Take It for a Test Ride


Take It for a Test Ride

When you've created a presentation that you think tells your story with impact and imagination , deliver it to several people who will give you a brutally honest opinion. Again, this is a point at which an outside consultant can add valuable insight to your process. If you don't use a consultant, at least go outside the training department. Find someone you trust, a leader who doesn't instantly understand the benefits of training, and test the soundness of your case. Ask this person to stop you when you use training jargon, or when you make assumptions that don't connect with the needs of your intended audience. Ask this person to rate the presentation and point out where you can improve, where you could make clearer connections to the business goals of the company, and what points you should sell harder or with different emphasis.

Based on the feedback we got when we delivered our initial presentation to inside supporters and our consultants , we changed our approach slightly. We added more Rockwell Collins vernacular and put the plan in a context that would be familiar to people in the business of aeronautics. For example, Rockwell Collins's people refer to a budget as the Annual Operating Plan and budgeting as the AOP Process. Using this sort of jargon incorporated familiarity into our pitch. This can be especially difficult if you are new to the organization.



Hit the Road

When your pitch has been honed and your business case is complete, it's time to take the show on the road. Begin by pitching to senior management, because they control the budget. This is not a one-time event to be delivered in front of a group of executives. You need to meet with each executive one on one to sell your case directly to them, asking for their verbal support before your presentation is over. By meeting each leader individually, you can focus on that person and his or her needs and get an accurate feel for that person's support for and reaction to your plan. If you stand up in front of a group of executives, you won't know who truly supports you and who's nodding along while quietly disagreeing with everything you say.

This is not a place to cut costs either. Even if your managers are all over the world and you have budget constraints, don't skip the road show. You can't sell this project on a conference call; you need face time. Spend the time and money to meet with every senior person, even if it means you have to delay implementation. Their support is critical for success of the project. You will not be able to implement at all without their backing.

Set aside at least one hour to meet with each of them, and expect to spend twice that much time. If they support you, they will want details and will take the time to hear what you've got to say. Also, don't be intimidated by people raising objections during your presentation. Objections are a sure sign that someone is engaged. Their sitting silently and staring at you with poker faces is far more deadly than their raising objections.

At that time at Rockwell Collins, the training budget was a line item on the budgets of each business unit, so securing support from every unit manager was critical. They made the decision as to whether or not their training dollars would be contributed to the support of Project Oasis, so we had to be sure we won everyone's approval.

We began with the vice president of human resources; HR was our business unit, so we needed his backing to take our presentation out to the rest of the company. Then we met with fourteen other senior executives before meeting with the CEO of the company. These meetings were scheduled over four months beginning in March 1999.

While every executive was interested in the overall success of the company, each one had a different perspective and a unique set of priorities. To address those interests, every presentation had two distinct parts : the value of our plan to the enterprise and to the individual business units or functions. We didn't talk about tactics or technology or the alignment model, although those things were represented in our business case. We stuck to our primary agenda ”to communicate at a high level the impact that becoming a learning organization would have on the success of the business. We stayed focused on the front end of the process, tying our strategic plan to the business goals of the company.

To be sure we made the greatest impact on each individual's personal interests, before each one-on-one meeting we went back over the notes taken in the original interviews with these executives. This is why it's important to take notes when you meet with key people, so you can replay their exact words back to them, discussing in detail their concerns and your plans to address them. This will have a pro-found impact on their respect for you and your project.

We were able to go back and review what each executive's concerns were and work them into our presentation. On the fly, we incorporated key issues that had come up, rephrasing actual quotes back to their speakers . We were also able to take their needs and tie them into the larger vision of becoming a learning organization in a way that they might not have been able to articulate originally.

For example, when we met with the vice president of operations, we addressed how we planned to capture the knowledge of retiring baby boomers . We outlined the QuickLearns process and the importance of capturing and disseminating these competencies. We showed an example of what QuickLearns would look and feel like. We talked in terms of speed and usability, along with the costs associated with capturing and not capturing these competencies.

This not only tied the presentation to the individual needs of the audience but also showed them that we had been listening to their problems and that this plan had been crafted as a direct result of requests they had made. It created a sense of responsibility for the project, adding to their willingness to support us.

It also encouraged them to brainstorm new needs. In our initial executive interviews, many managers were too skeptical of our abilities or unable to articulate their needs in a way that allowed us to create solutions for their problems. But, once they heard our strategic plan, ideas started popping into their heads. During many of these initial presentations, managers brought up other problems, asking for our help. For example, during one of our presentations the vice president of engineering brought up a new problem that was affecting his product-design success rate. An unacceptable percentage of products were failing post-design tests because, he believed, the engineering designers were missing a fundamental knowledge. It hadn't occurred to him that this was a training issue until we showed him the connection between training and the business. It was as a result of this conversation that our team uncovered the knowledge gap of engineers surrounding electromagnetic interference and later created a custom course that eliminated the problem.

Issues like this one came up in almost every presentation, which showed us that our audience was beginning to understand how training could affect their performance rates. It was a good indicator that our team was on the right track and that the presentation and plan would get us the results Rockwell Collins needed.