The spinach in your smoothie…

A lesson I learned a long time ago is that Talent Development – or Training, L&D, or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days – is a support department. We exist to help organizations operate with improved performance, more efficiency, safer conditions, better service…and countless other priorities, but these tangible examples are usually toward the top of most lists.

As a support role, we’re not (or shouldn’t be) in the business of saying no. However, it’s not usually a simple yes, either. That’s why needs assessments happen, but that’s a different post.

Recently, I was having coffee with a department leader about an “urgent” need for training (you’ve had those requests before, right?). As we discussed the request, I quickly learned it was primarily based on a gut-feel and not on any hard performance data. It occurred to me that there was, indeed, a problem to solve – and it would be up to my question-asking skills to figure it out.

After some discussion, I learned that through some observation, managers had noticed that some new employees didn’t seem comfortable cross-selling products and services in their frontline customer service role. Selling is not a primary expectation, but after a few months on the job, it’s encouraged. Most of these new employees were hired externally into this entry level, yet complex, role.

In our service-minded business, we often hire new employees who come to us from roles in retail or hospitality because of their customer service passion and experience. As we sat there in the coffee shop, I encouraged this leader to look over at the young woman behind the counter.

“Do you see that gal over there?” I asked. “Imagine she was just hired and will start working at our company next week. What does she currently know about our products and services?”

“Probably nothing,” my colleague replied.

I went on to share that even with our robust onboarding program, on-the-job training and lots of repetition, it would take awhile before she would truly feel in her element working with our customers, building confidence with our products and services and reach a point where she would feel comfortable enough to make recommendations…

A light bulb went off – she hadn’t thought of it that way. What followed was a wonderful discussion about the importance of managers who regularly coach and support their new and existing emloyees, provide rich feedback and ensure that employees know how to access their resources. And, when appropriate, participate in training to learn new skills needed for the job.

Talent Development leaders, it’s our job to help our organizational leaders see the value of learning, development and performance…beyond training. Learning is abundant – it happens every day, through shared experiences, coaching, relationships, practice…and even making some mistakes.

Improved performance is like a smoothie – it’s rich, fruity, delicious and incredibly satisfying. We need to be sneaking a handful of spinach into that smoothie to boost its value and nutrients by:

  • Asking good questions through a needs assessment to determine root issues
  • Staying aligned to business objectives and priorities to ensure the content adds value
  • Following sound instructional design principles to develop meaningful, relevant content
  • Preparing training staff, SMEs and leaders to deliver, coach and support with confidence
  • Measuring the success of content and auditing it regularly

The more “nutritious” the process…the better the outcome!

Your turn: What are you sneaking into your smoothies? How are you adding value and sharing your expertise when those vague training requests hit your inbox?

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