Another client group had heard of the training program that Jeff’s team had run a few months earlier. Believing he had learned his lesson, he was not about to enter into negotiations for delivering a program without ensuring he understood the potential impact and how the result would be measured. There was one piece missing though – how ready were the clients for the training?
A learning leader knows how ready his/her training team is to take on new work. But how ready is the client for the training?
Why does it matter?
Has this ever happened to you?
- The product, system or competencies have not yet been built, identified or validated but the training delivery dates have been set.
- During the design phase, no SMEs are identified or available and the sponsor doesn’t have time to meet.
- Training day has arrived and the majority of people in the classroom have no idea why they’re there.
All of these issues place an unfair burden on the training team to cover more of the change process than is ideal.
Training fits nicely into a change continuum; optimally quite late in the process. The training team should be involved as early as possible, but training should happen near the end when brainstorming meetings, product reviews, roles and responsibilities have been sorted through and a strong communication strategy has been launched and embedded.
The ideal “trainee” knows what is changing, why and what their new role entails. Training is then, and only then, optimally poised to deliver powerfully.
So how can you better prepare for this ideal outcome?
I am a believer in Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for training. The SLA will lay out the expectations for both sides and is a good discussion document for negotiating the terms of engagement.
It can be used as a guide or as a contract depending on how amenable your clients are but try to push for a contractual agreement.
The expectations for the client include the tangible and intangible requirements for strong training outcomes:
- Communication strategy in place
- Project plan
- Products/compentecies/systems will be completed in enough time to be integrated into the training. (We’ve found ourselves in situations when training begins the day after we received screen shots for the new system. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but the frequency should be lessened when SLAs are used at the beginning of the request)
We developed a SLA template as well as a readiness gauge.
The gauge includes a “ranking” system and depending on the rank, the training team begins design or waits until the elements are in place.
The gauge includes questions like:
- Has the object of the training (sales targets, new products, systems etc) been completed yet?
- Is there existing documentation of the new service/system/product or do these have to be created as well?
- Have SMEs been identified to verify accuracy and provide input?
- Is there a clear sponsor?
- Have the potential participants been communicated to regarding the changes?
We’ve taken a stance that we will not begin to design training unless sponsorship is clear and SMEs have been identified. We will negotiate timing based on product/systems etc. launch and available documentation. And we will not begin delivery until the final question has been answered in the positive.
Sometimes circumstances change and we find ourselves a little ahead of the change process, largely due to the fact that training is so visible and supports at least a perception of progress. But as we know, it is an ephemeral win if the impact is lessened because the clients just aren’t ready for it.
It can be hard for training teams to adjust to something as formal as SLAs and readiness gauges. There is a fear we can seem pedantic and beaurocratic. As I shared with my team, think of it like hiring a contractor.
Do you really want someone to say they can complete something in two weeks if they know they can’t? How do you feel when they keep coming back at you with “Two more weeks, I swear! And by the way I need more of your money and time.” Wouldn’t you have preferred if they sat down with you professonally at the start and laid out a realistic plan?
Yes, it may be hard at the beginning but that’s what good service providers do. They bring their own expertise to the process – and that process begins before design. It begins at the request.
Using a SLA and readiness guage is an action-based way of transforming a learning culture from “order-takers” to “consultative service” and helps your programs become far more impactful. It also ensures that you are a good steward of organizational resources.
The clients were surprised at first when Jeff brought them the SLA and requested time to work through it. Jeff suspected they were a little annoyed, but by the end of the meeting, the client and training teams had had a very productive dialogue. Jeff realized that it took more tact from him so as not to make the clients feel uncomfortable when they didn’t have all of the answers, but he was there to suggest a way forward and to have his senior consultants work with the team to help them plan through the OD/change strategy first. There were bumps along the way, but having prepared by understanding the impact of training, the return expected and the readiness of the organization, he believed he was in a much stronger position to lead the negotiations upfront and ensure a more successful outcome.