Transform Learning and Development Staff into Learning Consultants


Transform Learning and Development Staff into Learning Consultants

At the root of the learning- related problems in Rockwell Collins was the dizzying gulf between the learning and development department and the rest of the organization. The learning and development department's role was to provide training solutions upon request with no discussion of need or core business goals. There was little interaction between the learning staff and the rest of the company, and, as a result, training was happening when training was not the solution, and when it was needed it was either inconvenient, subpar, or nonexistent.

In our plan, the learning and development staff would refocus on the front end ”identifying need based on ability to perform tasks and determining whether training could close the gap between the place where a segment of the population was and the place where it needed to be.

But they couldn't accomplish this goal in the roles they held at that time. We needed to migrate their focus and presence into the business units, where they would interact with and learn about training needs directly from the employees and managers of the company.

To do that, we redefined the roles, responsibilities, and skill sets of Rockwell Collins's training and development team. We retooled them from course schedulers to learning consultants who worked directly with the business units to determine first hand what their training needs were. They would no longer spend their days planning courses, tracking registration, and scheduling events. As learning consultants, they would spend most of their time on front-end needs analysis, locating and identifying the training needs that would affect business goals. The rest of their time would be spent working with vendors to ensure that the training solutions were performance based, were of the highest quality, and adhered to established standards.

We had a lot of conversations about how this should look. We wanted to get them out of the vacuum of the training department ”which was located miles from the main Cedar Rapids headquarters ”and into the heart of the operation. They needed to work directly with employees and managers to identify what skills and knowledge each team needed to do their jobs.

Originally we wanted to physically move them into the individual units so that they could interact directly with managers on a daily basis regarding the needs of employees. But if that were done, the learning department would be scattered , making it difficult to oversee their efforts and retain their loyalty.

Understanding group dynamics and the difficulties that can arise when people are assigned to specific teams is important. People have a hard time being a part of multiple teams ; you're either in or out and never halfway. In the end, we assigned learning consultants to a business unit or functional group and gave them responsibility for determining their assigned business training needs.

To function properly in their new role, the learning consultants had specific training needs of their own. Chris Butler worked with the teams individually and in groups to train them on how to consult internally in organizations. They needed basic consulting skills on issues such as how to ask open -ended and powerful questions, how to handle objections, and how to present solutions. If these sound like sales skills, that's because they are. Most internal consultants must use the same skill set that outside salespeople use every day. It was Sales 101, but we didn't present it as sales training. Most non-sales professionals have a pejorative opinion of salespeople. They don't want to do sales, so you need to frame the training in terms of persuasion, communication, and facilitation, or you'll lose their commitment.

Cliff Purington gave them research assignments that contributed to the content of the strategic plan and educated them on the tools and trends in the training industry. We assigned them books to read on instructional-systems design and deployment, including The Occasional Trainer's Handbook (Emergency Management Laboratory, 1992); and The Handbook for Developing Competency-Based Training Programs (William E. Blank, Prentice-Hall, 1982). We held regular discussions about the content of the books and the impact these strategies could have on Rockwell Collins's business environment. Contrary to expectations of resentment at being reeducated and given new roles and responsibilities, the Rockwell Collins learning and development staff were thrilled. They were hungry for guidance and, agreeing they needed new leadership and a different system, gladly followed the process.

Meanwhile, however, training in its original form had to be conducted . In the case of Rockwell Collins's learning and development team, that meant setting up training, fielding requests , and managing attendance. These processes made it possible for us to ease the staff into their new responsibilities and gave them ample time to get comfortable in their new roles and develop some expertise in the technology that would soon dominate the training system at Rockwell Collins. They invested much of their time researching potential tools for new learning formats. This served the dual purpose of gathering information to support our goal of converting much of Rockwell Collins's content to e-learning and educating them about alternatives to classroom-based training. The downside was that each learning consultant had to wear at least two hats ”continuing with the traditional delivery method while representing the new strategy. This was tough on everyone, especially the learning consultants who were being asked to perform many new tasks that often conflicted with the old.

To assist them in making decisions about technology-based training tools, we added a technology expert to the staff. Steve Junion joined the team, bringing with him a wealth of technical expertise and an extensive training background. If you are going to do technology-based training, it's important to add to your team a technology expert who is not a member of the IT department. You want your expert to have an allegiance to you and to the project so that the expert makes choices and suggestions for the good of the training department. An IT person will be loyal to the IT department and will prioritize that department's needs over yours.