Talking to Your People
Gathering historical and industry data is only part of the organizational-assessment process. Most of what you need to learn about your environment does not exist on paper. It exists in the minds and hearts of your people. Along with hard statistics, you need to gather their stories, opinions , and ideas. You need to get inside their heads to find out how they feel about learning in general, about your training offerings in particular, and about the organization's approach to learning and the value it places on educating employees . Do this through focus groups, surveys, and formal and informal interviews.
The more you communicate with your people, the more accurate, honest, and robust your data will be and the more buy-in you will get when implementation time arrives. People will remember you; they will see your effort, drive, and irritating determination; and they will respect you for it. They will expect great things from you, and then all you'll have to do is deliver.
After meeting with all of your executives, contact the people who report to them to ask the same questions. How do they feel about training? Do they value learning? What are their issues and challenges on the job, and how can training help them? After you've met with all of the managers, meet with employees, individually and in groups.
Remember that face time is critical, so whenever possible conduct these interviews face to face, even if it means traveling to remote offices. Take advantage of every opportunity you get to find out what people think about training, and what they want from the training department. Be aggressive in your pursuit of employees' time. If they won't come together for focus groups, go to them. Work your way into any meeting that's going on and start asking questions. Go to employee orientations to gather information about what new employees expect in the way of training. Attend staff meetings and working lunches to hear what the existing staff has to say. Use classroom time to ask people their opinions of the present training system.
After our initial interviews with Rockwell Collins's executives, we talked to employees across the organization at every opportunity to flesh out our data. We conducted formal focus group studies with hundreds of Rockwell Collins employees to record their attitudes and experiences with learning at the company. Outside of the focus group settings, we met informally with as many employees and managers as possible to discuss the state of training. Anywhere there were people gathered we were there. We made our presence known throughout the organization, developed relationships with key individuals, set expectations for change, and got everyone thinking about how training impacted their lives, careers, and ability to achieve success.
To support these discussions we also conducted a formal written survey of employees regarding their attitudes toward learning at Rockwell Collins and their readiness for change. A survey can deliver mountains of valuable data in a short amount of time, and that data will be a powerful addition to your strategic plan. High-tech organizations especially respond better to hard data than to the theories and stories that you collect from interviews. A well-crafted survey will give you the quantifiable information that will impress number- crunching decision makers .
We found most of the anecdotal data we needed through interviews with management and employees, but the survey data gave us hard numbers with which we could back up our observations. For example, we knew from talking to people that most employees had cancelled training at the last minute because of work demands, but thanks to our survey, instead of saying only that lots of employees had cancelled training, we were able to say that 92 percent of employees had cancelled training three or more times in the past year.