“I need three gallons of yellow training, please”

How many of us in the field of HRD have heard something like this?  And we’ve probably all shared the frustration with being pretty sure that we can help, but that the “three gallons of yellow training” are probably not the solution.  However the “client” – internal or external – really wants the “three gallons of yellow training“.

I was privileged to hear Dr. Roger Kaufman, the father of “needs assessment” speak to the Central Florida ISPI chapter last week on “Making Sure Your Strategic Planning is Strategic”.   He kindly allowed me to use his clever metaphor in this blog, and I’m thankful because I’ve rarely heard anything quite so on target about the challenges faced in running into solutions without clearly defined problems.  So what did I learn….

According to Dr. Kaufman, the word “need” should be eliminated from use as a verb.  When you use “need” as a verb, you are presupposing that you know both the problem and the correct solution.   Instead, he defines “need” as the gap between what currently is, and the preferred place to be.

While we have all worked with gap analysis, what a wonderful clue – to hear a client use the verb “need”.  We can then ask them to talk about what they see happening today, and why that is different from what they would like to have happen.

While there were significant take-aways from this presentation, one stands out to me.  I’m not sure if Dr. Kaufman would agree with my paraphrasing, but my take-away was to start by asking “what’s the point?”

Dr. Kaufman has (I believe) coined the term “Mega” for the place at which all organizations must start as they begin their planning process.  His definition of “Mega” is asking and answering this question….”Do you commit to deliver organizational contributions that add value for society?”  That sounds pretty heavy, and many of us struggled with the concept of all work having a valuable or detrimental impact on society.    But if not, why do you exist?

I asked the question to myself in writing this post – what is the point?  Then I totally changed the text because I realized the point I intended was to provide helpful insight to readers based on Dr. Kaufman’s presentation, and that’s not what my original ramblings accomplished.

When you have effectively identified the point – the why – you now have the tools to help the client understand the cost of not making the change.  By helping them to carefully find the “need” based upon the “point” of why they are doing the work, it becomes easier to calculate the “cost” of not doing the work of closing the gap.  Usually, the cost of not doing the work exceeds the cost of doing it.

One final metaphor he shared…. you can have the perfect training, executed flawlessly.  But if the training is aimed at rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and not at navigation in freezing waters, your priorities are wrong and you are wasting energy and money on the wrong “needs”.

Look up Dr. Roger Kaufman on Amazon – he has some terrific books that explain all this way better than I did.

So, did I make my point?

Image credit: Ewen and Donabel via Flickr Creative Commons

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