Recently the question was broached: “What would I discuss with a department head regarding their learning needs if I had an opportunity to get them one-on-one?” I have many such opportunities, from department heads to the President of our organization, and honestly some conversations have turned out better than others. The real question is what kind of Learning and Development person are you? This usually dictates how the conversations are going to flow and my experiences have taught me that an L&D person fits consistently into one of following three potential buckets.
It wasn’t that long ago (and is still happening in Training Departments everywhere) when a meeting with the Training Manager meant a business unit or department was in dire need of “emergency” training. Usually this important (cue red, flashing lights and loud ringing bells) training was to patch or repair an operational issue gone amok and the department head – at the end of their rope – determined training was the only solution, the last resort.
The Training Manager, always responding as a “team player”, dutifully took the order – maybe knowing, maybe not – that the end result will not be to their liking, would not provide the solution they were looking; yet as a ‘support person’ our role was not to challenge, but to provide. Would they like coffee and donuts with that? I was once told directly by an Operations Manager after I provided my opinion on a business issue, that I was “just training” not operations so I wouldn’t understand. Wow. If that’s not a motivator to get out of order-taker mode, I don’t know what is.
There are evolved department managers that actually want a meeting with the Training Manager because they were looking for help, looking for answers. Unfortunately, they didn’t know what the real issue was so they made a blanket statement, “We have a customer service problem”. Enter the wise Training Manager. So the department manager listened and trusted – at first. Training departments everywhere went to the “Leap of Faith” school of development. We looked into our crystal balls and said, “Trust me, I have something shiny in my bag of tricks perfect for your problem!”
Disciples of Obi Wan Kenobi waved their hand in front of the department manager’s eyes and said “Don’t worry, I understand your problems and I will provide a solution as I see best – trust me! As a result, all over this land, department managers are hiding in the shadows trying to avoid the Training Manager and their warm and fuzzy, unproven, training initiatives. Worse yet, they stopped acknowledging training as a valuable resource, training was the department that provide promises and games but no real solutions and therefore we stopped being invited to the planning sessions at the Star Base. Although we were asked to set up the PowerPoint presentation and buy the bagels and coffee.
Enter the 21st century – a meeting with a department head now requires Learning and Development to engage in a heart to heart conversation about the business. To go back to the question at the beginning of this post, “What would I discuss with a Department Head if I had a one-on-one opportunity?” I wouldn’t talk about anything, but I would ask a lot of fact finding questions. What are the goals of your department? What is the strategy for accomplishing those goals? How does your department operate now versus how it needs to operate to achieve those goals? How do your department goals fit into the overall business strategy? Learning and Development needs to evolve into consultative salespeople. Learning Rebels everywhere need the purchaser (the department head) to get excited about the value of what they are buying (because face it, we are trying to “sell” a service). We want them to fully understand the need for the purchase, and realize the solution they are striving for has great potential for success. We are not trying to fit them for a Ferrari if in fact they want to go off-roading in a Chevy.
Just as importantly, a consultative Learning Rebel understands that as the buyer, is the department head willing to be active owners? Consultative salespeople want to be partners because they know partnering brings improved results. In return, the purchaser will have higher expectations of the solution; they will look for performance that matches and lives up the conversation that sold them on the solution in the first place. And that’s okay Learning Rebels because you created alignment and you are now armed with the correct knowledge to make their program successful.
Take a Look at Yourself
Take a hard look at yourself – Who are you as an L&D person? What are your goals for your organization? What is your strategy for helping your business to succeed? Are you an order taker, a fortune teller, or consultant? You may convince yourself that it’s okay to switch hit to be an order-taker and/or a fortune teller…some of the time. But I ask you, is it?