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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Training on a "Know the Need" Basis

it's what those your serve believe they need that really matters

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

We have all heard of secretive operations, espionage units and the like, where agents only get information on a "need to know" basis. The information they have about why they are doing things, the bigger picture, is very limited.

By contrast, in the training field we often spend a lot of time educating our clients, internal or external, about the "why" of training. We help those clients see where training could help move them toward their goals, and toward the goals their company may have for them.

Unfortunately, sometimes things seem rather obvious to us, as training professionals, that are not apparent to our clients. And when we fail to appreciate their perspective on their needs, however accurate or inaccurate their perceptions may be, we are less effective.

One common mistake is expecting those we serve to recognize their training needs the same way we do. You really cannot effectively address training directly to the needs of other departments and functions.

You can only offer training to the needs they know, or think, they have. And the universe of "needs they know about" is quite different, sometimes, from their "training needs" as we may see them.

This mismatch, this inequality of these two "sets" of training needs can not only create challenges for both you and your clients. It can lead to considerable friction as you and those you serve pursue different goals.

To start with, sometimes the training department is surprised when another function does not welcome their involvement, or lightly dismisses some proposed training activity or event. In those situations, the training professionals usually have not taken the time to get the need known, if you will. They, the trainers, can see the need clearly, and they assume their client will as well. But that other department, the one that has the training need, also has a need for some education about why that is a training issue.

Just as importantly, sometimes other functions see training needs where we do not. They think it is just a question of training, but we know the real problem arises from systems, or management practices, or other factors. Training will not fix the problem.

That's a case where the client "knows" they have a training need, and we can see that they are mistaken. And it is also a case that takes a certain amount of courage to push back on a request for training. It is all too easy to just deliver the training, and it may even be good for your budget in the short term.

But it is not good for either your training function or your company in the long term.

Conversations that begin with training solutions rarely produce the best outcomes.

  1. Start by making sure you and your client have the same understanding of the problem the company is trying to fix.
  2. Based on that understanding, determine whether training is part of the solution. If it is, determine how big a part. If it is not, don't get either pushed or seduced into applying training to a problem it cannot fix.
  3. Design the details of the solution only after the problem, and the appropriateness of training, are agreed to.

It can be hard to turn down opportunities to deliver training, just as it is frustrating when you see training needs that are not being addressed. Some patience and communication can get you through either situation, to the benefit of the organization as a whole.

© 2011 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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