“Know me, know my business” is a refrain that should be known, absorbed and emblazoned in the brains and actions of every CLO. This appeal applies equally to the corporate business being served and to the business of the learning function.
A challenge for new CLOs is to identify the learning function’s business in the context within their new companies. The first step is to ask a set of key questions. How well these questions are answered and integrated will significantly affect the CLO’s decision-making process, effectiveness and path to success.
Analyzing the development services of the learning function involves 40 percent description and 60 percent integration. Description is used to create useful pieces of the overall picture. Integration is necessary to produce an understanding of how the function really works.
The integration process is interpretative and much like the interpretation of an old master’s painting, it requires a good knowledge of the context and subtleties of the particular function under review. This integration is incumbent on the CLO’s knowledge of the company and the training organization, and it can improve over time.
So, description dominates initially. The key questions that need to be asked and answered in this part of the analysis process are interrelated and reflect the interconnected nature of the overall environment of the learning function (see Figure 1). A new CLO can begin the analysis at almost any point and will be led naturally to neighboring elements of this complex environment.
The Key Description Questions
How Does the Training Function Define its Development Clients? The CLO has at least two sets of clients to address when planning the function’s products and services. The first set consists of development clients, who are the executives who authorize and pay for program development. The second set consists of training audiences, who are the end-users and buyers of the training, job aids, coaching and other services and products offered. Organizations relate differently to their clients, and it is important new CLOs and their staffs have a clear understanding of their clients’ needs, wants and buyer values. Research on the latter can help find these answers.
In large, diverse companies, it’s possible to narrowly target the development clients. Through studying the company’s plans and the industry’s environment, the CLO might be able to position services to support an emerging need in the organization. It’s important to describe the target clients demographically: Who are they, and what roles do they play? In terms of integration, it is also important to describe them from a psychographic perspective: What is it about the way they think and what they care about that should affect the service, product, operating and delivery decisions to be made?
What are the Core Service Offerings and the Norms for Delivering Them? With this question, the issue is not the definition of specific courses or services offered (these, though important, are obvious and easily detailed) but defining the underlying concepts of the products and services and the norms that are established for the interactions between training staff members and with their clients. The CLO needs to align the function’s service strategies and norms with the culture of the company. The strategic and tactical nature of the services should be described and identified.
The CLO should ask, “What distinguishes my training function in terms of the services we provide and how we go about it? Are the training developers essentially being responsive to requests from key management, or are they engaged in some different way, perhaps consulting with management on curricular development or participating in corporate strategy development and long-range planning and interpreting that information to establish training needs and direction? What do the staff members define as good service? What do our clients define as good service? Do we have clear standards for performance that are either formally or informally imposed?”
Answering these kinds of questions will help to draw a picture of the service concept and norms of importance. And such description helps motivate staff members to do the right things and position the function to management.
How are the Services Positioned Relative to the Audience or Client? Positioning development services with your clients is closely related to the service concept and norms. It is important for the CLO and the development staff to have a clear idea of the image they want to create within the organization. In describing the business of the function, the perception of its various stakeholders is essential. What image does the function portray — business partner, methodology-driven, ivory tower? What do these labels mean in the context of the company? How, when and where is the image communicated to company leaders and to other function clients? Knowing where the organization lies, in terms of its positioning, is valuable for creating action plans for future learning function management.
How Does the Function Define and Work Toward Efficiencies in its Services? Being able to articulate planned and implemented efficiency measures aids the overall analysis. In many learning organizations, it also can yield opportunities for improvements the new CLO can use to build goodwill and “capital” for the function in the company. At the surface, the CLO should look for and implement things such as clear, usable methodologies and leverage from productivity tools. On a deeper level, CLOs should be able to describe the general use of standards to guide levels of effort. CLOs also should look for management actions that support the productive questioning and improvement of processes at all levels of the function. How things get done — and how well they are done — is important. How much scrap or rework is expected? How are inputs assessed and managed? How well are staff members’ skill sets and work assignments matched? Are the subject-matter experts generally the right ones, and do they have sufficient time dedicated for the projects? When integrating the kinds of information gathered for description related to efficiencies, there will be natural links into the products and services (how standardized can/should they be?) and into the operations infrastructure (what will it support?).
At What Levels are the Different Aspects of the Function’s Operations Infrastructure Working? Operations infrastructure is a broad, complex area to describe. Its tentacles reach into everything from the processes for long-range planning to HR strategies to financial systems to publishing courses and supporting the delivery systems. As the new CLO analyzes the operations infrastructure, the form in which these various operating systems exist, how refined they are and how well they are implemented, he or she takes the description forefront. As these elements of the operating infrastructure are implemented, they affect and are affected by the other aspects of the business of the function. Thus, teasing out, looking at and describing the integrative and disruptive results that arise from the workings of the operating infrastructure are keys to the overall integrative interpretation of the business of the function.
In What Ways are the Function’s Operating Goals Balanced with the Delivery System and Client Goals? A training function will have various operating goals. For example, if the funding approach is a “fee for service” model, there might be specific goals related to cost recovery and contribution to overhead, similar to those that might exist in a nonprofit. In another organization, the goals might focus more directly on the services delivered relative to business unit size or other factors. In addition, the delivery system and clients receiving services through it will have goals and expectations that must be balanced with the operating goals. For example, clients might expect short development cycles, a high level of product quality or high levels of service responsiveness that have to be balanced. The overall goal in this part of the balancing act is to deliver value, where value is defined as the provision of a level of service (quality, volume, etc.), that is, in the mind of the client, commensurate with the costs incurred (time, effort, aggravation, money, etc.). Describing the “value equation” for the function in its unique context is a key element to understand the function’s relationship to the company and its key clients. The new CLO will want to understand if and how stakeholders perceive the value of the learning function.
What is the Delivery Strategy, and How are the Delivery Systems Structured? The CLO and the entire learning staff need to understand the most critical event in the business of the function: the moment when the service is consumed in an interaction with the function’s client. The delivery systems are the environments in which the service is provided and consumed. For learning development services, the delivery system is usually at least one employee on a team who provides the services to the sponsor/buyer at a company location. Describing the delivery system involves looking at the qualifications and skill of the team, its structure and the methods and norms used to deliver the service, as well as the facilities in which the services are offered.
The CLO should ask, among other things, “What are the capacities, the expectations and the quality controls that are in place? How is the delivery strategy consistent and inconsistent with other operating and client-oriented goals?”
These descriptions will integrate with the factors that create client satisfaction and drive an understanding of that most critical moment of consumption.
How is Client Satisfaction Understood, Monitored and Managed?
Every CLO knows client satisfaction and client loyalty are either created or destroyed in the interaction of the client with the delivery system. Every interaction either strengthens or weakens the bonds between the training function and its clients. This interaction involves all points of contact. Interacting with an executive assistant to schedule an appointment, making a call to a developer to get a clarification, meeting with a design team and other similar points of contact provide the opportunities to create satisfaction. When anything goes wrong, how the problem is handled can lead to greater satisfaction than if no problems are encountered. The new CLO needs to understand quickly the tenor of such interactions, clients’ expectations, how both the interactions and the expectations are managed and monitored and in what ways client feedback is obtained and used.
Analysis processes ebb and flow as companies and learning functions change. Many parts of the description, however, remain stable. The interpretation of the interactions, how all these elements integrate, is a challenge every new CLO faces upon taking the position. The analysis is critical for its value in learning the organization and for the advantage the information has in making the initial changes and improvements that should mark the installation of a new CLO. Following a pattern of questioning can help ensure new CLOs focus on the necessary aspects of the learning function’s business.
Oliver W. Cummings is a manager of custom development programs at Riverside Publishing. He can be reached at email@example.com.