The secret to delivering great training lies in your ability to accurately assess your audience and meet their spoken and unspoken needs. That competency, or business acumen, is the foundation for creating effective learning. By answering the questions in this article, you can quickly acquire the information needed to rapidly design and deliver great learning solutions . For in-house employees, there is a wealth of valuable information at your fingertips about the organization, but that can lead to false assumptions. If you are an outside consultant, you see patterns and issues that impact different organizations but likely miss details on the influential and often invisible forces shaping each engagement.

1.   What is the Organization’s Stage of Growth?

Organizations grow through various stages of development, each with different goals, pressures and pain points that often generate the need for learning. Get familiar with different organizational development models. Doing so will help you understand how the organization’s stage is driving its learning needs. With that insight, you can shape a learning solution that will drive the right results now and anticipate future needs.

2.   What Are the Organization’s Strategic Goals?

Strategic goals are both short- and long-term priorities, ranging from this quarter to five years on, that senior leaders consider critical for the organization’s success. While these goals may not directly impact the learning solution you are creating, they certainly influence it. Each organization is also guided by its vision and mission. By understanding these critical objectives, you can create better learning solutions.

3.   What Are the Organization’s Pain Points?

Every organization, no matter how big or successful, struggles in some way. The key is to discover what keeps leaders up at night – the biggest pain points they’re trying to solve right now.

To arrive at this understanding, you need a view into different levels of the organization. Ask the person who engaged you to name the biggest pain point and they will likely name the problem they initially approached you to solve. Dig deeper by asking what other pain points they are trying to solve in their group, and what pain points other leaders and senior executives are dealing with.

By broadening your perspective, you can align to the real context in which you will be working.




4.   Who Holds Power and Influence?

The person who engaged you is not necessarily the person in charge. Look for leaders who wield power because of their formal role in the organization, along with others who have influence. Influential people are often invisible forces who can suddenly derail your efforts if you are not considering their needs and wants.

To identify those with power and influence, ask these questions:

  • Which leaders care about this issue we’re going to solve with learning?
  • Which other people with influence should we be talking to?
  • In the audience of learners for this program, who has influence within their group? Who is someone others look up to or are nervous about?

5.   What is Not Working?

When someone says, “We need training on X,” that’s rarely what they truly need. The problem is that they’ve diagnosed the issue and decided on the solution before engaging you.

Rather than moving forward to accommodate their request, ask to hear more about what is not working right now. Listen carefully as they describe the problem, pain point and behaviors. Use your insights to coach them and frame a better solution to address the real problem.

6.   What Does Success Look Like?

People often don’t know what training they actually need, or they decide on a solution prematurely. To circumvent this issue, ask them to define success. This question compels the person to clarify what needle they’re trying to move.

Perhaps they’re trying to reduce a specific behavior in the group or increase a different behavior. That’s useful information. But ultimately, they’re trying to move the needle on a key business metric, like getting to market more quickly, or reducing errors in product design. By getting clear on what success looks like, you can design the learning solution that gets them from A to B.

7.   What Are High-performing People Doing?

Leaders turn to training so their people will perform better at something. However, because they focus on who’s struggling, they often fail to notice who’s already doing the task well. Asking them to identify those people helps them notice the pockets of excellence on their team. It also helps you:

  • Identify the behaviors you want to transfer to the underperforming group.
  • Ensure the right people are in the room for training.
  • Focus on shifting the behaviors within the folks who need it most.

8.   What Have You Already Tried?

Unless you know what training the group has already been through, you risk presenting duplicate content. With that in mind, always ask what they’ve tried so you can take a different approach and continue moving their learning journey forward.

Embrace a Strategic Perspective

As is true in so much of life, you can best arrive at the desired destination by clearly and deeply understanding where you’re starting from. By asking clarifying questions at the start of your engagement, you’ll unearth valuable information that sets you on the right, strategic track from the start. Both you and the organization will be more satisfied with the overall process and result: a great learning solution that empowers employees and the business to perform better.