14th Nov 2011
Following on from Jess Suter's PR tips, Christopher Barrat gives the community a few more pointers for a more consultative approach to training.
If learning and development professionals want to have a real impact on their businesses then there is a strong need to shift the emphasis from being course providers to being development consultants.
Many have already taken steps down this path, but simply calling yourself a 'business partner' – as many have – is simply not enough. A new mental approach is needed; a more rigorous honesty about your existing 'brand' and a more focused set of actions as to how you target your stakeholders.
The Adult Mentality
Before you embark on this journey, you need to make sure you have the right mental approach. HR is not alone in this challenge - many other functions such as procurement and logistics can also suffer from the 'cinderella syndrome'. This is where a group is doing good and worthy work, you are putting in the hours and hoping to be recognised for your quality and diligence, and hoping that this will eventually win through and get you to the ball. It won't work. Many trainers will be familiar with the 'I'm ok/you're ok' concept as well as the parent/adult/child positions of transactional analysis.
"If learning and development professionals want to have a real impact on their businesses then there is a strong need to shift the emphasis from being course providers to being development consultants."
Many functions who get into the cinderella position can easily slip into the attitude of 'poor me'. Likewise in transactional analysis mode you would be adopting the role of compliant child, with only the occasional kick up into the critical parent role when you have had enough. Getting the adult position is critical to having a consultative approach. Only when you are firmly in that mode of thinking will people take you seriously as a partner.
Work out your existing brand
Here is a simple test: imagine you were to ask a few of your customers to give three adjectives that describe how they view your service – what would they say? Would it be 'dynamic, insightful and invigorating'? Or is it more likely to be 'low-key, useful and bureaucratic'?
It is important to take a cold hard look at the brand you have internally with your customers. You may not have to do any massive research; most of your own people will already have a good idea what your brand is, even though they may not like it. Once you have a view of this brand, you can start to work on it – how would you like your brand to be?
This also helps calibrate the gap you may need to close – if the gap is big you may need to take it one step at a time. Imagine if Ryanair decided to launch a campaign to say how caring and considerate they were. It's too big a gap to have credibility. These gaps can be closed, and it takes time and consistent effort. Once you have a clear view of your starting point, only then should you progress to the next stage.
Targeting your stakeholders
Armed with your key brand messages you can then start the task of targeting your stakeholders to get them to think of you differently. Start by mapping out all your key internal stakeholders in a grid that matches the impact they can have against the strength of your existing relationship. This will give you some names – and it has to be individual names not departments – in the box where they are high impact but you have low involvement. These then form the basis of your plan, and you target them with specific individuals and contact points so you do not leave anything to chance. This can sound a bit like Jason Bourne hunting the office corridors, and that is no bad thing. It's a time-consuming task with a high-value pay-off, so it is worth doing with rigour.
The final piece in the consultative sell is to consult. That means you are keen to ask questions around their subject: don't offer solutions too quickly – make sure you have really understood their needs even if they were not very clear to themselves. Likewise don't be too quick to offer solutions that are clearly already in existence. You may not be able to make every course bespoke, but just showing that you have tweaked something specifically just for them will help enhance your brand as a valued consultant who listens.
"Few things destroy a consultative relationship faster than when all the high-level talk and discussion is let down by simply poor delivery."
Lastly you have to make sure your core product delivery is slick and effective. Few things destroy a consultative relationship faster than when all the high-level talk and discussion is let down by simply poor delivery. If you don't believe your delivery team is operating well, then your focus should be on them first before you start upselling your relationship to the wider company.
The good news is that there are pockets of excellence already out there – it is certainly very possible to do. With the right mental approach, a clear brand to develop and a targeted audience, a consultative relationship can flourish.