It is indisputable that business-relevant, technically accurate content is one of the essentials for effective training. There are two main reasons for failure of training that is intended to positively impact employee performance and business at large.
The first is the lack of subject-matter expertise that exists within training companies and the inability to leverage the subject-matter expertise available on the client side of the business. The second issue is that of limited view of training, which concerns itself only with the subject matter and does not look at the macro picture of the business context. This often leads to training material not reflecting the business priorities of an organization.
Subject Matter Context
Content accuracy or precision and relevance come from subject-matter knowledge, which is not always easy to handle when developing training for a variety of businesses. Most learning organizations today dabble in multiple subject areas, which is a necessity of both the business and the market. However, this makes it increasingly difficult for learning organizations to develop and retain subject matter expertise in each area. Often there are in-house experts who help in the tasks of creation of training, and there are occasional spurts of high demand for learning material when a new technology, product or service is marketed or new versions of existing programs are released. These spurts put pressure on subject-matter experts for a limited period, and then the areas of interest shift.
With the changes in business realities and technologies, today’s organizations have a huge dependence on third-party training support, and there are fewer learning players to support specific demands of myriad business segments and industries. Sensing this change in the market realities, training companies have started organizing verticals of training business, such as finance, trade, banking, business process re-engineering, health care, etc. It is, however, becoming largely evident that despite the increased focus on specific business segments, a lot of training material being created is either going unused or is unable to create the desired impact (read: improved performance of workforce and business impact).
To be able to align with this changed reality of the market, people in the training business must be able to either exploit the domain expertise within or leverage the subject-matter expertise of the potential client. The subject-matter experts are often the most sought after resources within the client businesses, and they always have time constraints, as they all are full-time employees in their own spheres. But the larger issue is that instructional designers often try to use them as reviewers of training material to get the sign-off on the accuracy of the content. There is usually a huge gap in the understanding of training in the minds of the subject-matter experts and the understanding of concepts in the minds of instructional designers. In the case when instructional designers do attempt to pull experts to pre-empt the situation of inaccuracy in content, they often fail, because they are not able to properly utilize the expert’s time. The communication process between developers of learning content and subject-matter experts leaves a lot to be desired.
Learning designers spend too much time communicating because they are not asking the right questions. This leads to a situation where the right answers are hard to come by, and designers end up facing more questions than receiving needed answers. Hence, designers don’t receive the correct input in terms of required information for the development process. This leads to a lot of time wasted and frustration on both sides of the spectrum.
Larger Organization in Context
Another problem that hinders laying the right field for learning material development is the lack of a strong understanding of business context and the perspectives of echelons of a business organization. Very often, training is developed in response to the pains felt by a certain function or group. Such training might solve a particular problem but fails to connect with the business requirements at large. It is in this context that it is important to build the business context within training.
This will not happen by just responding to sundry training requirements of myriad functions of an organization. One must develop a comprehensive understanding by talking to various stakeholders and arriving at a business context within which the training should be developed. In the end, the training has to solve a business problem or fix painful areas of the organization with respect to employee performance and customer satisfaction. Apart from interacting with the training group of a company, the learning design vendor has to consult with every consequential stakeholder, from top to bottom (from CEO and CFO to business developers to project managers, team leaders and team members). Although various stakeholders will highlight the customer feedback, it is very prudent to analyze any formal feedback that the company has recorded and documented over time. Looking at the larger picture and the areas of pain in keeping with the business context will ensure capturing the problems of specific functions, as well.
Effective Context Building
Effective context building is the result of understanding the customer’s business, its priorities and its areas of pain and leveraging the subject-matter expertise within the organization. This can be achieved by building a framework that can be used to establish the business context and then using various tools to arrive at a recommended solution. This framework must also cover areas such as effective subject-matter expert utilization. Instead of trying to maintain a healthy pool of ready subject-matter experts, keeping in mind their business verticals and sales pipeline, organizations should invest in building a robust communication process with their customers’ subject-matter experts. Only such a solution will integrate the business of training with the overall business of an organization.