Selling Change to Training – Please! Hurry!

This post comes from a recent experience involving the cycles of selling Change [as in new technology] to a Change Agent [known as the Training Department]. The outcome of this effort ultimately facilitated successful deployment; however, the circuitous route taken to reach that destination involved selling Change to a different client – the operational side of the business. I suspect this phenomenon had a lot to do with the solution [electronic performance support system – EPSS] not normally recognized as a “training tool” and technically, I agree that it is not. But…that is NOT the point. This was not about a new technology; it was about new methodology…and ultimately, it was about a threat to status quo at the hands of innovation.  

When do you abandon a vision? How many times can you run into a wall before deciding to stop trying to get over, under, or around it? Have you ever reached a level of frustration that caused you to ask yourself questions like these? Attempting to usher in Change, especially the kind that smacks of innovation can prompt these questions if the Change is not properly positioned. Innovation can feel threatening when introduced as new technology or new methodology. Selling Change successfully redirects emphasis from the solution to the impact anticipated from it.

The training department often has a reputation as an early adopter to new technologies like learning management systems (LMS) and learning content management systems (LCMS). Note that technologies such as these align exclusively with management and delivery of training content. Both activities reside well inside of training’s charter. What I found confounding was the resistance to Change that fell outside the “charter”. At issue was not so much that it fell outside but because the scope of training’s charter was obsolete.

I say “obsolete” from the point of view that the scope of training’s charter has not evolved to keep pace with the changes of the operational side of the business it was originally targeted to support. A perfect example is the anticipated deliverable this EPSS solution promised – effectiveness in the downstream, post-training work context. This downstream environment is “out of scope” for most training charters. The work context represents new ground with new touch points for learning application skewed by attributes of urgency and risk that do not exist in the traditional training domain. Moving from a controlled training environment to the uncontrolled chaos of an informal learning environment can be intimidating. Work is constant there. Change is constant. Demand for flawless performance is constant. Learning must be equally as constant, and that requires willingness and motivation to support Change that includes new downstream, work context thinking.

Many of us are familiar with the axiom that changing outcomes requires changing behaviors, and I believe in that statement, but changing behaviors [in this case of the training department] is not the point of entry for facilitating Change. If we do not address the core thinking that insulates current behavior, resistance to Change and aversion to innovations that fall outside existing comfort zones [scope, charter, etc.] combine to restrict meaningful Change outcomes.

Selling Change is an art form and begins at a critical starting point that leverages several Change Leadership qualities to spark new thinking. Those qualities include:

  • Influence – why new thinking is essential to success;
  • Inspiration – encourages thinking beyond status quo and beyond known criteria  that defined past successes; promotes empowerment
  • Inclusion – of thought from diverse populations of operational business and learning stakeholders; active support of and seeking governance input; and
  • Integration – of new “out of scope” thinking into expanded roles and establishing new routines that become business as usual.

Sometimes the obvious path to Change is the most difficult to navigate, and when long-held, proven methodologies are threatened, a difficult decision point is reached when a wall of resistance is encountered. In this example, the “wall of resistance” was the training department and it involved introduction of a new technology [EPSS]. My choices were –

  • Find a different path to reach the destination of choice; or
  • Consider that the original route was wrong and seek an alternative path on a different map

After putting a compelling business case on the table and after researching, benchmarking and running valid ROI projections of less than one year; the training department turned away.  At stake was the task of training over 10,000 end-users on two upgraded and one brand new, highly complex, enterprise-wide, on-line business applications. Of the two choices shown above, I chose to switch maps. I made this decision because the IT training team was convinced that performance support had no role in training, relegating it to a post-training activity. Old school thinking may well agree with this role for performance support. I feel strongly that if the learning environment has a prayer of being continuous, performance support not only has a role in training, it serves effectively AS THE TRAINING. That is a major paradigm shift from old school training methodology. EPSS technology merely greases the skids to make performance support assets accessible from inside the application with learners fully engaged in their workflows. That capability was not considered as training; hence, out of scope. [rim shot]

IT training nodded politely when I suggested that they should integrate performance support assets directly into formal training as task-level objects matched to role-specific scenarios. The wall stood firmly in place, so I reached for a different map. Switching maps did not mean abandoning the journey; instead, it meant finding a way to leverage the power of Change Leadership attributes of influence, inspiration, inclusion, and integration to help bring a decision to implement EPSS to critical mass. Of those four attributes, inclusion of a respected senior business stakeholder who “got it” played a key role when positioned as a willing sponsor to bring influence to drive new thinking. The primary driver for this influential stakeholder clearly articulated sustainable business results and the references to training were in a context of likely needing 50% less of it because of the new methodology. The sponsor provided a “voice of the client” perspective, and her deep desire for sustainable performance in the work context was her primary concern. Period.

Kicking and screaming, the training department began to examine this new EPSS beast. Not only was EPSS a new technology, but it surfaced a need for a new set of design criteria. Discovery requirements expanded and shifted away from linear training models, which in turn revealed competency gaps in the existing application of ADDIE. New development tactics surfaced driving content into more granular objects that matched role-specific tasks and transactions in the new on-line systems supported. New collaborations among training designers and operational workflow/business process documentation developers surfaced. New content ownership and accountability criteria outside of training surfaced. And the list went on…but it was not more work for training, it implied different work, and in some aspects less work.

EPSS technology blew up status quo. Complications brought about by Change stemmed from the simple fact that pieces and parts of the solution did not exclusively relate to training. They were outside of training’s charter [scope] and aligned with sustaining performance in the workflow – in the work context. This technology represented something that was not part of the lexicon of training – “guidance” in the work context. Call it fingertip knowledge, or just-in-time-information, or whatever you choose, but it was not training. My fear is that if training does not step up and address this “guidance” role – who will? My prediction says the operational side of the business will, and where does that leave training?

Lesson learned?

Sell training programs and training gadgetry to training because training does training. If the “charter” does not expand, the other side of the business coin says to sell performance impact to the operational side of the business. Sell sustained capability in the work context because it directly translates to generation of tangible business value, and there is not a single CFO on the planet willing to ignore that kind of return.

Talking with operational stakeholders, I hear their dissatisfaction with training results, and slowly but surely the operational side of the business is backing off their willingness to fund training that does not bring a return in the form of tangible impact. If training is unwilling to embrace Change opportunities afforded by innovative technologies and new downstream learning paradigms, they can look forward to dwindling budgets, reduced headcount, and diminishing importance of roles as continuing trends in the not too distant future.

Training and its long-held traditions are in jeopardy, and it is time for a re-invention. We are accelerating into a time of transition, and I am willing to bet that as we come out of this recession, training’s capabilities will be stressed beyond their limits unless steps to re-invent [Change] are taken as a serious threat.

Think about it. As hiring/re-hiring begins, there will be a flood of new onboarding efforts and new training requirements. Can we continue to depend upon existing training paradigms to meet the demand? Are businesses going to operate like they did pre-recession? My guess is they will not. As business models change, so must our ability to ensure readiness in the workforce. Our traditional paradigms cannot keep pace with that kind of velocity.

In addition, businesses will purchase new technologies from the two trillion dollar stash o’ cash they have been sitting on. Will linear training paradigms effectively bring end-user populations to a state of readiness to use these new systems? Can linear design methodology meet the volume of demand that is surely coming our way? I personally do not see either happening.

No business owner wants to go back down that same road of the past. No CFO is willing to take on faith that training is going to deliver a tangible return. Every work activity, every training activity will earn a long hard look to determine if viable return is a result. Count on speed to sustained capability becoming a key success metric over the more familiar speed to competency in our existing training paradigm. Butts-in-seats and hours of training predict nothing of tangible value, only volume of activity, and that only perpetuates training’s role of cost center. Unless that changes, I predict eventual downsizing and/or disbanding of training departments with headcount assimilated by ones and twos into the operational arms of the business where focused activity on specialized learning will take place. Sure HR will keep a few core trainers but only for a handful of compliance-centric curricula.

For the record, scattering trainers into the business will not be enough either. The paradigm of re-inventing learning to facilitate downstream moments of learning need will be the new brass ring. Emphasis is going to be squarely on productivity and what information, what knowledge, what just-in-time performance support, what real-time collaboration is accessed within the context of work will combine to form the basis of the new classroom. The learning environment becomes an ecosystem of interdependent technologies and multi-faceted learning assets as resources…some human and social by nature, and some electronic. Very few of these resources populating this new ecosystem resemble the training we do today, and without aggressively building readiness necessary to embrace Change, we can only hope the circus continues to have bears that need trained.

End of rant.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning