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21 Questions to ask before Designing Any Training Program – part 3

This the third and final installment of a series on how to conduct an easy needs assessment.

Performance problems can be caused by a myriad of things; perhaps your organization has undergone a downsizing, or perhaps a department is understaffed or their equipment is unreliable.  Unfortunately many managers and organizations assume that poor performance is directly linked to a lack of skill or knowledge which can be solved by training.  In my 20 plus years of consulting experience, I’ve found that what is initially presented as a training problem is often something else entirely.

Before embarking on any training program it is imperative that a needs analysis is conducted in order to pinpoint the exact cause of poor performance and to ascertain if the poor performance can be solved by applying training.  Unfortunately, most organizations skip the needs analysis, assuming that they already know the cause.

The following 21 questions will help you to pinpoint the true cause of a performance problem and also help with the design process by ascertaining what training truly needs to be created.  Ask these questions of the individual in the organization who is requesting that you design and develop a training program to address an assumed training issue.

15. What’s most important to you in solving this problem: quality, speed, cost?

If you have ever taken a project management course you know that there are three factors always in play in project management: quality, speed, and cost.  You cannot have all three.  The same is true in training.  If a training program is to be created and delivered within a short time frame (speed is most important) it will require a good deal of money to make it happen and it’s possible the quality will suffer.  But the same token a quality job will require time and money.  By asking the project requestor which is most important, you will have a good understanding of where to apply your efforts.

16. What resources can you give me to assist with this?

This question is intended to test the commitment of the project requester.  Too often you’ll find that the requester is trying to make his or her training problem your problem.  There’s only so much that you can do in your role as a trainer; so by asking what resources the project requester is willing to commit, you have an understanding of how much that individual is willing to invest in the success of the training.  It’s possible you may need an office in their facility, or access to an internal database, or access to subject matter experts, etc. Think about what resources you would need to be successful and ask for them early in the process.

17. Who will give their sign off / blessing on the final design of the training?

Every once in a while you will discover that the person who is requesting the training is not ultimately the decision maker.  It’s important to discover early-on who the individual with final authority is.  I once worked with the Director of Operations to develop new hire training for a 15-store retail organization.  We spent over 40 hours each creating content and materials only to be told, when we presented them to the Vice President of Operations, that we had taken them entirely in the wrong direction.  Who would have thought that the Director of Operations didn’t know what the organization was trying to achieve?  Now I always ask, “Who will ultimately approve this training?”

18. Are there other industries or companies that you know of, experiencing the same problem?  Do you know how they are addressing it?

I find it hard to believe that most organizational needs are so unique that no one else has dealt with them in the past.  Again, try to avoid reinventing the wheel, check with your industry association and/or your competitors to see if they are also experiencing the same need. In a best-case scenario you may be able to purchase or license something they have already created.  As an example, the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association created a stellar forklift-safety video-training program and sold it from their association website for a mere $99.

19.  What is the life expectancy of this course?

Will the course be a one time offering?  Will it be quarterly?  Will it be delivered on a weekly basis?  The shelf life of the training will require extra effort when considering how the program will need to be maintained.  Are there government regulations that will periodically need to be checked and updated?  Are there forms that may become obsolete?  Will trainers change and therefore the leader materials must be exceptionally detailed? Knowing the shelf life of the training program will influence your design approach.

20.  How will this new knowledge / skill be reinforced once the training is over?

Remember, you can only do so much as the trainer; eventually the trainees must go back on the job and start deploying their new knowledge and skills.  Since no one will ever leave a training program having mastered what they were taught, there is a period of time on-the-job when the training must be either reinforced or an ease-in period allowed for.  One organization attempted to change the way that their salespeople answered the phone.  Unfortunately the managers didn’t go to the training and didn’t really didn’t see a need for changing the way the phone was answered; within a week the salespeople were back to answering the phone the “old way” and the training program and the trainer were implicated in this failure.

21.  How will we know when the problem has gone away?  What do you want to see change / done differently?

Beware of the requestor who says (or implies) “I don’t know what I want, but I know it’s not this.”  If they don’t know what improved performance looks like you certainly will not envision it.  Without a clearly defined performance turn-around, how will you know when you’ve achieved it?  Don’t accept a training assignment from someone who’s essentially telling you, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

One of the issues that we as trainers have faced for decades is our inability to truly identify the value we return to the organization.  By finding out the answers to these 21 questions, which can be achieved in a conversational way in about an hour, you will be in a much better position to create and offer training initiatives that will clearly return business results to your organization.