By Giselle Springer Douglas, Senior Manager, Sales Enablement and Development, Parallels, Inc.
Most of us wouldn’t tell our doctor that we can run a CAT scan or interpret lab results. This is because we readily respect the esoteric nature of the medical profession. But it’s likely that, at some point in your career, you’ve heard someone say something like, “I conducted training a few times in my last job, so I know how to train.” Possibly the most egregious of these types of statements I’ve heard is from a manager who, in my first week on the job as a Training manager, quipped, “Let’s face facts, training isn’t difficult; anyone can do it.”
It isn’t statements from, say, a technical support engineer that they’ve done training and, therefore, presumably, are training experts that are themselves the problem—the problem lies in the underlying perceptions those who make these statements have about the training profession. Such perceptions undermine both the credibility and effectiveness of the profession.
When you see a doctor for the first time and she tells you should cut back on salty foods, you don’t question the veracity of the advice. You respect the commitment the medical professional made to years of focused study, and the likely many years of experience she has practically applying knowledge and theory in the real world to, one would assume, good result. The trusting relationship built on an automatic respect for the background and skills a doctor brings makes working with him or her as a partner committed to your betterment all the easier and more efficient, since you need not fight through many rounds of “Prove You’re Worthy” to work together effectively to solve your health problems. So, too, should the relationship be between learning professionals and their clients.
How Dismissive Attitudes Affect Us
A typical training job description might ask for a number of years of experience successfully applying Adult Learning Theory, advanced proficiency in the use of applications such as Captivate and PhotoShop, and the ability to design and deliver curriculum in various modalities to audiences large and small. So the dichotomy between being hired as a competent professional and having your experience and skills dismissed as commonplace is all the more perplexing and vexing.
The problem here is this: How can you convince stakeholders that you can design innovative training programs specifically targeted at solving organizational problems, and that push the company closer to achieving its mission and vision, if it’s perceived that your next door cube neighbor, or house neighbor, or Sally in Accounts Receivable who once, last year, trained her department on how to use the new invoicing system, could easily step into the role and achieve the same results?
Solving the Problem
Let’s work on nipping this problem in the bud. This will save you and your clients time and heartburn since you can start off your relationship from a consultative partner standpoint, and right away do what you do best: resolve key organizational problems with innovative and effective training solutions.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Become a Training Cartographer: Whether you’re a training manager, instructional developer, or training coordinator, use the creativity inherently required in your role to formulate a clear vision that will inform the programs and initiatives you will roll out or contribute to, to meet the needs of your clients and forward specific business goals.
Training a sales team? Your approach in this case might be to provide short, punchy training “sessionlets” that cover three key points per session, say, and, thereby, maximize learner benefit in the shortest period of time. In this way, eager sales professionals can take the chunks of information learned and head back to the field to do their job even better than before. I’m willing to bet a bottom-line-focused sales executive could easily see the wisdom in this approach and would be more apt to sign off on initiatives aligned with it.
And therein lies the underlying benefit of having at least a sketched plan of attack: When your stakeholders buy into stratagems that, of course, align with their goals, your job is made easier because it is presumed you know well the lay of the land and are guiding them down the path rather than the other way around.
2. Take a Programmatic and Systems Approach: Often, training requesters ask that you create a training module or session aimed at solving a particular hot-button issue. When you throw training at problem ad hoc, you risk being perceived as a factory line worker, assembling one training widget after another, rather than as a visionary business partner—using your expertise to devise solutions for the long-term.
To accomplish the latter, view training needs from a long-range and holistic standpoint. Answer these questions: Does this new training align with the selected strategy and, when looking at the overall training program, into which specific initiative does this new training fit? If you or your stakeholders can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, then rethink what type of training truly is needed.
3. Push Back: Don’t be afraid to clarify when there are misconceptions about what you do. For instance, if you find yourself regularly being asked to type up a form or create a PowerPoint presentation, if it’s not germane to the training materials you’re developing or you are not working in an administrative assistant capacity, you can explain that the requester can be better served working with someone more suited to the task—someone who can provide the specific skills needed to execute that task efficiently.
Now it isn’t that administrivia is beneath you; it’s that your Microsoft Word and PowerPoint expertise should be applied toward the advancement of your program and its initiatives (see points 1 and 2 above).
This advice is not meant to encourage pomposity or posturing—quite the contrary. It’s meant to put you in the best position to hit the ground running as an effective business solutions partner—encountering the least productivity-killing resistance on your path to forwarding your client-focused training agenda.
Giselle Springer Douglas is a training professional with more than a decade of experience developing training programs, curricula, and content for companies such as UCLA, Microsoft, and Viacom. Presently, she is the senior manager of Sales Enablement and Development at Parallels, Inc., a Seattle-based software company. She also currently is completing a doctoral program in organizational leadership at Northeastern University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.