In a recent debate with my colleague on the Kirkpatrick model, our host/referee asked me whether I’d push back on a request for a course. Being cheeky, I said yes, but of course I know it’s harder than that. And I’ve been mulling the question, and trying to think of a perhaps more pragmatic (and diplomatic 😉 approach. So here’s a cut at it.
The goal is not to stay with just ‘yes’, but to followup. The technique is to drill in for more information under the guise of ensuring you’re making the right course. Of course, really you’re trying to determine whether there really is a need for a course at all, or maybe a job aid or checklist instead will do, and if so what’s critical to success. To do this, you need to ask some pointed questions with the demeanor of being professional and helpful.
You might, then, ask something like “what’s the problem you’re trying to solve” or “what will the folks taking this course be able to do that they’re not doing now”. The point is to start focusing on the real performance gap that you’re addressing (and unmasking if they don’t really know). You want to keep away from the information that they think needs to be in the head, and focus in on what decisions people can make that they can’t make now.
Experts can’t tell you what they actually do, or at least about 70% of it, so you need to drill in more about behaviors, but at this point you’re really trying to find out what’s not happening that should be. You can use the excuse that “I just want to make sure we do the right course” if there’s some push back on your inquiries, and you may also have to stand up for your requirements on the basis that you have expertise in your area and they have to respect that just as you respect their expertise in their area (c.f. Jon Aleckson’s MindMeld).
If what you discover does end up being about information, you might ask about “how fast will this information be changing”, and “how much of this will be critical to making better decisions”. It’s hard to get information into the head, and it’s a futile effort if it’ll be out of date soon and it’s an expensive one if it’s large amounts and arbitrary. It’s also easy to think that information will be helpful (and the nice-to-know as well as the must), but really you should be looking to put information in the world if you can. There are times when it has to be in the head, but not as often as your stakeholders and SMEs think. Focus on what people will do differently.
You also want to ask “how will we know the course is working”. You can ask about what change would be observed, and should talk about how you will measure it. Again, there could be pushback, but you need to be prepared to stick to your guns. If it isn’t going to lead to some measurable delta, they haven’t really thought it through. You can help them here, doing some business consulting on ROI for them. And here’s it’s not a guise, you really are being helpful.
So I think the answer can be ‘yes’, but that’s not the end of the conversation. And this is the path to start demonstrating that you are about business. This may be the path that starts getting your contribution to the organization to start being strategic. You’ll have to start being about more than efficiency metrics (cost/seat/hour; “may as well weigh ’em”) and about how you’re actually impacting the business. And that’s a good thing. Viva la Revolucion!