Brass tacks: Is it a training issue or not?

L&D leaders, tell me if you’ve been here:

Manager/Leader/SME: It’s a training issue…

You: *cringe* (internal monologue – or possibly out loud if you’re reading it in an email) THIS IS NOT A TRAINING ISSUE!!!

I know I’ve been there! One time, after hearing a petition for mandatory all-employee annual training to address an issue that affected less than 10 employees, I was told by a higher-ranking leader, “You sound like you don’t want to help me,” quickly followed by, “I’ve already talked to (insert names of several higher-ranking leaders) and they’re on board with my training plan, so why don’t you just try it my way this time?”

(To which my inner monologue replied: I don’t tell you how to do your job, so please don’t tell me how to do mine…)

Of course, I didn’t say that – instead, I put on my collaborative, problem-solving hat and got to work. I assured him that my job IS to help. I asked questions that got to the root of the problem. I did a little digging to confirm that what was currently being trained was accurate and that procedures hadn’t changed. I worked with my team to review the data and make some recommendations.

The verdict? It was not a training issue.

We agreed on a course of action that involved communication, manager coaching and a bit of remediation for the affected employees. There was simply a disconnect for most (and a bit of laziness from others). My colleague was happy, employee performance improved, processes were followed more efficiently. The heavens parted and the angels sang.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit much. But leaders, you know what I’m saying. How awesome is it when we can help the business function more smoothly? When we can enable employees to be successful in their roles? When we can align our work to business results?

In this case, it wasn’t a training issue. But sometimes it is, and here’s the rub:

So often, when we are presented with “It’s a training issue” from a colleague, leader or SME, our knee-jerk reaction is to assume that it’s not.

Without realizing it, those knee-jerk reactions can affect our relationships with those colleagues, leaders and SMEs. They almost expect us to push back before hearing their side of the situation, making us all defensive. And instead of asserting our credibility on what is or is not a training issue, we can chip away at it.

In the book and training Fierce Conversations, author Susan Scott states, “We make being right more important than being curious.” One more time:

We make being RIGHT more important than being CURIOUS.

Being curious is what leads to a deeper understanding of the business, to more collaborative partnerships and a more efficient path to a solution.

I experienced this firsthand recently. I received an email from a colleague who had been in a meeting (which neither I, nor anyone else on my team, had been invited to), where various “training issues” were discussed. Suppressing my initial skepticism, but recognizing my colleague’s earnest defensiveness, I agreed to meet and discuss these issues further. After asking a few questions, it was clear that it was a training issue – one that my team would need to explore and address.

If I had responded to that request without curiosity, the problem would continue and likely escalate. The SMEs involved might be urged to go rogue to create their own content or solutions, driving a wedge in the relationship with our team – which might prevent them from seeking our involvement with future issues.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks: How are you building a bridge, rather than a barrier, with your stakeholders when they come to you with a perceived “training” issue?

Start by being curious – resist the urge to immediately jump into solutioning mode (even if it’s an issue you’ve experienced before) – and simply listen. There are a lot of resources on the market, but here are a few questions I like to ask to jump start the dialogue and get stakeholders talking:

  • What issues are the affected employees/customers experiencing?
  • Who are the affected employees? What are their roles?
  • How is this affecting employee performance or productivity?
  • How long has this issue been taking place?
  • Has the procedure/process changed recently?
  • What have you tried so far?
  • How are employees’ work responsibilities affected by this?
  • What resources are currently available?
  • What is at stake if behaviors don’t change?
  • What else can you tell me about the issue?
  • And what else?
  • And what else? (Yes, ask it again!)

Friends, let’s make it easier for our stakeholders to do business with us. It’s not always a training issue…but sometimes it is. Regardless of the problem, let’s strengthen the partnership between Learning & Talent Development and the business and find solution…together.

Your turn: I’d love to learn about your experiences! Hop on over to TackChat to continue the conversation!

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