Dick Handshaw, President at Handshaw, Inc., is a consultant, speaker, author, and champion for real innovation and quality in instructional design. He is a pioneer in the field, with more than 35 years of experience as a learning and performance improvement professional and entrepreneur. Dick has served as a consultant for many organizations to help them establish a results-oriented learning strategy, methodology, and practice.
Finally, it’s the day of the big training launch. You’ve used every bit of adult learning theory, creative talent, and design experience to create a training program that will knock it out of the park. You did a thorough analysis, followed ADDIE to the letter, and tested and verified that your training is going to meet every objective the business leader set out at the beginning of the project. But, from your seat in the back of the room your excitement quickly turns to dread as you realize the students simply aren’t connecting with the material like you thought they would. You did EVERYTHING right! What happened?!
The problem is that you let the business leader set your program objectives. Gasp! “But isn’t that their job?” you ask.
Well, in theory, yes. The business leader’s job is to identify the problem, do a root cause analysis, and come to you with a full understanding of how providing training to their employees can contribute to the solution. But let’s face it, all too often that’s not what happens.
Learning to Influence Without Authority
What often happens is the business leader has a performance issue with their staff and wants to train them to do a better job. But what if training isn’t the answer? What does an Instructional Designer do then? It’s not your job to tell the business leader how to run their department, right?
Instructional Designers should be designing to solve a business problem, and in order to get the heart of that problem they must also sometimes act as a Performance Consultant. A successful training program is one that changes behavior, imparts knowledge and skills, and meets a business need. If you’re designing to the wrong objectives, your training will fail, ADDIE notwithstanding. So give yourself permission to design successful training.
Many Instructional Designers are intimidated at the thought of pushing back on the business leader’s training solution. At many companies, it’s not appropriate to tell a business leader how to run the business. When the success of your training is on the line, you can’t wait for permission to speak up.
Use your knowledge of analysis to get into the business area and verify that the business leader’s assumptions about the solution are correct. Identify the pain points and if you find issues that training won’t fix such as broken processes, document them. You can document the issues and let the business leader decide how to resolve them, or suggest resolutions yourself. And now comes the hard part. You’re “just” an Instructional Designer. How do you get the business leader to listen to you?
Influencing without authority is a skill that you can develop just as you developed your instructional design skills. The business leader thinks they want training. But what they really want is for you to solve the performance problem they’re having with their staff. Clearly articulate the pain that they’re feeling and follow it up with a solution that provides the desired end result. They need to understand immediately that your solution will free them from the pain of the performance problem. If you like that “light bulb” moment when the students get the concept you’re teaching them, you’ll love it when the business leader realizes you have found out how to make the pain go away.
You can read more of Kelly’s work at EffectiveTrainingDesign.com and RedFeatherNetworking.com