Bea Smart, an instructional designer, started working recently with Joe King, a compliance director, about potential training needs. She’s excited about the opportunity to partner with the Compliance Department and wants to impress her new internal client.
Bea starts off with a training needs analysis by completing several employee interviews, an activity that had never been conducted in the Compliance Department.
The interviews strongly suggest that changes other than training are needed to meet business goals, including clearly written standard operating procedures. However, Bea’s focus is instructional design, and she’s not sure Joe would agree with the recommendations that arise from the interviews, so she doesn’t share the interview data or her conclusions with him.
After agreeing on learning objectives and an elearning modality for a course Joe would like developed, Bea agrees to deliver the draft 1 storyboard to Joe in five days. Though she needs input from several stakeholders and believes a complete storyboard will probably take closer to ten days to create, she wants to get this project done ahead of schedule, establish clout with the Compliance Department, and hopefully get more work from Joe’s team later.
After two weeks go by, Bea has not received the feedback she needs to finish the draft 1 storyboard. Joe, under pressure from his manager, is ready to send out the PowerPoint slides he created for a recent presentation on the topic, and use that as “training.” Bea asks Joe to hold off and immediately gets in touch with her colleagues, works a few late nights, and manages to finish the storyboard after three more days.
The following day, Bea meets with Joe to discuss his feedback on the storyboard. Joe has made many content changes and Bea believes they no longer address the approved learning objectives. His changes also impact effective learning techniques and result in more of a “page turner” course – a course that is a reading exercise with no learner engagement. Bea remembers the friction over the missed storyboard deadline, though, and decides to keep quiet, figuring Joe knows best. And even if he doesn’t, she doesn’t want to create more friction.
The training module finally pilots, then launches. Three months later, analysis finds that 70% of learners don’t complete the course. In addition, there is no improvement in business performance and the same errors continue to be made. Where did Bea go wrong in working with her client, and what skills did she miss?
- Being Transparent. When Bea performed her needs assessment, she uncovered information via interviews and drew conclusions she didn’t share with Joe. She was concerned he’d disagree, potentially imperiling their relationship.But by sharing this information, and offering her expert judgment—which is, after all, likely what Joe expects—she could have helped Joe realize that SOPs needed updating in order to support successful training outcomes.
- Setting Expectations. Bea wanted to impress Joe by offering a fast, even unrealistic, turnaround time. It would have been wiser, though, to give the standard ten days a storyboard like this usually takes Bea—and then delight the client if it is completed sooner.In addition, Bea was expecting information from the stakeholders, but had she (or Joe) communicated requirements to them? And if so and they were late, she should check in with them and alert Joe immediately. Joe can then decide on the best way to proceed.
- Communicating Fully and Clearly. Bea doesn’t push back or inquire about Joe’s significant changes. While he may have very good reasons for changing his mind (perhaps a recent internal audit turned up some significant new issues), making unstated assumptions is never a good option! Asking questions to understand Joe’s reasoning—and then offering her own professional judgment—would help clarify assumptions and result in an appropriate learning solution.
Partnering with clients—internal or external—can be a delicate balancing act. It is only natural to try to keep the client happy to further your professional relationship. Yet, if you’re withholding information, offering unrealistic expectations, or communicating incompletely, the relationship will flounder. Be transparent, set expectations, and communicate fully and clearly, to help your client relationships—whether internal or external—flourish.