes you as a knowledgeable businessperson.
You have met with every business-unit leader in your organization to introduce yourself, to share at a high level your intentions, and to ask them about their strategic goals, challenges, and concerns. These meetings lay the foundation upon which longstanding relationships with key executives will be built. These are the people who will decide whether your project thrives or fails.
Before leaving these executive meetings, you make sure every leader knows that you will be back with a strategic plan to address their needs.