Wanted: Seeking a business partner who has performance needs

Alan Weiss in his book, Organizational Consulting: How to be an effective internal change agent, recommends that internal consultants avoid what he calls the IRS syndrome – “I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help you”.  Just because you may be an expert in training and are “schooled” in HPI/HPT (Human Performance Technology); you don’t need to alienate your internal customers. 

You want to gain credibility in order to be accepted as a peer and earn their trust.  It’s easy to play it safe and agree with their current point of view when seeking acceptance with a new internal customer.  Contrary to how to win and keep friends, you may need to take an unpopular viewpoint on an issue you feel strongly about.  But don’t just show up only when there is a problem and declare “gotcha” or “I told you so”. 

10 Ways to Earn Trust with Your Client

First You Need To Make Friends With Line Management

One of the best ways to establish a business partner working relationship is to start with line management while you are waiting for your first HPI (Human Performance Improvement) project or during project downtimes.  Spend some time getting to know the folks you are most likely to be engaging with for a future project.   

While the relationship is forming, both parties can begin to share information about each other’s area of responsibilities.  The Performance Consultant (PC) learns more about the manager’s department: work processes that are not robust; performance needs that are both urgent and ongoing and tied to “important” performance requirements.  These could be ideas for improvement. 

During the dialogue, listen for internal challenges such as:

  • supplier snafus,
  • resource-constrained hick-ups,
  • conflicting policies and procedures and
  • other projects that are resulting in more to-do’s. 

Find out if they are also managing regulatory commitments and working on closing out CAPAs and deviations related to training, performance issues, or “Operator Error” mistakes.  These are possible sources of entry points that can move the relationship to potential partner status.  However, be mindful of finding the right balance between suggesting ideas and showcasing your “brilliant” concepts.

Partnering Implies A Two Way Exchange

The PC also shares information about HPI/ HPT (Human Performance Improvement/Technology) at a level of depth that matches the individual’s interest and needs at the time.  Remember, while your goal is to educate them about HPI, you don’t want to lecture to them or overwhelm them with even more tasks for their workload.  According to Mary Board, author of Beyond Transfer of Training: Engaging Systems to Improve Performance; the PC is striving to build a close working relationship that over time can lead to more strategic performance improvement work.  It is not only about getting projects. 

Moving the Relationship to Partner Status

Requests for help/support are bound to surface. To demonstrate support and strengthen the desire to partner, a PC can follow up on discussions by sending additional literary sources such as articles, white papers, and blogs from industry thought leaders.  Another popular activity is to pitch in to help meet a deadline or rebalance their workload.  Mini-projects are certain to follow, next.  It is an excellent way to move the relationship to partner status. 

Keep in mind; however, that it is a JOINT undertaking and not a delegation of tasks to a direct report or a hired temporary employee.  This is where the consulting side of the partnership can begin; leading him/her through decisions and actions using the HPI methodology says Broad. Early conversations around partnering should include:

  • purpose of working together
  • benefits of shared tasks shared outcomes
  • role clarification
  • partnering process explanation and agreement.

Three Consulting Styles

Let’s start with the Pair of HandsThis style of consulting resembles more or less the contractor for hire or long-term temporary employee; sometimes referred to as the permanent temp much to the chagrin of those who hold those positions.  Here the client (or internal customer) retains control of the project from problem identification to solution deployment.  The consultant implements those decisions as if s/he were an extension of the client’s staff.  Hence the expression, an extra pair of hands to delegate the work to.

Three Types of Consulting Styles

There’s the Expert.  Here the consultant assumes most of the control for the project.  The client can still make suggestions while the consultant makes recommendations for the best solution selection.  Ultimately, the expert-consultant decides on the course of action and tells the client what the best path forward.  In this type of consulting relationship, the client wants the expertise of the consultant. 

The third is Collaborator.  This is where the consultant utilizes his/her specialized knowledge and field experience and leverages the client’s knowledge of the operations, including processes and procedures, and the cultural factors.  In this relationship style,  1 + 1 = 3, representing a more synergistic approach to problem solving.  Decisions and implementation plans become shared responsibilities.  This style is often referred to as a business partnership and it is really the only one that changes performance.

The Best Time to Initiate

Ideally, the best time to initiate a relationship is during a current assignment especially when the shared project is going well.   A “project client” is no less important than a business partner, the difference is in the intensity during the life of the project.  A project client is the one who is ultimately accountable for the project results and may not be the one who initiates the project discussion, explains Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson in their book, Strategic Business Partner: Aligning people strategies with business goals

Before you can get access to strategic work, a PC has to prove s/he can deliver on tactical projects that are solution-oriented.  Gaining access starts with cultivating a relationship with project clients.  The secret is not to ignore or bypass the project contact person but to work with him/her to gain access to the project client. 

Suggest that the contact/lead attends meetings with you regarding issues that need to be resolved at the higher level or collaborate on joint update briefings to the leadership team.  By establishing good relations with the contact, access to the project client is less adversarial and demonstrates an authentic approach to getting answers/ direction that was not previously available. 

Project clients can become business partners; one that provides access to strategic initiatives.  Or they can provide introductions to true clients.  If possible, volunteer for activities that will give you visibility with this person while supporting him/her on the assigned project.  They will begin to learn more about your “other” capabilities and your ability to handle more than “assignment at a time” will be confirmed.  And in all your interactions, ensure that they are truly value-added conversations; else you will be perceived as wasting a busy executive’s time.   

Internal vs. External Consultant

I’ve been both and have had success in implementing HPI projects in both environments.  There are pros and cons and tradeoffs.  Whether you are internal to the organization or external (an outsider), Compliance Trainers need to expand their skills sets if they are going to move from a “pair of hands” to expert and eventually to trusted business partner. 

Technical Trainer or Performance Consultant Wanna-be?

As the traditional role of technical trainer evolves into Performance Consultant, the skills needed are evolving as well to keep up with management expectations for alignment with business needs.  To that end, Beverly Scott, author of Consulting on the Inside: An internal consultant’s guide to living and working inside organizations, suggests that internal consultants re-tool with some new skill sets:

  1. Know the business.  Tie solutions and align results to real business issues that add value. Get to know finances.
  2. Identify performance gaps before management does or becomes the focus of a CAPA corrective action.
  3. Become a systems thinker.  HPI is all about systematic performance improvement.
  4. Build skills for the multiple roles a PC performs.  Become known as a change agent, systems thinker, learning strategist.
  5. Pay attention to trends; talk about them.  Watch for relevance for the organization. –VB.

“The ability to give advice as a consultant comes from trust and respect, which are rooted in the relationship”. (Beverly Scott, p.61, 2000).

  • Beverly Scott Consulting on the Inside: An internal consultant’s guide to living and working inside organizations.
  • Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson in their book, Strategic Business Partner: Aligning people strategies with business goals
  • Alan WeissOrganizational Consulting: How to be an effective internal change agent.

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

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(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Taking the Agile Learning Plunge

When Rapid Design for eLearning found its way into my vocabulary, I loved it and all the derivatives like rapid prototyping, etc.  And soon, I started seeing agile this and agile that.  It seemed that agile was everywhere I looked.  When Michael Allen published his book, LEAVING ADDIE for SAM, I was intrigued and participated in an ATD sponsored webinar.  It made a lot of sense to me and “I bought into the concept”.  Or so I thought …

I joined a project that was already in-progress and had to “hit the ground running to get caught up to speed”.  The element of urgency was the anticipation of a post FDA visit following a consent decree.   If you’ve experienced this “scene” before, you can relate to the notion of expedited time.   As part of remediation efforts, training events needed to be conducted.  I learned during a meeting sometime my first week, I was to be the trainer.  Okay, given my instructional design background and classroom facilitation experience, that made sense.  Sure, in a few weeks when we have the new procedure in place, I’d be happy to put the training materials together, is what I was thinking.  Wait, what, in two weeks?  Are you kidding me?  I’m not the SME and I don’t even have the software loaded on my laptop yet.  Well, some cleaned up version of those words was my response.

My biggest challenge was to get out of my own design way

I’m classically schooled in *ADDIE with 30+ years as an instructional designer and very comfortable with how to design, develop and deliver training.  All I needed was more time; more than two weeks, for a process that was changing daily!   And then I found myself thinking about all the buzz for rapid design and prototyping I had been reading about.  

*ADDIE = Analysis, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate: a project management approach to training projects.

In theory, I totally bought into it. But this is different I argued with myself.  This is compliance with a quality system for a company that is undergoing transformative change as a result of a consent decree!  Furthermore, I teach GMP Basics and conduct Annual GMP Refreshers several times a year. My GMP dilemma challenged the very essence of my “learned” compliance beliefs about following the 1st basic GMP Work Habit – “thou shall follow written procedures” otherwise, it’s a deviation. 

Are we really planning to deviate from the SOP while under a consent decree?

While it was the intention of the business unit leader to deviate from the approved set of work instructions, a planned deviation would not be appropriate in this case.  I mean we were talking about a corrective action for a consent decree item.  Were we really considering a PLANNED DEVIATION to intentionally teach unapproved procedures and then submit the documentation as a completed corrective action for the CAPA to the agency?  I was truly baffled by how I was going to pull this off in two weeks.  I’m not a magician, I can’t pull this rabbit out of my laptop is what I was thinking when I left the VP’s office.

Yet on the other hand, how could I teach a work instruction that was known to be broken; was being re-designed and not yet finalized?  The instructional designer side of me screamed – how can you teach flawed content?  That’s wasted training that results in scrap learning. How is that training going to be effective not to mention having to explain a failed effectiveness check during the post inspection?

And then, it hit me!  I was so focused on WHAT I NEEDED, that I was missing the urgency of the learners’ needs. Julia Lewis Satov refers to this situation as ‘agility by fire’ – “the ability to move quickly but not easily, and still excel”, (p. 50, 2020). It was time to put theory into practice and take the agile learning plunge into the realm of the unknown.  If I could come up with a way to document what we were doing and get it approved, then I could reconcile my GMP dilemma and satisfy my instructional designer. 

 With a little help from my validation colleagues – the training implementation plan

Validation engineers use protocols to capture their “change in process” work.  Whether it’s experimental batches, 3 batches for process validation or **IQ-OQ-PQ protocols for equipment qualifications.  They are validating the procedure or the new process before it can become the standard operating procedure by developing the plan, developing acceptance criteria, managing deviations and capturing the results.  So why couldn’t I borrow the concept and adapt it to my situation?

**Installation Qualification, Operational Qualification, Performance Qualification

The purpose of the initial training session was to test the new sequence of steps and confirm the robustness of the software responses for each field entry and then make correct decisions where needed.  The learners were still in compliance with the quality policy for complaint handling and were still meeting the intention for Medical Device Reporting requirements.  They were essentially testing the future “how-to steps” for the proposed new work instructions.

Agile QT’s processing their learning experience

I did not copy and paste the validation protocol template. I did, however, include a please pardon our appearance while we are under construction” paragraph in the training plan to document the departure from the current set of work instructions.  This protocol-like section also included our intentions for the outcomes of the sessions. We also stipulated that required SOP training of all affected users including the Qualified Trainers, would be mandatory once the finalized set of work instructions were approved.

Anybody want to play in the sand-box?

By shifting the prioritization away from perfectly designed classes with pristine training materials, I was able to diagnose that the need was to get the learners into a live classroom. But first I needed a small group of super users who wanted to see the database software in action and “play in the sandbox”; the training materials could follow afterwards. 

It didn’t take long for them to find me.  These “learning-agile individuals” wanted the challenge of not only learning something new but seemed to thrive on the idea that they would be managing their part of the training implementation plan.  They were not at all worried about the lack of available training materials for themselves.  They allowed the learning experience to occur spontaneously.  Their ability to learn new knowledge and skills did not get in the way of previously learned skills. They embraced the changes rather than resist them.

A new breed of SMEs as Agile Qualified Trainers?

I shifted my role to facilitator and allowed these learning agile SMEs to navigate the software screens and then work out the explanation of how to complete field transactions.  In the Center for Creative Leadership “Learning Agility” white paper, authors Adam Mitchinson and Robert Morris explain that learning-agile individuals understand that experience alone does not guarantee learning; they take time to reflect, seeking to understand why things happen, in addition to what happened”, p. 2.

“SMEs are true front-line and onsite educators” says Satov.  Every organization has employees who are brimming with intelligent and diverse ideas and are eager to share their talent producing work deliverables. “[…] Our focus must shift to finding and developing individuals who are continually able to give up skills, perspectives, and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that are”, (Mitchinson and Morris, 2014, p.1).

We documented these sessions as training because we all learned how to navigate the screens; albeit it was learning on the fly.  We recognized that learning the software was the goal.  Developing the process steps and eventually the work instructions was the secondary goal.  This training documentation became the qualifying evidence for their train-the-trainer knowledge transfer.  And collectively they decided what choices end users were to pick from the drop down tables.  

Is this “learning on the fly” or agile learning in practice? You decide.

1 + 1+ 1 is more than 3

I shifted my role again to become a scribe and worked on sequencing these pages for the next round of end-users. To my surprise and delight, my new breed of Agile QTs volunteered to paste screen shots into participant worksheets so their “students” could take additional notes.  Together, we all collaborated to meet the urgent need of the end-users. Each of us in our niche roles experienced first-hand the value the others brought with them to that room.  And in that time away from our regular job tasks, we became more valuable to the organization.

The learners were paired up with their Agile QT for guided instruction of real entry into the live system.  The following week, the department was able to go live with a project plan that focused on a series of interim roles, changed roles and transitioning responsibilities within established roles.  The project launched on time to meet commitments promised to the agency.

Why are they thanking me?

It was an energizing and empowering learning experience for the super-users. A truly collaborative experience for the SMEs and the biggest surprise of all was that they thanked me.  Me?  I did not deliver the training; I was not the SME, nor did I provide perfect training materials.   If I had pursued my classically trained ADDIE approach, we would have waited for the perfect SOP to deliver those sessions and woefully miss FDA committed timelines. While I’m not ready to throw ADDIE overboard yet, Satov makes a compelling plea, “move aside elite and long-standing establishments of formal education”. 

My lesson learned was this: when the demand is for speed and the content design is not the key focus, I need to give up control to the true onsite educators and focus on facilitating the best learning experience given the daily change challenges and system constraints. Satov would agree, “the role of learning is to capitalize and create the architecture of the hybrid-mind”.  Is this “learning on the fly” or agile learning in practice?  You decide. But agile instructional design is here to stay if QA L&D is going to keep up with the fast-paced, often reactive, and regulated world of the Life Sciences Industries. – VB

  • Allen, M. Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An Agile Model for Developing the Best Learning Experiences. ASTD, 2012.
  • Mitchinson, A & Morris, R. Learning Agility. Center for Creative Leadership white paper, 2014.
  • Satov, JML. “Agile by Fire”, Chief Learning Office, July/ August, 2020, p. 50.
Need to expedite a CAPA remediation project? |Looking for a facilitator/ quality systems project manager to align your SMEs for collaborative deliverables?

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Are you worthy of your line partner’s trust?

As Performance Consultants (PCs) continue to demonstrate their character and competence, their line leaders begin to trust them more and more.

From those initial getting-to-you-know-you chats to requests for help discussions, the give trust and return trust has been reciprocated and continues to strengthen the relationship. With each request/opportunity, PCs are demonstrating their character traits and further developing their Human Performance Improvement (HPI) technical competence and experience.

Following the HPI/HPT model gives the PC the ability to articulate the big picture of how this request, this performance gap, this project, relates to organizational goals thus illustrating a strategic mindset. And by following the related methodology, PCs demonstrate strong project management skills while implementing changes systematically; not just a quick course to fix a perceived knowledge gap or motivation problem.

So PCs become worthy of receiving their partners’ trust.  Line partners in exchange merit their trust by giving it. Are you trustworthy as a Performance Consultant? Do you have the necessary competencies to tackle the additional performance solutions? Stay tuned for more blogs on what those competencies are and why they are so helpful for PCs.  -VB

References:
Covey,SR. The 8th Habit: From effectiveness to greatness, USA, Free Press, 2004.

Weiss, A. Organizational Consulting: How to be an effective internal change agent, USA, Wiley, 2003.

First, make “friends” with line management

 One of the best ways to establish a working relationship is to start with line management while you are waiting for your first HPI (Human Performance Improvement) project or during project downtimes.  Spend some time getting to know the folks you are most likely to be engaging with for a future project.

This blog has been merged with Wanted: Seeking a business partner with performance needs.

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.