The details of a strategic plan will not appear to you out of thin air. If you are embarking on this process, you've made the first, most difficult step ”admitting that the learning process in your organization needs to be changed. Most organizations have enormous potential for improving their approach to training ”if they are willing to acknowledge the need to do so. You, as the training leader, are the one who needs to identify the problems and come up with an appropriate solution.
If you've gotten this far in the book, you are obviously committed to change, which is commendable. But the sheer need for change should tell you that you don't know enough about your culture or the business vision to begin writing a strategic plan that will carry you all the way to your vision of the future state of learning. Cultural research will provide you with the answers you seek.
Your job as a training leader is to provide a service to the organization and its people ”not to do what you think is best for yourself or for the learning team. To effectively fulfill your role, you need to travel outside of the training department and find out exactly what's going on in the rest of the organization. You need to explore the recent historical data regarding training and its impact on the business. You need to talk to managers about their needs, and spend time with employees so you can experience the subtle challenges they face every day and understand the competencies they need to do their jobs. This is the research that will help you build a relevant business-focused plan.
There are four reasons why the research phase is critical:
When you conduct organizational research, you will always learn new things about the culture, attitude, and needs of the people. The research phase is the time that you establish your strategies and tweak your opinions . No matter how in touch you think you are with the problems at your company, there is always something left to learn. Don't be so arrogant as to ignore this truth.
Even though you will have preconceived notions going into the research phase about the problems with your present state and the changes that need to be made, this process will garner you new and in some cases surprising data. You will inevitably discover cultural facts of which you were previously unaware. For example, in our research at Rockwell Collins, we assumed the employees would be fairly technology savvy, but focus- group studies showed a surprising degree of confusion about what e-learning was and, more important, what it wasn't. When one employee was asked if she'd like to start and stop training to meet her work needs, she replied, "Yes, but wouldn't that be disruptive to the instructor?" It was an amusing response, but it symbolized for us the true level of readiness within the population. We knew they had used only classrooms to train for fifty years , but we did not know how deeply ingrained was the belief that classrooms are the only place to learn. The data we collected from those focus groups showed what a radical change e-learning would be for this organization and prepared us for the fear and anxiety that learners would initially exhibit toward the new learning format.
Even if you are completely accurate in your assumptions about the organization, you need to do the research in order to compile hard data. Telling management that you know what's best for the company without backing it up with facts and figures will destroy your credibility and ruin your chances to proceed with the project. You need to connect your ideas to the business with appealing facts to win the support and admiration of your leaders . You need to be able to draw visual connections between your goals and the success of the organization.
You will refer to this data endlessly over the course of the learning-organization transformation. Without it, you will have only your opinions to support the plan, and no matter how valuable you think you are to the company, your opinions alone are not enough to sell this project. Too many training departments lose standing with senior management because year after year they roll out training programs that nobody attends or particularly values ”they act without looking into the needs of the business leaders in the company. Doing so is the only way to win their support and ensure that training is linked to the needs of the business.
The research phase gives you a baseline. The historical research you collect in this phase sets the standard for change. Organizations have extremely short memories. Without this baseline, which defines the amount of time and money previously spent on training each year, you will have no proof that change has occurred.
Also, if you have conducted a well-crafted, statistically valid survey, you will be able to repeat it on a regular basis and see if you're effecting the organization in measurable ways. Assuming that you are changing the culture, you will be able to point to later survey results as proof positive that your initiative is making a difference.
The research process gives you valuable face time with key executives and the masses of people who will be expected to radically change their behavior toward learning. If you invent this project in the isolation of the training department and then try to push it out to the organization, the pushback will be crushing. You cannot expect a company to absorb substantial change without notice, without its being eased into the process. Spending time in the units, talking with employees through focus groups, and meeting with executives, all serve to introduce the company to your ideas. This face time is how you show your concern for their needs. Asking about their daily challenges and their business goals empowers them with the sense that they have contributed to the strategic plan. It makes them part of the learning process and reduces the amount of pushback you will later encounter.
There is a widely held belief that employees don't like change. However, compelling research shows that most people actually crave change ”if they can be a part of the process. They don't like change when it's foisted on them and completely out of their control, which is why it is important for employees to feel as though they have input into the changes you are proposing . The more enthusiasm you can generate for the new way of learning, the more the converts will help co-opt the rest of the employees.