“Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.” Robert Half
When supervisors and program managers send out requests for training programs, they often describe the training they seek in very general terms. They will tell a training provider that they would like a program on customer service, stress management, meeting management, conflict management, or team building, etc.
They can be initially satisfied when a training provider offers a pre-designed “off-the-shelf” program. The two greatest benefits of pre-packaged programs are the facts that they save clients both time and effort. These training programs are easy to find, easy to schedule, and easy to deliver. There is no fuss, no muss, and no deep thinking required on the part of either party.
“Off-the-shelf” training programs frequently have good content and relevant learning activities. However, they have to take a very general approach in order to appeal to the largest possible audience. As a result, they are designed to cover typical topical content and concerns.
For this reason, it is difficult for these programs to ultimately be effective. This is because the organization will always have very specific needs that are not anticipated or incorporated into the program.
If you have the responsibility to find a training program for your organization, you really want to speak with a training provider who will ask you three key questions:
First: Who is the target audience?
Training has to be designed with the target audience in mind. Discussion around this question will generate vital information, such as:
a. What the demographics of the participants are;
b. How many participants will be involved;
c. How receptive the participants will be to the content;
d. What level of skill or knowledge they already have (or think they have) in this
content area; and
e. Why the learning is important to the participants from their perspective.
Second: Why do you feel that there is a need for this specific training?
The obvious problem is rarely the problem, and training may not be the solution, so this is a critical question. Discussion around this question will clarify:
a. What problems the training is intended to solve;
b. Whether these problems would be better addressed through system changes or
performance management actions, rather than through a training program;
c. What knowledge or skills need to be developed or strengthened;
d. Whether the requested training content will actually address the problem or a
different focus is necessary; and
e. Whether the people who really need the training have been identified as the
Third: What do you want the participants to know or do differently when they leave the training?
A training provider needs to both specify and manage a client’s expectations. The answer to this question will:
a. Clarify the training requestor’s specific expectations;
b. Determine the learning objectives and content for the training program;
c. Create an objective basis for measuring the effectiveness of the program;
d. Provide an opportunity to negotiate the logistics necessary to achieve these
expectations, such as the length of time, location, and schedule for the training
e. Open discussion about what training can realistically accomplish and what the
organization will need to do to reinforce the training.
Training requestors will frequently need to go back to their organizations and discuss the answers to these questions before they can have a well-informed discussion with a training provider.
Yes, this will require a greater time and effort on the part of the organization than simply using a pre-designed program. However, the organization that invests in answering these three questions will ultimately save both time and money, and set their participants up for success:
a. The right solution to the problem will be identified (which will avoid unnecessary training);
b. The right people will be in the right training program; and
c. The right knowledge and skills will be developed.
May your learning be sweet.