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Validate, Validate, Validate

Training/Performance Consultants are often approached with requests to develop learning solutions, and often times the solution requests are fairly specific. The solution design may appear to be obvious, and the expected outcomes are presumed.

We have all been tempted to accept solution requests at face value, for many good reasons, including (but not limited to) some of the following:

  • The management team has had many discussions about a specific problem/ need, and it is time to take action. (Example: Issues related to lack of professionalism are often brought to management attention, and therefore a Corporate Professionalism program seems to be the obvious solution.)
  • Corporate Leadership has identified some desired outcomes, and there are generic types of solutions that are commonly believed to meet those outcomes (Example: Managers are not spending enough time with their sales teams, therefore they need to have management training to address the way they spend their time. This program worked well for ABC Graphics when they had the same problem.)
  • Employees have been asking for some skill development assistance in a certain area. (Customer believes that it seems foolish to not act when there are multiple requests. Further information reveals that there have been three requests --out of a pool of 220 employees who would be targeted with this solution. These three requests have targeted the same type of training solution, and have been well-presented.)
  • Organizational surveys have revealed certain results about training needs. (Employee surveys have identified some key areas of concern, and a clear pattern has emerged. We don’t have any information about the methodology of the survey, what they were trying to measure, nor the types of results, but it all sounds pretty good.)
  • Our customer (internal or external) has the request thoroughly outlined, and we could begin the design quickly if we are not required to validate the assumptions about the need and the outcomes. (The customer has put a lot of effort into this endeavor, and they are ready to begin the design phase immediately of a web-based training module designed to increase employee motivation.)

All of the above are excellent starting points in the cycle of learning needs analysis, leading to solution design and development. However, none of these requests should tempt us to abandon further validation. Presenting questions should be followed up with the additional analysis and validation that can ensure learning solutions that address the correct knowledge/skill gaps, target the right learners, enable the desired performance outcomes, and are in tune with current organizational change initiatives.

In Summary, most Performance Improvement Professionals have learned that:

  • One solution size does not fit all organizations or work teams. It is always wise to take a “closer look” through validation of the assumptions of the learners and the solution providers.
  • The actual root cause factors for performance problems may not be obvious without further detective work in the form of focus groups, product reports, review of job descriptions, performance metrics, incentives, work conditions, and other factors affecting performance.
  • Hunches can be powerful and convincing, but they need to be validated further to see if they will hold true across the organization.
  • Clear articulation and convincing solution requests do not substitute for statistical significance. It is important to clarify the true frequency measures of a reported need/ problem, so that we pursue the best possible solution.
  • Organizational surveys often do not measure what they are intended to measure, but our lack of knowledge on how to conduct meaningful research (even that of a simple nature) can contribute to misleading results. It is always very important to gain insight about the methodology and underlying assumptions of a survey being used to identify performance-related issues.
  • The most beautiful design will not guarantee successful outcomes, even if it is professionally executed. It has to be the right solution for the right need, and that requires good validation wherever critical to the solution design cycle.