Recently the question was broached: “What I would ask a department head regarding their learning needs if I had the opportunity to be alone with them?” I have many such opportunities, from department heads to the C-Table, and some have turned out better than others. My experiences have taught me that the L&D person fits consistently into one of following three potential scenarios.
The Order Taker
It wasn’t that long ago when a meeting with the Training department meant a department was in dire need of “emergency” training. Usually this important (cue red, flashing lights and loud ringing bells) training was to patch or repair an operational issue gone amok and the department head - at the end of their rope - determined that training was the only solution, the last resort.
The Training Manager, always responding as a “team player”, dutifully took the order - maybe knowing, maybe not - that the end result will not be to their liking; yet as a ‘support person’ our role was not to challenge, but to provide. Would they like coffee and donuts with that?
The Fortune Teller
Fast forward a few years, a meeting with the Training department meant a department head still looking for answers. They wanted help, but didn’t know what questions to ask. So they listened and trusted – at first. Training departments everywhere went to the “Leap of Faith” school of development. We looked into our crystal balls and said, “Trust us, we see your future and it looks bright and successful.”
Disciples of Obi Wan Kenobi waved their hand in front of department heads across the country and said “Don’t worry, we understand your problems and we will provide a solution as we see best – trust us! All over this land, Department Heads hid in the shadows trying to avoid the training department. Worse yet, they didn’t acknowledge training as a valuable resource, so we weren’t invited to the planning sessions at the Star Base.
Enter the 21st century – a meeting with a department head now requires Learning and Development to engage in a heart to heart conversation about the business. What are the goals? What is the strategy? How does your business operate now as you’re trying to achieve those goals? How should it be operating? As consultative salespeople, we want the purchaser (the department head) to get excited about the value of what they are buying, to fully understand the need for the purchase, and realize the solution they are striving for is within their reach.
As the buyer, are they willing to be active owners? Consultative salespeople want to be partners because they know partnering brings improved results. In return, the purchaser will have high expectations of the solution; they will look for performance that matches and lives up the conversation that sold them on the solution in the first place. And that’s okay L&D’ers because you created alignment and you are now armed with the correct knowledge to make their program successful.
Take a Look at Yourself
Take a hard look at yourself - Who are you? What are your goals? What is your strategy? Are you an order taker, a fortune teller, or salesperson? You may convince yourself that it’s okay to be an order-taker or a fortune teller…some of the time. But I ask you, is it?
Shannon Tipton, PHR, manages the Learning and Development department of Ambius, a global company specializing in Enhancing the Workplace. She has been an L&D professional for over 15 years with experiences ranging from the hospitality to restaurant industries. While her specialty is helping organizations start their own learning cultures, she is also passionate about the use of blended learning techniques not to just lower the cost of the learning experience, but to improve and enhance it - Building a Community of Practice for the learner. Shannon currently resides in Antioch IL with her family and has her BA in Organizational Development. You can find Shannon on Twitter as @stipton.