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 best.

What? 3rd!?!? No Way!

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 response.
  • 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 effectiveness.
  • 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 surgery suite!

What does the above list of activities gain our colleagues?

  1. They have a very high, documentable success rate.
  2. If they do these things well, they get repeat business.
  3. They are never blasted for try to teach anyone anything.
  4. 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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