Learning CSI: Learning Needs Investigation

Time for a little Learning CSI (cue music).

Learning Rebels is all about taking traditional corporate learning, turning it on its head and looking at it differently; and in the past we’ve talked Learning Rebel mindset but today we’re going to talk Learning Rebel skillset – let’s talk basics.  Starting with the traditional needs analysis. The inherent problem with the traditional needs analysis is that generally L&D is in a meeting talking or consulting with the leadership or perhaps a subject matter expert about the problem that “training” is supposed to fix.  The discussion happens within a vacuum, sometimes the circle of questioning is expanded, but not by much.  This can be for a variety of reasons the two most common that come up in conversations is 1) Time, no one has enough time to conduct a real thorough analysis and 2) Permission.  People don’t have the permission to talk to others within the organization.  Time to be a rebel.  That permission thing? If that really is an issue, then you are working within an unhealthy organization.  Me?  I would beg forgiveness rather than ask permission.  But I digress.

We all know the issue at hand – The problem which is presented by leadership, is more times than not, not the actual problem. Leadership is unable to articulate the cause of the root issue or in some cases doesn’t really understand or see the real issue at hand.  To determine the actual problem requires the Learning Rebel to go in with a CSI mindset.  Gather the tools, gather your observation skills, and gather your questioning mind.  Prepare for the investigation.

Yes, investigation.  You are a Learning Rebel and we are not thinking “Needs Analysis”  we are thinking “Needs Investigation”.  Here are your steps.

Magnified illustration with the word Facts on white background.

Gather your witnesses.

Who is experiencing the issue? Sales? IT? Customer Service? Is this an internal or external facing issue? Gather up everyone the issue touches.  You need to find out why the issue exists, what the issue is impacting and how it is affecting everyone close to it. The only way to do that is to interview the witnesses and determine the motive.  Why is this happening? Lack of tools, knowledge, desire?  Those are the three motive “big rocks”.  If there is a problem, operational or otherwise, it’s usually because of one of those three reasons.  Question your witnesses to find out.

Gather your tools.

Is this a customer service issue? Dig up customer service surveys.  Is it an employee engagement issue? Go to HR and find those employee satisfaction surveys.  Perhaps its lack of Sales revenue: Analyze sales data from your sales tracking system and look at sales coaching feedback forms.  Safety incidents have gone up. Try OSHA Logs, safety inspection reports, and safety committee log sheets.  You get the picture, the more data the better.  A doctor doesn’t progress with surgery without an X-ray, and neither should you.

Gather your observation skills.

Watch. Look. Listen. Take pictures.  Go to the scene of the crime.  Culture issues? Watch how people interact in meetings, observe how people collaborate together, listen to how teams speak to each other, what does delegation look like, what is the workplace atmosphere?  Take pictures or video to validate findings.  Customer service issues? Take pictures of workplace and barriers that may get in the way of providing the best service – that broken phone, that computer that always crashes, the piece of equipment that never works, what do the work schedules look like (right person, right place, right time).  Sales problem? Ride along, tape record sales meetings (with permission), take notes during the close, and review current sales process – does it pass the reality check? The eyes don’t lie and a picture or video is worth a 1000 words.

Report your findings.

This is the hardest part of your investigation.  You may have to tell leadership that the suspect isn’t who they think it is.  In the case of a customer service issue – the issue may not be the employee it may be the crappy equipment they are forced to work with, at this point it’s not a training issue but an operational one.  In the case of a sales forecasting – the issue may not be that the sales team needs more “training” you may discover they are reporting their pipeline incorrectly, this is a combination of needing a learning aid (how to enter information correctly) and management oversight; needing to double checking sales entry, and perhaps coaching for the sales manager.  In neither example does a training course need development.

When reporting your findings keep in mind the words of Spock (yeah, I’m going there!) “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Leadership often doesn’t want to hear that their conclusions are incorrect, it’s up to you and the data you have acquired to convince them otherwise.

Which leads me to this: The hard part is convincing leadership that training is not the solution.  The sole development of a single course will not solve their problem.  A course, if one is required, is usually part of a more holistic solution to an overriding issue. Leadership at times, has an uncanny ability to only see life through blinders.  This is where being a true business partner is critical.  Business partners are not afraid to discuss how some issues have a bigger impact on an organization than originally thought.  For example: A more accurate forecast from the sales team immediately impacts business reactions and P&L forecasting.  If L&D only focuses on creating a course, they miss the bigger picture and subsequently L&D becomes less of key player at the table.

Are the conversations difficult – at times, yes.  It takes courage to be able to tell leadership that they may be mistaken in their analysis of a situation.  But when presented with the evidence and left to develop their own conclusions – they typically won’t argue with their own data.  Healthy organizations will appreciate the effort to get to the real issues at hand.  Real leaders want accurate information, not just information that supports their arguments.  Real leaders aren’t afraid to be told of the realities in front of them.  Real leaders aren’t afraid to be told “they aren’t wearing any clothes”.

Being a Learning Rebel is hard, and requires having difficult conversations.  You cannot have those conversations without supporting data behind you.  So put on your CSI badge, grab your notebook, tablet and camera and start practicing up on your investigation skills.  Believe me, the end-users who will not have to sit through another redundant, unnecessary course will thank you – and, you will feel better about yourself for being a business partner rather than just another order-taker.

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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