Posts Tagged ‘client’

So tell me what you need, what you really, really need

Monday, April 25th, 2011

I’m all for the phrase “Make it happen”, but we always have to be clear on the ‘it’. Sometimes organisations are so keen to make ‘it’ happen, the priority can become “Make something happen” which can often be one step forward and two steps back. It can also damage relationships and cause waves in previously tranquil waters. And it can waste serious amounts of money.

The area of learning and development is one of the best – or worst, dependent upon how you look at it – examples of this.

I can think of several occasions where training interventions have been delivered and they have not delivered the required results in the workplace. In several of those instances the claim has been that it was “Training’s fault because they didn’t train the right things”. Hmmm. Perhaps it was, or perhaps it wasn’t. It is, however, relatively simple to introduce a process that minimises this potential and maximises the value from an organisation’s investment in learning. As with so many successful projects, the primary requirement is for the relevant people to take the required responsibility and accountability.

Learning and development professionals (the contractors) need to slow down the commissioning process. The commissioning process is the stage where the internal or external client identifies what needs to change. And this will only work if the responsibility is in the right place.

The client has to take responsibility for job descriptions, core skills and identifying individuals’ learning and development needs. The contractor’s role is to analyse the client’s needs and develop appropriate and cost-effective interventions, deliver the interventions, assess the competence of delegates and check the intervention met its stated objectives. Finally, we arrive at the evaluation of the changes in the workplace as a result of the intervention – which is the client’s responsibility.

The start of this cycle used to be called the Training Needs Analysis (TNA). However, it is increasing being broken down into two activities called the Performance Needs Analysis (PNA) and the Learning Needs Analysis (LNA). Whilst it is the responsibility of the client, the contractor needs to assist them in this process. When we are closely involved in matters, we often lose our objectivity and sometimes make assumptions – this is what can happen for a client and so we need to help them avoid this by taking them through a structure process.

This process can be as detailed as everyone wants to make it. Having said that, if learning and development professionals use too complex a process, they will lose credibility with the client. The complexity of the process should also be driven by the size of the audience – in other words, if 20 people need to improve their performance in a particular area, the process should be less arduous than if 2,000 people require it – but both require a process to ensure we make the right thing happen.

As a start, I use seven questions. These are:

  1. What is the identified performance need?
  2. Why is a solution required (how will it add value, and what would happen if it did not exist)?
  3. How will the solution improve the organisation’s performance against its identified goals?
  4. Which organisational competencies does the solution aim to address and to what level?
  5. What are the target staff groups /  teams / Departments for this solution?
  6. How will the effectiveness of the solution be measured in the workplace?
  7. What are the clearly stated, measurable objectives for the solution?

From experience, I know that these questions can come across as threatening to clients. This is particularly the case in immature organisations – in other words, organisations where discussions around learning and development activities are often packaged in terms of the client stating they want a course on a particular aspect, rather than rational, objective and meaningful discussions between the client and contractor on what they need to achieve together.  Consequently, my preferred approach is to let the client have the questions prior to us meeting face to face or us having a further phone conversation. This gives them the opportunity to identify what they need – what they really need.

When learning and development professionals get this process right, they are well on their way to making a meaningful impact for the organisation. They will be able to demonstrate their value in improving performance.

In my next post, I will explain a little more about each of these seven star questions – and why, when you have completed the process, you need to get your sponsor’s sign-off.

Paul