In our most recent Learning Cluster Design 2-Week Practicum, one of the participants brought up a challenge around getting stakeholders to prioritize and get clearer on the learning need. When approached by a senior manager to develop management training, this L&D professional asked what specific classes or topics the senior manager was looking to target in this training. Their response? All of them.

Sound familiar?

What is even more relatable to many L&D professionals that work closely with stakeholders, is that this particular senior manager based their response on their own personal opinion, rather than looking at any data – again, something that may sound familiar to many modern L&D professionals working to break free from traditional learning norms of the past.While we can’t expect our stakeholders to become L&D experts overnight, we can start to address this issue by approaching the stakeholder conversation from a consulting lens using the Change On-the-Job Behavior Action of the Learning Cluster Design model.

The Change Action in the OK-LCD model is about setting a new goal for any L&D project, and the moment you determine your goal is the moment you begin to shape the path to the solution and its related results. That means if your focus is everything is priority than the results will likely look like nothing was a priority!

The first step of this process calls for creating a higher-order goal in the form of what we call a strategic performance objective (SPO). The development of that higher-order goal is where L&D professionals start to move from order taker, to L&D business partner and consultant. We have seen it time and time again – L&D professionals that really understand how to leverage the Change Action are seen as more helpful by Stakeholders, are able to engage more effectively, and play the role of thought partner, rather than executor.

What makes the strategic performance objective a higher order goal is that it connects two very important ideas: the why for the business AND the why for the learner. AND this goal is not just for a single class or course, it’s the goal for a Learning Cluster – L&D’s new product – a set of learning assets across three learning touch-points tailored towards unique learner personas. In other words, the strategic performance objective is about articulating the connection between the business strategy and the employee performance and setting that connection as the focus of the work to come.

How do we do it?

A key part of creating an SPO is identifying Key Performance Indicators, which will help you speak the language of your stakeholders. During your talks with stakeholders early on, find a KPI that the business really cares about and may already be tracking, and how they imagine this KPI will improve. You can ask questions like “What would be the consequence to the business if this learning initiative does not happen?” to determine the real business pain, rather than a generic desire.Another crucial part of the SPO is defining what new on-the-job behaviors will contribute to changing the KPI that was identified by the stakeholder as a business focus. Here L&D professionals can get inquisitive by asking “what will employees be doing differently if our learning cluster is successful?” For typical behaviors that will be visible when performance improves, seek specifics or, at a minimum, several examples.

You also want to pay close attention to the audience your stakeholder wants to train. While many stakeholders err on the side of being too general (i.e. “R&D people), a deeper dive into who specifically they mean (i.e.” R&D people doing chemical testing in a lab”) will help you clearly identify the target audience and how they will contribute to the business outcomes your stakeholder is looking for.

In our LCD practicum, we teach you the questions to ask and how to frame conversations with stakeholders to complete the Change Action successfully. Many readers of the book who attend the practicum have a breakthrough when they have the opportunity to deep dive and get coached on this Action.

The Resulting Strategic Performance Objective

If you find it easy to fill out the SPO template provided in our Change Tool, you’re probably missing something! If it sounds vague and generic, and doesn’t connect with stakeholders and learners, you might need to learn to dig deeper! If you’ve completed the Change Action, but still don’t feel clearer on scope, you haven’t completed the Action successfully!

In either of these cases, the two-week Practicum gets you there.

(Image from Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM and our Change Tool. (c) 2020.)

After applying the Change Action, this is what a practicum graduate had to say about its success:

“I’m really looking forward to helping shift our relationship with stakeholders in our organization.  I don’t think anyone questions the amount of time and effort we extend but without proper design, organization and evaluation our outputs are, in most cases, not helping our learners or driving performance.”

You might find the questions we ask in the Change Action will really help you push your stakeholders to be more definite. We often experience stakeholders quickly saying they want it all, when in reality, they haven’t put a lot of thought into what the business really needs. The questions in the Change Action helps you (and business leaders) extract the real priorities.

What challenges do you face when getting stakeholders on board? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.