We talk a lot about building custom e-learning to help engage your audience, build your brand, and generally get people excited about training. All of this is important, and all of it is a part of every custom e-learning project in some way or another. But before we start choosing interface designs and naming characters, we need to start with the problem at hand.
THE BUSINESS PROBLEM
Have you heard requests like these from your internal clients?
- Sales are down for the quarter. Can you roll out a training program that will make people sell more?
- Our customers say our reps are rude. How about a customer service training initiative to help them be nicer?
- A woman found a bug in her sandwich. Build us some better training on food prep.
I bet you hear stuff like this all the time, and probably a whole bunch of weird requests, too. Here's what all of those requests have in common: they could be solved with training. Here's another thing they have in common: they could have their roots in a nest of other business issues. For example...
- What if sales are down because summer is over and no one wants to install a new pool during back-to-school season?
- Maybe customers are really expressing their rage over a slow down in shipping times.
- How do you know your lettuce vendor isn't to blame for a buggy sandwich?
CAN YOU SOLVE IT?
In all of these cases (and just about every case), it's critical to determine whether you have a problem that training can actually solve. Figuring that out can be a part of defining your success, but sometimes even defining success doesn't go deep enough to uncover an operational issue that training can't possibly overcome.
As part of our initial instructional design process, we like to learn everything we possibly can about our clients' learners, work environment, and business issues. Here are a few of our techniques that will help you dig into your clients' training needs.
1. Talk to members of the intended audience.
Your learners are a primary source of information about what's really happening in the field. Get in touch with a few of them. Hold a focus group. Buy drinks. Ask them about the problem at hand and what would help them do their jobs better. Not only will they help you understand the problem, but they'll also give you a better sense of how to design a training experience.
2. Talk to their managers.
After you've talked with the intended learner audience, hold a similar conversation with their managers. This group will be able to give you a slightly higher-level view of the problem while still having a good sense for the day-to-day aspects of the job. Find out what they wish their direct reports would do differently and what would help them be better managers.
3. Collect real stories about the business problem.
If customers say your reps are rude, get access to call center tapes and find out for yourself what those interactions sound like. When sales are down, sit in on sales conversations. Keep an objective eye on what's really happening. Once again, understanding the nitty gritty of a learner's job will directly inform the way you design a training program to help that learner.
4. Share your findings with the business leader.
Show your client that you care about the outcome of this training initiative. You could've simply sourced and deployed training with learning objectives answering the business problem, e.g. "By the end of this e-learning program, you WILL be nice to customers." But the real art and soul of building custom e-learning is getting to the root of the problem, understanding what needs to happen to fix it, and developing a training program that will change the right behaviors.
WHAT IF IT'S NOT A TRAINING PROBLEM?
Of course, it's always possible that you simply need to fire your lettuce vendor. However, when going through the process outlined above, you will almost always walk away with a rich understanding of training needs. They may not be the needs your client brought to you, but that's another conversation entirely. Care enough about your clients to look at their business problems from every angle. Care enough about learners to build something that will be genuinely helpful.