Who’s YOUR champion?

I began writing the Train Like A Champion blog 8 years ago this week to offer some thoughts about how we, as a community, can offer better training and professional development. Actually, no. Not just better… how can we offer the best? How can we literally train like champions? But even if we offer the best professional development programs, who is our champion?

In Monday’s Train Like You Listen podcast, I talked a bit about the best professional advice I’d ever received. As learning professionals, we need to find people around the organization who can be champions, allies, ambassadors – whatever term you want to use – basically people outside of L&D who “get” what we do and the value we offer and who can spread word among their peers.

In a world where everyone is busy and focused on their own deliverables, finding champions throughout the organization is often easier said than done. Here are a few ways to make inroads when attempting to identify champions around the organization:

Show and Tell

Often, seeing is believing. Our co-workers have seen too many bad presentations and sometimes they don’t know what’s possible until they’ve seen what’s possible. While it’s always important to put together engaging presentations with compelling slides, when you have key influencers in your session, it becomes a matter of life and death – at least life and death for your future L&D initiatives.

So don’t just knock your next presentation out of the park. Go find decision-makers in attendance and ask for their feedback, and offer to help if their team needs something similarly engaging and effective in the future.

I did this once and several months later someone I’d never worked with before came up to me and asked for some help with a training program. “Caroline said that before I even thought about trying to create something, I should talk with you,” was the way the conversation began.

Co-Create

People in departments across organizations are asked to put together presentations every day, and the vast majority have no training in instructional design. Some have a feel for what works, but many simply follow their gut or do what they’ve always done.

If you know that someone is working on an upcoming presentation, they may find an offer to help with their presentation useful. Spending a lunch break with someone and helping them do some basic things such as identify learning objectives (to keep the presentation tightly focused and engaging), use a lesson plan or brainstorm ways to get the audience involved in the learning can all be useful steps.

I’ve found that working alongside SMEs or others who’ve been asked to put together a presentation has helped elevate not only my own reputation but also the reputation of what “good training” should look like across the organization.

Ask wise questions

“I don’t do touchy-feely! This topic is boring, but people just need to know it!”

I met this comment with two questions: “If you think it’s boring, then what do you think your learners are going to think? If it’s important enough that everyone knows it, don’t you think we should find some ways to make it engaging?”

The executive in charge of quality control was willing to humor me and to allow me to apply some of my “touchy-feely magic” to his training design.

Asking questions to get people to think for a beat before rejecting good instructional design can be quite powerful. It moves us from order takers to true partners in the learning process.

Another “wise question” I’ve learned can be effective, when all else fails, is: “Would you at least be willing to give it a shot and see how it works in real life before you reject the idea?” This was a question borne from desperation. I knew I had an amazing activity that would be much more powerful than anything the client had tried in order to have people digest their technical content. But, it involved using Play Doh. And the audience would be very experienced professionals in their 50s and 60s. It was risky.

After we tried the activity, and it worked to perfection, the SMEs who were so vehemently against the idea were now its biggest champions. To this day, they are quick to defend our crazy instructional design ideas when one of their colleagues (who is new to working with us) pushes back or tries to dismiss our ideas.

Finding ways to partner with people across the organization – by showing them what’s possible, by working alongside them in developing new ideas or simply by asking questions – can turn skeptics into champions of our work.

What have you found to be successful ways to create champions for your work across your organization?

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