Credibility is key if you plan to be a serious contributor to learning strategies in today’s highly technical work environments. Over the course of our careers, we've found at least four roles you need to gain credibility in before you can drive a learning strategy in an organization. Our experience lies primarily within the public sector and military populations; however, these roles and the challenges that come with them will translate to any industry. During our session at ATD 2017 International Conference & Exposition, we will discuss each of them from our own perspectives. But we wanted to offer you an overview of these roles at a higher level here.
This role requires that you can speak the language of executives who typically make final decisions about the direction of the learning strategy. Part of that role is educating executives on what to look for, and what criteria they should use in making those decisions. In addition, this role focuses on helping execs know what information they should ask for from potential vendors. This is important because there's a lot of companies out there trying to woo new customers with bells and whistles—bells and whistles that an organization may not really need or may not even work. Ultimately, your role will be an honest broker to enable leaders to make decisions on what has the best probability of succeeding versus what sparkles or their friend recommended.
While you are enabling executives to make the best decisions, you must also advocate for the learner. That is, the person who will have to effectively perform the job once the training is complete. To be an effective advocate, though, you must be credible enough for the learner to share their challenges and be open about what they really need. This means doing a lot of listening and observing. It also means getting your hands dirty and living in their world to some extent. It may require that you train yourself to be able to understand the language—to demonstrate some expertise in their field. Once you gain that trust and credibility, your role is to make sure to influence leadership so you can shape a learning strategy that accounts for the true needs of the learner.
This role is about understanding that there is no perfect overlap between the executives, the learners, and what is possible in the realm of training. While understanding there is no perfect overlap, it's working to maximize it as much as possible. In this role, you are beginning to build out what the training will be to deliver on the strategy—whether it’s a custom solution, tying together off-the-shelf curriculum, or improvements on existing tools and systems.
To do this well, you must have the credibility in the eyes of the learner and executives that you understand the constraints of their environment. They need to know that you can be trusted to balance the trade-offs that will inevitably be required. For example, you may need to fit in courses between meetings or need easy access to the training just-in-time. In other words, you need alternatives to the typical, three-day immersive training. In another example, a full fidelity simulator would be best, but time and budget require a lower fidelity solution for portions of the training. Whatever the trade-off, it'll be your job to guide implementation and find out-of-the-box adaptations to maximize learning outcomes.
A final role is that of the learning practitioner. This means you understand the needs of the executive, the learner, and the constraints of the environment—all while ensuring the training is instructionally sound. You also need to demonstrate that there is a solid evaluation strategy that will show ROI to executives and allow learners to assess their progress in developing the skills they need. It's about remaining up-to-date in the best practices and research on what makes training effective. Most importantly, it's about being able to use and share that knowledge in a way that you are a credible partner in developing the learning strategy. You want to become a partner that brings expertise that is unique and valuable.
In closing, we must acknowledge in ourselves that we are more skilled and comfortable in some of these roles than others. But we also need to understand that we cannot expect to sit at the table unless we are willing and able to shift among these roles.