It’s 9:15 AM. You have prepared the perfect cup of Joe. You exit the coffee break room, turn at the copy machine, and head to your cubicle or office to begin your day. Suddenly Jane Manager or Steve Supervisor hails you. “Oh…I’m so glad I ran into you! I think I want you to put some training together for my team on time management and productivity. Can you walk with me? I’m heading to the monthly managers’ meeting and I’d like to tell you what they need.”
So much for quietly starting your day and enjoying that cup of Joe! What probably happens next is that you follow your requestor down the hallway and are able to catch some quick key words that he/she blurts out – mostly about how many people the training is for and how long he/she wants the session to run.
I’m sure we can all relate to the unrealistic requests and expectations of many of our clients. They may not be aware of what it takes to put training together. Worse yet, they may believe they know what is required to correct whatever performance gaps their group is experiencing – and sadly they usually don’t.
Regardless of how much your client discloses on that morning chat en route to the meeting, it is undoubtedly not enough information to give you a clear picture of whether it is truly a training issue. You will want to secure a one-on-one meeting with him/her soon thereafter to further inquire and learn about the situation so you can design and provide the best possible training—or offer a non-training solution. Since you may have a limited amount of time during this meeting to do your investigative work and determine the root cause of the problem, is it is crucial that you use your time wisely and that you apply the right line of questioning.
Establishing a Solid Foundation
EXPECTED Performance – (minus) ACTUAL Performance = Gap
What I want to focus on is the importance of the order in which we inquire about each. The formula is written as it is for a good reason; it is best to assess what SHOULD be happening first, before we start asking questions about what is actually happening. But “Why?” you ask.
The moment we sit down with the party requesting training and begin asking what is going on, we are likely to get a blend of information and emotionally-charged comments. Once the client has reconnected with the frustration that the situation is causing, it may be quite difficult to get objective information from him/her. We may also run short on time and not get all the information we need during this interview.
As much as our client may wish to vent about the current situation and the frustration it is causing at the very start of the interview, we must resist the temptation to allow him/her to continue and rather steer him/her towards telling us first about what SHOULD be happening. How is the process supposed to be done? When is it supposed to take place? Who is supposed to be doing it? We need to ask for as much detail as possible so we can get a clear perspective of what things look like when they are going as expected, hence the EXPECTED performance part of the equation.
Once we are clear on what should be happening (what is expected), then we proceed to the ACTUAL performance part of the equation. We encourage the client to tell us what is actually happening – how, when, and by whom? Since we already have a clear understanding of how things should look, we will likely be able to identify the differences between one and the other during the interview. And, if we keep our client focused during the explanation of the expected performance, we are less likely to spend valuable time on venting, which is perfectly fine to expect as he/she describes the reality of what is taking place with his/her employees’ ACTUAL performance.
This simple approach can save us a significant amount of time and investigative work while providing a high volume of important information during this initial stage of a needs or performance assessment. And time is money.
I’d like to hear from you and your team about what other techniques you use to ensure you are getting quality information from your clients during a needs or performance assessment. I look forward to reading your ideas and sharing them with our bloggers.