When you invest resources into training, do you know what kind of return you’re going to see? Many CEOs say they know they need to put money and time into upskilling their employees (and approve doing so consistently), but they still don’t know where to look to see how training results in ROI for their organization. It’s almost impossible to see direct connections between expensive learning and the business results needed to move the company forward.

What roles do your stakeholders play in designing training? Before answering this question, consider why you offer in-house education in the first place. What purpose does training serve? We’ve observed a disconnect among the people paying to create training, the people doing the creating and the people the training has been built to serve. The first group wants to see direct results: How does their investment drive better business results? The second group wants to see engagement: How can they tell if the content will be consumed and considered useful? The third group wants to be successful: How will training help them be successful in their role?

Assumptions about roles and productivity create the gray areas (and, in some cases, black holes) among these three different groups. You’ll often find that stakeholders and SMEs are siloed from each other. New employees may receive multiple welcome emails with links to thousands of “mandatory” courses and tools. In this kind of confusion, how can you track how people will move through their first 90 days at work, let alone guide them through the process?

For starters, through tight collaborative creation loops, you can quickly produce rough drafts and solicit feedback from subject matter experts and other stakeholders to become better tuned in to the audience’s needs and business results. Indeed, learning professionals often bring their own expertise to the table. They aim to identify learning objectives, design learning experiences and become subject matter experts, acting as the lone arbiters of what a good learning experience looks and feels like. Years of training and accrued expertise can often stand in for knowing what’s best for the learner, even if an expert hasn’t visited the audience recently.

Rather than having someone long removed from the field describe to a call center manager what that person’s working reality is, why not facilitate a session where everyone develops an understanding of the audience’s everyday challenges, needs and limitations? What if learning fit neatly into the first 90 days of work, in a mapped-out, sequenced flow that made sense for new employees? In this scenario, both learning professionals and business stakeholders are engaged in agreed-upon design sessions and build iterations throughout the lifespan of a training product.

Advancements made in communications and collaborative online platforms can also enable an entirely different approach to creating learning experiences. With the right cadences and guidelines in place to iterate quickly, it’s possible to receive feedback more quickly and meet deadlines sooner. Creating the environment necessary to move this way doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it takes a lot of upfront effort. We call it this initial work “going slow to move fast.”

At the outset of a project, learning professionals, stakeholders and subject matter experts can all take the time to sort through important objectives for their selected audience. Finding the right people for these sessions is difficult, and agreeing on standards, definitions, design principles and outcomes for the audience can feel tedious. However, the input at this early stage is critical to success later in the project.

Slowing down to meet agreed-upon standards enables everyone involved in creation to know where a given project is headed. Then, as resources are engaged to design and build the materials, the learning professionals create relationships with stakeholders and subject matter experts so that they can quickly iterate on content until it’s ready for a final polish. This strategy allows for an impressive degree of work to get done in short periods of time – development sprints that mirror the agility of software startups. Because you take the time to slow down early, you can go fast later. Instead of turning around a polished storyboard in two weeks, you can do it consistently in 48 hours.

Here’s a suggested list of actions to take so that you can go slow to move fast when deploying an employee readiness program:

  1. Understand the overall business results that your audience drives. If your company is after increased products and your audience’s successful outcome is meeting or exceeding quota, be specific about how the collective success of everyone’s hitting quota drives the business forward.
  2. Connect with the key people who oversee your audience’s performance and know the logic behind the job description. Who’s in charge of hiring for the audience you’re serving ,and where did their job criteria come from? Collaborate with these people to better connect the job description to the outcomes that the role needs to drive.
  3. Facilitate a session where all stakeholders agree on assumptions and requirements. Create more clarity. A successful session discussing training needs might include representatives from the actual team, the people overseeing the project, the experts who help innovate for the role and relevant business leaders.
  4. Build a map of each part of your learning sequence. Start with the business results and work backward to outcomes, and then discuss the outputs that drive those outcomes.
  5. Design and build training following that map closely. If you need to make adjustments, make sure that they are in scope and that stakeholders approve them. Show your work early and often. Make sure your collaborators and stakeholders all have a chance to weigh in as you work. Help them provide constructive feedback.

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