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Prioritizing training – where to start when you need everything yesterday

So you’ve done an analysis and you know the business goals or performance objectives you are reaching for aren’t going to be fixed with communications or marketing. Your organization’s training laundry list has a million learning objects, where every stakeholder involved believes the topics they’re affected by is the highest priority. You now have a list of 15 “high priority topics” and 5 “medium-high priority” topics. Where to start?

Approach 1 - Think big-picture (for smaller orgs and autonomous departments)

As high level as you can go, what are the 3 biggest challenges or pain points for the business? Even if you are a department training manager, take it to the next level and do a double analysis on this one - consider what are the challenges not just for your department, but for the organization as a whole. Are any of those situations or problems affected by anything on your list? If no, then you probably don’t have the right list. If yes, then take these four steps to identify your training priorities:

  1. Identify which of those topics directly affect those challenges.

  2. Identify how (this is your learning objective or training goal) the training topic is supposed to affect the challenge.

  3. Then identify which topics indirectly affect the challenges and how.

  4. Figure out which, if any, of these overlap. You now have your actual training priorities.

Sometimes this is a quick and dirty method to help make the case for getting a move on known priorities while other business activities and decisions are being waited on that are known unknowns for future training. It’s not intended to replace in-depth analysis, but rather a way to simplify your information post-analysis to get a better high level view.

Approach 2 – Go granular and then get the big picture later (for larger orgs and new roles)

Maybe you’re new to the company or industry and want to be sure to capture the insight and knowledge of your colleagues across the organization. Maybe you don’t have the authority to make the decision in prioritization, or just feel like you need some input from the rest of the business. Whatever the case, it’s always smart to do your homework and have the data ready to present. This is the long way around, folks, but it usually has the best outcome. Take these steps:

  1. Categorize your topics into affected business areas and groups (this is basically steps 1-4 on the previous approach but with a data presentation flavor)

    1. Consider affected departments, divisions, product or workflow teams, roles across departments wi

th similar functions, colleges in higher ed, localized offices, etc.

  1. Include in your presentation some insight and preferably metrics into what business needs/goals could be affected by both having or not having training in that area

  1. Identify your SMEs for each and get their first confessions

    1. This should be more than one person per topic, i.e. your do-er and your decision maker. Getting the department or team manager is fantastic, but you also need someone who is “boots on the ground” involved. They’ll be able to more colorfully fill in details about the information, process, and/or best practices.

    2. Make sure they outline (as related to the identified training needs) the process involved, the level of training and skill involved, what they need to achieve their business goals.

    3. Get familiar with all their problems – figure out the processes but also the challenges, the pain points, the bottlenecks, the communication junctions or task handoffs where things inevitably get lost.

    4. Document everything, but save the most important and juiciest details for your presentation. Keep the rest in the notes if you want to refer to any of it.

Now that you have all of your analysis information organized and presentable in a way that you can take to different people across the org, it’s time to share that and get feedback. Wrangle the difficult calendars and get the strategic insight you need to make decisions and move forward.

Some really important things to remember:

Not everyone is going to agree with your recommended priorities, but you do have the opportunity to sway them to your side with information, studies, interviews, whatever you come prepared with, so be over-prepared.

Don’t get discouraged if people don’t seem thrilled and super involved in identifying training priorities. Most people don’t like change, or don’t like to be asked to do “extra” – it’s not their fault, they have just been subconsciously ingrained with the unfortunate idea that change is hard or bad (while we all consciously and rationally know that change is inevitable, on-going, and largely positive - especially when guided with thoughtful planning)

The more excited you are about it, the more others will be, too. Excitement and joy is infectious! When you are able to consistently convey through emails and meetings how excited, committed, and passionate you are about a training project, how appreciative you are of the contributions of others, people will be more accommodating, more helpful, more interested in getting involved. Make it fun and they will be engaged!


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