Employees often go through a gauntlet of training on how to interact with customers, but once they’re put in the hot seat, these “best practices” usually fly out the window.
It is not that the employee has disregarded what has been learned, it is that there is a disconnect between the learning department and the customer interaction. Once the employee learns — they are on their own to assume the practices they’ve been taught. The larger learning departments get, the more centralized and further from the customer interaction it becomes. This centralized learning function begins to focus on its own mission, its own strategy, its own goals, and its own processes rather than on how the employee can best serve the customer.
In short: business goals and learning goals have become disjointed when the learning becomes overly centralized.
Don’t Stray Too Far From the Customer
The disconnect between business goals and learning goals happens because the learning department starts to take on a separate mission. As such, a centralized learning department will work to impose its best practices on the rest of the organization, saying, “This is our system, and here is how you work within our system.” Here, the centralized function wants to control everything in the name of process and standardization, falling back on the vague notion (or excuse) of ensuring best practices.
What practice misses is the customer — the one on the phone right now interested in a new product that was just released, while the VP of sales is focused on getting her people up to speed on the same product. This is backwards. The execution of learning should occur as close to the customer interaction as possible. Centralized learning departments are too far away from the customers to understand that.
Centralized Learning: Implement the Three Es
If centralized learning is the only way learning professionals can deliver programs that support what the organization is trying to accomplish, I suggest it focus on three roles. Rather than focus on imposing how learning should work on the rest of the organization, a centralized learning department should focus on empowering, enabling, and educating in order to execute these learning programs throughout the organization.
- Empower — The attitude of a learning department should be one of support. A sales or service department should not have to seek approval from the learning department to run a training program. What the customer needs is more important than proper instructional design procedures. The learning department should empower people close to the customer interaction to decide what learning needs to occur and how.
- Enable — If a centralized learning function empowers people close to the customer interaction to make learning decisions, it must also provide the means necessary to execute these learning decisions. This means enabling people with access to tools such as authoring tools, templates, and needs analysis questionnaires. A centralized learning function should provide the tools necessary so people can get the job done.
- Educate — Finally, not only should these tools and the power to use them be delegated, the learning function should teach those who need them, how to use them. Whether the tools are authoring tools, learning management systems, or templates for writing effective learning objectives, the learning function should teach how to use these tools.
As with most things in business, the closer something occurs to the customer interaction the better. The more a learning department centralizes, in the name of standardization and best practices, the further away from the customer interaction it becomes. I suggest these three things are the only things a learning function should centralize. This will allow the organization to run effective learning activities as close to the customer interaction as possible.
How can learning departments remain close to the customer interaction?