Questions astronauts and trainers ask

Trainers can size up what’s needed in an intervention, just like a rocketship mission does.

I received a one-line email recently from an L&D manager. It said “Our senior managers need Quantitative Analysis training. Please revert with contents and costs”. I scrolled down to view further information, but there was none.

Granted, this one-liner probably was meant to be a conversation starter; and the sender didn’t really expect a full-fledged training proposal based on such meagre information. But it certainly gives us a chance to ponder over this question: What must the training team know, before it designs an intervention?

Effective training is like a moon-rocket: it may “look” clean and shiny, but the process that forges it is messy and iterative. It involves putting several pieces of information together, to craft something that flies straight and true, despite its complexity. I present here 7 pieces of information, that I have found most useful in my work. Allow me to continue using the moon-rocket analogy as a memory-peg.

1 – Moon-landing site (The Objective)
What should the learners know, think or do after the intervention? Often, the changes involve 3 aspects: new knowledge, attitude conducive to work and relevant skills. The answer needs to move beyond broad descriptions like “take ownership” or “inspire the department”; and include a (really short) list of visible behaviors/abilities. This provides a clear vision of where we’re headed.

2 – Launch Site (The Starting point)
What is the learners’ current level of ability? What are examples of behaviour currently observed? What are their current beliefs? What is the broader business context at the moment: organisational priorities, key initiatives, state of the business. This is important because a trainer often starts his interaction with learners by connecting at this level, acknowledging the current state and making a pact to move ahead from here.

3 – Moonwalkers (Learner profiles)
Who are the learners, exactly? What are their roles, experience, significant recent events in their careers, their place in the org-structure? How heterogeneous is the learner group? This allows the training team to give a context to the training and connect with learners in their own language.

4 – Flight parameters (Success metrics)
What will constitute a successful intervention? Are there measures, either quantitative (“number of client escalations”) or quasi-quantitative (“customer satisfaction”) that can be tracked all through the intervention? Such a measure may already exist, or be developed for the purposes of the intervention. This serves 2 purposes: assessing intervention success and providing credibility to claims about such success, when asking for additional budgets for additional interventions.

5 – Life support (Resources)
Trainers want to know what will sustain the intervention, and what are the constraints. We’re talking budgets, geographical spread of learners, timelines to be adhered to and availability of learners & stakeholders (for feedback).

6 – Launch team (Stakeholders)
Who will be impacted by the success (or failure) of this intervention? And how exactly? Based on this, the trainer will want to interview these stakeholders and get their expectations.

7 – Prior missions (History of previous attempts)
What has been attempted so far, in pursuit of this training objective? It includes both training and other interventions, those that worked and those that didn’t. Why did previous attempts falter? All this information makes the trainer aware of any ‘minefields’ to avoid.

I’ve found that answers to the above depend on who I ask. The L&D manager, the participants and stakeholders have versions that differ slightly, if not widely! So it may take some effort to meet several people, identify who the “main” customer is or create a consensus in a joint meeting. This tends to be an iterative process in practice. Yet, I’ve always felt that the extra effort to find out and document answers to the above 7 questions pays off handsomely.

Photo credit: Bill Jelen via Unsplash