If being a parent has taught me anything, it’s that you can never set clear enough expectations. If you have children, or ever were one, you can relate to the infamous cross-country family vacation. Most parents learn that in order for all parties to survive such a journey, they must lay down the “rules of engagement” as early and often as possible. Expectations and boundaries are critical for success. It’s the rules that are assumed, not realized or never addressed that ultimately derail or jeopardize the initiative. Exceptional parents take this rule even further. If they have more than one child, they realize that the messaging, the boundaries and even the punishments need to be varied. Preparing a teenager for an eight-hour trip is considerably different from preparing a 2-year-old. There are clear differences in relationships, comprehension, responsibility and expectations. One-size messages do not necessarily fit all.
Why is preparing for a learning journey any different? We have similar players. There are passengers, and there are drivers; authority figures and subordinates; those who are directly affected by a certain set of expectations and those who are not. We need to embrace effective strategies of expectation setting and prevention if our learning initiatives are ever going to arrive at their proposed destination.
First, let’s consider one of the most popular statements shared at almost every conference you’ll attend and publication you’ll read: “For training to be effective, its efforts must map to specific business outcomes.” If I’ve read or heard this once, I’ve read or heard it a thousand times. Now, I’m not disagreeing with it, and I think that most individuals involved in training wouldn’t either, but I don’t think this statement goes far enough. Simply aligning with an overall business outcome doesn’t go deep enough toward recognizing the individual goals of all involved. When preparing for a training rollout, most organizations take time to identify their “stakeholders,” another very popular term these days. The problem with this approach is that many times, they haven’t identified every stakeholder and therefore aren’t aligning the training outcome with everyone involved.
I often hear “stakeholder” defined as anyone involved in the training outcome. That’s not thorough enough. A stakeholder is actually anyone impacted by the outcome. This will often include more individuals than most organizations consider. For instance, your IT department may have nothing to do with taking or benefiting from the sales-training program you are about to roll out to your sales force, but they are affected by the LMS you hope to use with it. Your help-desk professionals may never travel to participate in your client registration system’s training, but they will be supporting your learners once they try to enter their first registrant. Each of these stakeholders needs to be involved early in your planning so they can understand their role and the impact of training on their world. Often the business goal they want you to align with may not be the same goal as the department that’s funding or directly benefiting from the training. If this is the case, the messaging and expectation setting needed to engage and satisfy this group is very different from what your students might need to hear.
Second, the method and language you use need to be different depending on your stakeholders. For instance, a CLO shouldn’t use learning jargon and outcomes when speaking to a CFO who is used to hearing things in financial terms. The CLO shouldn’t use instructional terms relative to an LMS and e-learning environments with a learner who needs to hear things from a layperson’s perspective. Each of these instances brings us back to understanding how the overall business outcome matters, or doesn’t matter, to each stakeholder. This doesn’t mean that we can’t still achieve that specific outcome, but it does mean we need to relate that ultimate outcome at a level and language relevant to the audience.
The words “expectation” and “prevention” clearly have a personal side. The more removed stakeholders are from the outcome being communicated, the less engaged and involved they will feel. The success of our training initiatives depends on our ability to bring our messages home to everyone involved, or the road to success will be littered with many a diversion and unexpected pit stop.
Bob Mosher is director, learning evangelism and strategy for Microsoft Learning. He has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. For more information, e-mail Bob at email@example.com.