Recently I spent a little time pondering a statement that I've
ascribed to for sometime now:
In a ranking of all of the groups in a typical organization who
have the responsibility for helping direct the learning of
employees or customers, corporate training would finish 3rd - at
What? 3rd!?!? No Way!
It's my belief that an honest appraisal of any good size
organization will likely show that two departments would prove to
be more efficient and effective in helping their target audience
meet their learning needs. They would be the IT Help Desk and the
Customer Service Center. This doesn't consider the Sales group who
through various techniques prepare their field staffs for battle
against the competition. Often without help from the corporate
training group. Throw in a quality OD group or a Finance team who
prepare their folks well and it's easy to find L&D
dropping to 5th or lower.
So what is it that makes the Help Desk and Customer Service groups
better at helping their constituents learn better. This is the
question I found myself pondering the other day. What do they do
and what are the results that would lead people to think they're
better at facilitating learning that we are?
First the list of what they do:
- generally don't teach courses
- answer the questions their "learners" have at the time they are
in greatest need
- assess each situation and determine the best course of action
to answer the learner's need
- provide the learner with only the answers they need to overcome
the current problems
- have a database of answers to questions that have been asked
before and will likely be asked again
- have a mechanism for escalating the response when the learner's
need is of greater breath than can be resolved immediately.
- track very specific metrics regarding performance and learner
- often have a follow-up mechanism to determine whether their
solution to the learner's need is still working several weeks later
and to gain feedback from the learner regarding their experience
with the group
- feed overall questions and needs back to the stakeholder groups
who can take action regarding the issue to mitigate the same
problem in the future.
- Gather feedback from their stakeholders regarding their
- Push as much of the process and answers pro-actively to their
learners in the form of knowledge bases and FAQ as well as
anticipatory actions like alerts and job aides.
Now I'm by no means saying that there are training departments that
do some or many of these same things. But I doubt that very few do
all of these things. Which is a bit scary. The help desk and
customer service conduct individualized needs assessments on the
fly as if they were an emergency room triage unit. Who needs
attention immediately and what exactly does each person need? It's
individualized attention from first contact to resolution (change
in knowledge or behavior for the learner).
Unfortunately much of what the training department has done
regarding needs assessment is more akin to a hospital that has just
renovated their surgery suite so now every patient who presents
themselves with a broken bone, a pain in the chest, pregnant, or
needing a wound stitched up gets routed to be treated in the new
What does the above list of activities gain our colleagues?
- They have a very high, documentable success rate.
- If they do these things well, they get repeat business.
- They are never blasted for try to teach anyone anything.
- They understand the real, underlying issues causing learner
need much better than we do.
So maybe, as we are looking at ways to improve what we do and
provide better value to the companies we work for, perhaps we
should do some internal best practices research. There may very
well be a model that already works within our culture just waiting
for us to understand and use it.
technorati tags:training, needs assessment, individualized learning, IT Help Desk, Customer Service
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