Most training and development professionals are motivated by a genuine desire to help people, teams, and businesses succeed. So, when we get the call that says, “I need a training program …” our natural tendency is to say, “Great, we will get right on it.”

As it turns out, however, that is not the best thing for you, L&D, trainees, or the business. In this blog we will examine why and what you can do to move into a position of greater value.

Order Taker versus Trusted Advisor

When you order a burger in a fast food restaurant, you expect the clerk to simply take your order and deliver what you requested.  When you go to your physician, however, you don’t expect him or her to schedule surgery just because you think you need your appendix out.  Indeed, it’s malpractice for a physician to make an intervention without first establishing a proper diagnosis.

That pretty well sums up the difference between an order taker and a trusted advisor: an order taker delivers whatever you ask for; a trusted advisor brings his or her professional expertise to bear, analyzes the situation, discusses the pros and cons and, if appropriate, suggests alternatives.

It is not that order takers don’t have their place, or don’t add value to society. It is just that because their job is much simpler, they are not held in as high esteem or paid as well as true professionals.  If we want to be valued for our advanced training and expertise, then we need to move away from being simply order takers and establish ourselves as trusted, professional advisors. That means learning to engage leaders in a dialogue—and sometimes even say “no”—in response to requests for training.

Why? Because for too many managers, training is the answer to every sort of performance problem. As learning professionals, we know, of course, that there are many other potential causes of sub-optimal performance than a lack of knowledge of skills.  If we agree to present training when the real issue is unclear goals, lack of feedback, inadequate incentives, and so forth, then we commit “training malpractice.” Worse, we tarnish the reputation of training by offering programs that cannot and will not work.

Pushing Back Constructively

But how do you tell a business manager—especially a very senior or self-assured one—that training is not the answer? You don’t. At least not directly.

Harold Stolovitch recommends saying “I can help you solve your problem” even when you suspect the ultimate solution won’t be training.  In response to a request for training, Mark Thompson, Chief Engagement Officer for McKinley Solutions, likes to say “We can certainly do that” but then suggests a discussion over a cup of coffee to be sure it is the best thing to do (it usually isn’t—at least as initially requested—but it takes dialogue to bring the leader around to that point of view).

Keep in mind that:

  • Training is the right solution only when the main impediment to performance is a lack of knowledge or skills.
  • Even when training is the right solution, it is never the whole solution.

Engaging your stakeholders in a dialogue that ensures the correct diagnosis and proper prescription leads to a more satisfactory outcome and helps you move from an order taker to a more highly valued role as trusted adviser.

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