At a certain point or project in their career, most L&D practitioners realize that they are being asked to take orders rather than provide recommendations for new training. Instead of being an active partner in helping develop an initiative they are told: “We need a two-hour gated course on this compliance topic. Only a software simulation that shows employees how to move their cursors from tab to tab will do. We absolutely must begin with the history of the legislative and regulatory framework, because people won’t understand their responsibilities without it.”
It’s easy to suggest that L&D professionals should simply push back against longer, duller, or out-of-date solutions; the reason that doesn’t always happen is the unspoken power differential between the L&D professional and the higher-up demanding that the solution look, feel, and/or function in a way that has long been proven to be ineffective. This is when L&D managers must step in to provide performance support for their teams.
Five ways to provide performance support for your L&D team
Offer just-in-time suggestions. Insist on a needs assessment with colleagues who want to jump into development; explain the benefits of the recommended design solution in management terms; or rebut demands for a particular technology when there is a more effective and efficient alternative. L&D professionals aim to provide performance support to employees in their moment of need. Doing the same for your team may mean you have last-minute, unexpected meetings, but those impromptu interventions will benefit the entire organization.
Be a cheerleader for your team. You wouldn’t dream of instructing your legal counsel how to draft terms and conditions for a new contract, or of telling your marketing specialist how to find the right media mix in his or her next marketing campaign. But you should feel comfortable about reinforcing your team’s expertise in training solutions—from concept to completion. Not everyone understands just how specialized L&D has become, so side with your team and openly tout their expertise. If colleagues outside L&D appreciate what they bring to the table, they’ll be more likely to heed their advice.
Refer to data to counter demands for out-of-date or ineffective training interventions, including demands for “just one more change” to a project in development. Remind subject matter experts and/or higher-ups of the importance of improving the project’s key performance indicators. Will a requested change in terminology result in a lower rate of workplace accidents? How many customer complaints will continue to pour in while the team fusses over font choices? As a manager, you can and must pull discussions, project schedules, and budgets back to what is best for the organization. Providing statistics that prove the effectiveness of your team’s solutions helps you do that.
Put the learning solution to the test by launching it. If colleagues are insisting on doing things their way, challenge them to prove your team wrong by offering to launch the learning solution as envisioned by the L&D team. If the solution does not perform as expected, vow to improve it by taking learner feedback into consideration in the second iteration. Offering both to launch it quickly and improve it later is a difficult offer to resist. In my experience, you’ll need only to improve it later based on learners’ feedback…which you should be doing anyway.
Bring in reinforcement. When necessary, do not hesitate to engage your superior. With the weight of added seniority, the power differential should even out, or even better, evolve into a power deferential. There’s not a manager in the world who wants to be responsible for shoddy products or service. Calling your own boss to advocate for quality learning solutions should always be an option.
It’s your job to have their backs
L&D managers: If your team finds itself taking orders from L&D non-specialists who with more seniority or authority than they have, it’s your job to push back and have their backs. With your performance support, they can and will design and develop effective learning solutions that everyone will be proud of.