Planning Is Hard

Right now I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of clients about their respective training contracts with me. I’ve given both the homework of prioritizing what their staff need to learn based on the “typical” things they do at work. (Train for typical tasks where you want to affect behaviour; provide empowerment to learn on-the-job along with really awesome manuals for infrequent tasks.) And then, as is typical of this scenario, I get radio silence.

Doing job-task analysis (JTA) and planning for training is hard. It forces you to think about how your staff are “failing” at their job. It forces you to think about the things that your staff don’t know….in a domain of knowledge that you might not even know. I know it’s hard because the books I’ve read on creating in-house training programs gloss over the JTA part of learning design. In my experience any topic that’s glossed over is either really easy, or so complex that it’s easier to simply back away and leave it unexplained.

In the spring I gave the following survey to the trainees for an in-house program.

  1. On a scale of “1 to Hero” where do you rate yourself on the doing-my-job scale? (Hopefully this is a positive number.) Keep the rating within your job skills. For example: if you’re a project manager don’t rate yourself against what a developer is expected to do.
  2. What information is preventing you from being Hero-rated? (You may answer “everything” if that’s how you’re feeling.)
  3. What tasks do you work on day-to-day right now?
  4. If you got some training, what else would you be doing?
  5. What (lack of) skills are preventing you from doing the best possible job?
  6. What resources have you already accessed that you’ve found helpful?
  7. What’s information is missing from the resources you’ve been using so far?
  8. What else should I know about you? About your current skills/background?

The answers I got back were surprising. It uncovered more about the anxiety on the job of failing to live up to the company’s expectations than it did specific topics. (I blame the “hero” question for setting the tone.) What I didn’t find surprising was that the people who’d been identified for the training program didn’t know what they didn’t know. Questions number 2 and 5 were surprisingly vague.

As I dug deeper into the culture of the company it became apparent that they had allowed too much autonomy to each team for the level of experience of their employees. One of the recommendations that I made was to pick a “recommended toolkit” that I could train against. This toolkit would need a specific set of Drupal modules that staff could be expected to use on a typical project. They wouldn’t be required to use it, but at least they’d have a starting place. Dare I say: the staff were suffering from Cartesian Anxiety.

So now I’ve started rolling ideas around in my head on how to simplify the learning planning process. How do you figure out what’s missing when your learners (and managers) don’t even know what’s possible? I’m not sure if this will be a set of questions, or a template of some kind, but I’m definitely missing something when I ask the question, “What do you need to learn?”