Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

“Why is Learning & Development so slow?” A client was recently asked this question. She and her team of employees and consultants are striving to create training for a massive, division-wide initiative.  She was frustrated, and rightfully so.

My joking response was, “Well, put the answers in terms that the group of engineers will understand. Advise them that we need inputs to produce outputs – just like in all the engineering process flows they want us to train nearly 2,000 people on this fall!”  She laughed, and responded, “the issue is, they don’t understand the importance of developing learning outcomes and then creating learning solutions to meet those outcomes.”

All joking aside, this is a common issue in the field of learning and development; the time spent up front to do a root cause analysis or align training solutions with the business goals is often seen as a) a waste of time; b) not necessary because ‘we just want an eLearning’ or c) slowing down the progress because ‘training needs to happen NOW’.

input model

Consider This…

How would you answer the following questions?

1. When a construction firm builds a structure meant to hold thousands of people, does he/she begin without a detailed drawing from an architect? Are specific outcomes and impacts to the users are considered in the final approved plan, prior to construction?

2. When you plan a graduation party, wedding, or family reunion type event, would you do it without first listing out the what, where, who, why for the various items you need to organize? The number of guests might impact the location of the event, or the budget may determine how many appetizers, for example.

3. When determining compensation plans, is this done without outlining specific individual and team metrics and measures prior to launching the plan?

4. Would you expect an R&D team to create a product without critical product specifications and requirements? If the end product was “create a water bottle,” how likely is it that you’d get a water bottle that met all of your requirements?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of the questions above, you see the value of planning prior to investing hours and resources into an outcome that will impact many people. Additionally, the completion – or even prototype – of a plan is dependent upon getting information from the “expert” in the situation. The learning plan, the building, the party, the compensation plan – none can be completed without input from the ones impacted by the change.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, the training need wasn’t determined in a day, and nor will the finished training product be so. Set expectations for project owners, content experts, and learning professionals. Hold all parties accountable to deadlines set, and likely you’ll see that the process will increase speed.  Creating successful behavior change by using training as a communication vehicle can be well done through a collaborative approach between the project owners and the learning and development team.

Increasing Organizational Influence: 6 Tips for Learning Teams 

Want your learning team to have increased credibility & influence in your organization? Start with these six tips:

Why1. Establish a “Why” Strategy
The “Why Strategy gives your team unified, strong, business-oriented answers to questions they may be asked by leaders in the organization. Can your team professionally, consistently and succinctly answer questions like:

  • Why should we come to your team for solutions?
  • Why is (or isn’t) training the answer?
  • Why does it take so long/cost so much to create the solution?
  • Why are you recommending solution A as opposed to solution B?

2. Get Out of the Cube – Consultative Skillsteam at the table

Meeting business outcomes means the learning team needs to be able to get out and talk to the people involved in (and impacted by) driving the desired outcome. Creating training programs doesn’t happen in a vacuum; learning professionals need the skills to be able to ask questions, observe, review, test, and provide recommendations best suited to the need. A consultative approach identifies needs, assumptions, risks, and desired business outcomes. Sample questions include:

  • Who is the audience?
  • How will the users interact with the __________ (insert topic name here)?
  • What needs to start happening?
  • What needs to stop happening?
  • Why this solution and why now?
  • How will you determine -and measure- success?

3. Practice Project Managementcheck boxes

Business leaders come to the learning department looking for a solution to meet a business need. Have a process in place to define key milestones & deliverables for your project, a desired due date for them, and a clear definition of roles and responsibilities throughout the life of the project. A project management process helps to minimize unexpected surprises during the project and demonstrates the project team’s commitment and agreement to deadlines and expected deliverables.

4. Back Your Team
Stand by your team’s expertise. Coach your team member to find ways to meet the client’s needs through a consultative approach documented with a project management approach. If you consistently allow clients to trim time, budget, or add scope, you increase the odds your team cannot deliver and thus undermine the expertise the team brings to the organization.little plant

5. Processes & Templates ≠ Skill
A strategy, lists of consultative questions, eLearning and instructor-led templates, and a project management spreadsheet are in place. That’s a start. That does not mean your team members have the skills to execute. A template or process is only as good as the skills of those using them.

Coach your team through their first attempts at trying the new skills; attend a project kickoff meeting with your team member and allow them to observe you answering & asking questions while sharing the key information with the client. Better yet, observe your team member, and provide feedback after the meeting. Grow skills to grow influence!

6. Communicate Results
Gather quantitative and qualitative metrics after the rollout of the program to assess the success from the users’ and sponsor’s perspective.

  • Publish the results on your team website or in a company newsletter.
  • Send a congratulatory announcement of success to the learners about their adoption the new skill and its’ resulting benefit the organization.
  • Schedule time for your team member to meet with the project team to determine what went well, what didn’t as the project team worked together? Discover how you might improve your team’s perception from key stakeholders. Communicate how you used  the feedback to enhance future offerings and project collaborations.

One Leaf at a Time

lots of leavesIt was a beautiful and sunny fall morning as we pulled up to Ms. Jackson’s* home to take part in another family volunteer event. The Broady family, consisting of Gabriella, husband Dan, and two sons, volunteered again with the HOME program, which stands for “Home & Outdoor Maintenance for the Elderly.”

Walking up to Ms. Jackson’s front door, we thought, “Oh, this won’t take too long; it’s not bad at all!” We met Ms. Jackson and decided to tour the yard to get a sense of our project. As we went around to the backyard, a sea of golden leaves, several inches think, took us by surprise.

My husband, sons and I raked for nearly 4 hours,  with a five-minute rest to sample a few handmade cookies from Ms. Jackson, who was so happy to see her lawn being cleared. We filled 40 lawn and leaf bags raking by hand; we ran out of the “approved” bag types, and had to leave the rest for when more bags were delivered.

Lessons Learned
How is a volunteer leaf-raking exercise like working on a project?

As a learning designer, I try to reflect on lessons I learn from each project and each client. As the boys and I drove home, exhausted and yet proud of our efforts, we discussed what “we’d do differently next time.” These items apply to good project management skills, too!

1. Know Your Scope: In this case, we had 4 people and 3 hours of available time. We needed either more time, or more resources to get this done. In any project, find out what your scope is (do we need to rake out the garden/flower bed areas too?) and what constraints are, so the project is clear to all parties.

2. Bring the Right Tools: We brought work gloves, bottled waters, and a rake for each person. We also had 40 lawn-n-leaf bags from our host home. We needed at least 10 more bags, and determined that next year, we’d bring our leaf blowers…and maybe even our lawn mowing mulcher! Not having the right tools to complete your project impacts the amount of materials and time needed, not to mention that it can wear out your team!

3. Designate Roles & Responsibilities: We quickly realized that our ten your old son was not going to be able to rake as long as the three adult-size people in our family, but we had a task he was perfect for — jumping in the bags and squishing leaves down so we could fill them as much as possible. He also had the task of taking the bags to the curb after they were full, so we could keep raking. Assigning roles to people on your project teams is critical; even more so, is assigning the RIGHT people to the RIGHT task.

4. Communicate with Your Sponsor & Your Project Teammates: We realized we did not have enough bags, and that we were running out of time. We decided as a family that we would get everything raked into the last two piles, then pick up as much as we could. We talked with Ms. Jackson about hour plan and told her we would stay as long as there were bags needing to be filled.

5. Debrief Your Project Experience. All, in all, it was a great project, and we loved being able to help Ms. Jackson. However, we learned that it’s important to debrief what we liked (sun, helping someone, pretty leaves), what we didn’t (not enough bags, larger yard than we could easily handle), and what we’d do differently next time.

6. Celebrate a job well done. We appreciated the boys’ hard work, and went out for lunch at the malt shop before their sports practices began. Letting your team know how much their efforts mean is tantamount to continued project success and engagement.

Volunteering: Giving Back 
This volunteer event was part of Yellow Giraffe Learning’s 5 for 5 Give Back Campaign. Yellow Giraffe donates 1 hour of time/$ to a good cause, and 1-hour free kickoff meeting to clients as a way to say thank you for 5 years of business ownership. We have now completed 4 projects!

* Name changed to protect individual privacy.

It’s Just Business, Right?

Imagine you are a professional who has just dedicated six weeks to completing a project with a very tight deadline. For many of us, that is our everyday reality; no imagination required. Now, imagine that you have a colleague working side by side with you on the project; the two of you worked hard, but had a lot of laughs collaborating to do creative work, fast. Are you with me so far?
female colleaguesNow it’s time to stretch your imagination. Imagine that the company who hired you doesn’t pay you or your colleague for the work.

This is what happened to my partner and I last year when my company was hired to design leadership courses. I brought in a partner to work with me, and after 6 months, my company had only been reimbursed for 20% of the fee due.

As the business owner, I made the decision to pay my project partner, though I had not been paid. Since we had a signed contract, my business ethics determined that I needed to honor it, as I expect my contracts to be honored. However, honor doesn’t pay the bills, and I needed to figure out what to do next.

Lessons Learned

Asking to be paid is not fun. No one likes to ask for money that is owed, but when you’ve done the work, and even been praised for it, you have to ask the organization to honor the commitment. Do it in writing, by phone, and even better, in person.

Keep your cool. As a professional, you expect others to act professionally. You’ve got a signed contract, and you did the work, and the company is telling you they “want to pay you, but they can’t right now.”

When it comes to money, it is hard to be patient, especially since you have invested time and money to do the work. Now add in the fact that you took this additional project just so you could afford to take your kids on vacation…well, you can see where tempers might flare after waiting over 3 months. Instead of flying off the handle, I did some research on Google, under “debt collections, small business.” The most important two tips I found suggested that it is crucial to always remain professional, non-threating, and to set up a payment plan.

When it comes to money, it is hard to be patient, especially since you have invested time and money to do the work. Now add in the fact that you took this additional project just so you could afford to take your kids on vacation…well, you can see where tempers might flare after waiting over 3 months. Instead of flying off the handle, I did some research on Google, under “debt collections, small business.” The most important two tips I found suggested that it is crucial to always remain professional, non-threating, and to set up a payment plan.

Follow up on your plan. If you set a plan for payment with your client, be sure to follow up on it. When I was waiting for payment of my first invoice, I made the mistake of waiting until it was almost 30 days late before inquiring. After all, I didn’t want to seem pushy. My sister-in-law, who happens to work as a debt collector, advised, “Don’t wait. The likelihood of payment after 90 days late goes down by over 50%.” So, follow up. When you have a contract with an organization, expect that they will honor it, and if they don’t, follow up to resolve the issue.

When all else fails, seek legal help. I’d never experienced this sort of thing before. I was, quite frankly, at a loss that an organization would not honor a signed, written agreement. After the company refused to set up a payment plan that “they might not be able to meet,” I talked to my accountant, I consulted my lawyer, and I talked to a debt collections agency. It turns out that you have to seek legal and/or debt collections in the state where the client organization is located. Good luck finding lawyers and debt collectors in Iowa and hiring them, sight unseen, when you are in Minnesota!

Legal help doesn’t always help. Another exasperating lesson learned was that since my “claim” was under $20,000 lawyers didn’t want to help me. Wow. That hurts. At this point I decided to write off my loss and “chalk it up to experience.” Fortunately, my company had a great year business-wise, and I was able to absorb the loss – and we still took that family vacation!

Changes to the way I do business. You may ask, “so what are you going to do differently now?” The answer is, “not too much.” I have added a late fee contingency to all project contracts, and I make sure to follow up after any invoice is more than one week late.

The truth of the matter is, I trust people. I always have given colleagues and business partners the benefit of the doubt, and I will continue to do so. I grimace when I think of the time and money lost, but I also express chagrin over the fact that the organization was a provider of leadership development workshops.

As an aside, I will note that 10 months after we started our six-week project, the delinquent organization declared bankruptcy.

Ah, well. It’s just business, right?

Onboarding Consultant Staff: Tips to Minimize “Ramp Up” Time

Your department has a project that needs to be done, and you don’t have the resources. You’ve been given a budget to hire a consultant to come in and work with your team to meet the project deadlines. What can you do to make sure that he/she can help drive your project forward to completion? What communication is needed so that your current team is also “on board” with the addition to the project team?

Here are some simple tips to minimizing “ramp up” time for new consultants.

Prior to Start Date:

1.) Request access to all computer systems, laptop/desktop equipment, ID badge, and other supplies needed so that the consultant can become operable shortly after joining your project team.

2.) Preparing the internal team for the arrival of a consultant is also crucial to the success of the project. Share information with your existing team about who is coming, why the person is coming, and expectations of what the consultant will be doing, and impacts to the project and current team members. Team members who are unsure of the consultant’s role may feel they need to compete with the consultant, may worry that their own jobs are in jeopardy, or may not understand how to best utilize the consultant’s time and skills.

3.) Compile a list of internal websites, SharePoint sites, and other applicable internal information centers, and provide access to the consultant.

4.) Put together an “onboarding” checklist for the consultant, and ensure that key people are available to spend some time with the consultant. For example, many times the hiring organization begins by giving a consultant access to a list of SharePoint sites to “check out”, and then leaves the consultant to his/her own devices to look for pertinent information.

There have been times when a consultant may waste more than an hour trying to figure out where project documents are stored – especially when there are many projects, and many sites to examine. Does your organization really want to pay for someone to spend time searching for things that could be pointed out in a matter of minutes?

Potential Onboarding Checklist

There are many details that consultants will need to know when they begin a project with you and your team. Having information prepared ahead of time will minimize the hours that the consultant spends searching company websites to find answers, or wandering hallways to find meeting rooms – hours for which your organization is paying!

Following is a list of potential items to have ready to share with the consultant within the first few days of beginning the project.

Who

  • Who needs to meet with your consultant to facilitate execution on this project?
  • Who are team members, and how do they fit into the organization/team/business unit (org chart)?
  • Who can help show the consultant how to navigate company websites, SharePoint sites, and other internal information? (It is not recommended to simply email a list of website links without providing context)
  • Who is accountable for providing information, and to whom is the consultant providing information?
  • Who are the contacts for key areas such as administrative support, IT support, invoicing issues and other items that support the consultant’s ability to get work done?

What

  • What are the deliverables of the project?
  • What is in scope, and what is out of scope for the project?
  • What expectations are there regarding turnaround time (responding to emails, voice mails, project draft documents, etc)?
  • What is the consultant’s role in relation to others on the team?
  • What concepts should the consultant be aware of that promote understanding of corporate culture? Are there “mottos”, leadership models, acronym glossaries, standards for quality, for example?
  • What processes are in place around this project? (For example: are there SharePoints for sharing documents, are there project hours that must be posted to a PM plan, etc)?

Where/When

  • Where are project documents stored?
  • Where are conference rooms?
  • Where/when does the consultant submit invoices?
  • When are deliverables due?
  • When will feedback be provided?

How

  • How do project team members communicate? (Virtual, In Person, Email)? How will the project team resolve conflicts?
  • How often and for how long does the project team meet?
  • How does the feedback loop work on this team?
  • How will we know if the project is successful?

Providing clear and consistent communication to consultants and internal project team members and stakeholders is critical to achieving project success. Clarity and preparedness in the onboarding process reduces the time and dollars spent on consultants and allows the organization to gain the consultant’s “value add” on the project team in the shortest time possible.

Spending the time to onboard at the beginning reduces the time spent later in correcting assumptions about the project – not to mention having a consultant wandering the hallways looking for that conference room.