Congratulations! You have your first training manager role. Now, where to start?

As in any new role, you want to make a terrific first impression. You want to build your credibility quickly – and the credibility of your team. To this end, you want to ensure you add value quickly. This means starting with a mindset that focuses on advancing the organization’s strategy and achievement of business goals critical to those you support, not just churning out programs.

These tips are designed to help you orient yourself, build key relationships and your business acumen, and also establish your credibility as a competent business partner and solid performance consultant.

1. Design a plan to understand the “status quo” – people and processes.

While this might seem obvious, it’s easy to get sucked into the quagmire of responding to a barrage of incoming training requests and overlook this important first step.

Get input from the business.

Your plan should include opportunities to get in front of the right people, those who are business owners or influencers. Spend some time up front identifying who they are and designing a strategy to understand their needs.

While it might be tempting to create and distribute a survey and rely solely on the responses, please don’t. A survey won’t build relationships, and it rarely provides the nuanced information you want.

What could you do instead? You could schedule one-on-one meetings or small focus groups where you ask questions about business goals and challenges, while also collecting insights about how you can work together effectively.

Sample questions might include:

  • What are their business priorities for foreseeable future?
  • What will make it hard for them to accomplish them?
  • How have they worked with learning and development in the past?
  • What has worked and what hasn’t?
  • What have they done internally to support training programs and initiatives outside of formal events?
  • What does success look like to them, and how will they measure this?
  • How do they prefer to communicate with you and your team about needs and results?

Get input from the learning and development (L&D) team.

Schedule time with your own team and with other L&D teams throughout the organization to understand what’s been done in the past and what has and hasn’t worked, from their perspectives.

Among issues you might explore are:

  • Current methods for receiving or identifying training needs.
  • Analysis they do before they propose solutions.
  • Methods and frequency of client communications.
  • If they also have external clients, like customers or vendors, does this differ?
  • Methods they use for prioritizing needs.
  • Systems in place for interacting with subject matter experts (SMEs) within the business.
  • How they support informal learning in the organization, like mentoring, coaching or job rotation programs.
  • Methods they use to measure programs’ success.
  • Modalities they have used to deliver content.
  • Comfort with the technology they use to deliver training.

In addition, you want to get a clear picture of team members’ roles and how they rate their own business acumen. Who is an expert in what, and where are the gaps? With which areas of the business are they most and least comfortable?

Of course, you’ll also want to access or create an inventory of what the team has delivered. A good teambuilding exercise is to consider all of the content against a simple model that identifies what adds strategic value and what contains proprietary content. This Portfolio Rationalization Model can help the team identify where they add the most value, where they might leverage vendors, and where they can refocus or eliminate programs that don’t contribute value to the organizations they support.

2. Build your business acumen.

Even if you’ve had a long career in the business or organization, it’s rare to have expertise in all areas L&D will touch. Your approach and activities to build your acumen will vary for different types of businesses. Do you need to spend time on the shop floor, or can you spend time sitting with service agents or operations staff who will be your primary learning audience? Is there an opportunity to join and observe team meetings, so you hear firsthand how work is organized and how priorities are communicated?

3. Develop rapport with ancillary groups.

L&D interacts with an array of support teams throughout the organization. These might include a project management office, finance, marketing, facilities management, data analytics or technology, to name a few. Spend time introducing yourself to these teams and discussing ways you can work effectively and efficiently together.

4. Design and market a preliminary L&D plan.

Your L&D plan is essentially your business plan for the department. The most effective business plans lead with the strategy and objectives they will target for the period and then dive into which initiatives or programs will help them achieve them.

Most organizations have a preferred format for their business plans. Identify what that is and use it to drive your plan’s creation.

Partner with your L&D team members to prioritize needs, focusing on those that are most critical to the business’s success and where L&D can have the greatest impact – both in the short-term and the long-term. Be sure to include business metrics you will track to identify whether your efforts have made a difference.

Once your plan is drafted, circle back with business leaders to pitch your plan. Your goals are to get their reactions, feedback and, ultimately, agreement. Once the plan is validated, it’s time to put it into action, marketing the programs and initiatives broadly and reporting regularly on how results are progressing.

5. Plan to be nimble.

While all of this is presented as a series of discrete steps, recognize that you will be continually learning, adjusting your plans and seeking to enhance your relationships. Organizational goals and challenges are constantly shifting, and you need to be prepared to shift, as well, to continue adding value and enhancing your capabilities and reputation.

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