Nurturing Training Partnerships

Building genuine partnerships with training program stakeholders involves sharing a common goal and understanding their viewpoints.

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Getting Stakeholders Aligned

Training projects aimed at designing and delivering a training program involve a number of key stakeholders. Primary stakeholders for any significant training program include the trainer, the training participants and the training participants' managers. For your training program to succeed, you will also need to find out which other people internal and external to your organization can influence the outcome of your program. This Expert View follows on from this critical prior activity of identifying other key stakeholders and their interests in your project.

Once you have listed your key stakeholders and their motivations, think about how you will engage each one. Here, it helps to think in terms of a real partnership, over and above seeing people as a resource to be used. A partnership is a relationship that is based on mutual cooperation and a joint responsibility towards achieving a common goal. The goal is one in which there is a shared interest, although the motivation for reaching it may be different for each partner.

Ideally, you will want each stakeholder to desire your stated outcome of the program, whether it is higher profits, reduced defects, increased customer satisfaction, or whatever. This is not always necessary, as long as you can agree on at least one common objective for the program. For example, you may need the support of the Finance Manager in getting funding approval for the project. They may not really be interested in achieving the program's objective of improving customer service. However, their main concern could be missing budget targets. If you can enlist their support for keeping project expenditure within budget, you will gain a partner that will most probably remain onside throughout the project.

Genuine partnerships will be easiest to develop where you share a common interest in working towards the organization's future. To emphasize again, this does not mean that they will necessarily agree with the proposed program, as they may genuinely believe that expending resources on the program is not in the organization's interest.

Your objective in talking about the program with each stakeholder is not to convince them of the merit of the program. It is to engage them in a genuine two-way dialogue exploring the programs benefits and disbenefits from each point of view. Conversations conducted in this light are more likely to enamor you to each stakeholder, rather than arguments with the intent of bludgeoning your opposition into submission. Approaching a conversation with an open mind will also alert you to information and perspectives that you need to prevent you from embarking on a program that is destined for failure from the start.

Relationships built on mutual trust and openness are more likely to see you through to the end of the program. Do not feign agreement when in reality you do not concur with a particular stakeholder's point of view. Your true view will come to light sooner or later. And once you have been found out, the deceived stakeholder will try their best to trip you up behind the scenes. Taking the time to develop true partnerships will reap rewards further down the line.

Stakeholder Agreement and Disagreement

For any given stakeholder, there are any number of reasons why they may or may not partner with you. Reasons why they may be willing to support you include the following:

  • They like you.
  • Their manager has directed them to.
  • They want the promised benefits from the project.
  • The project earns them credibility and respect from peers, managers or associates.
  • The project increases the likelihood of them being granted more budget or funds.
  • Working on the project increases their employability or chances of promotion.
  • They will experience a sense of achievement.

On the other hand, they may withhold support for one or more reasons. Some of these reasons are about disagreements over facts. These reasons could be:

  • They believe that you or another partner is incompetent.
  • They believe that there is insufficient time or resources.
  • They are skeptical about the program's ability to deliver the promised outcomes.
  • They believe that trainees will leave the organization following the training.

Talking about the facts and putting up evidence supporting why you believe differently will help with these kinds of dissensions. On the other hand, other disagreements will be over what is worth doing. You may agree on the facts, but just want different things. Further down the scale, some disagreements are due to deep-seated psychological prejudices. These kinds of reasons are deeply personal, involving a person's value system and how they see themselves in the world. These more personal reasons include:

  • They distrust you or another partner.
  • They feel that they have other more important priorities.
  • They feel insecure about the highlighting of current deficiencies.
  • They feel that the organization does not deserve the extra effort.
  • They feel that trainees do not deserve training.
  • They fear a loss of authority or control.
  • They fear a loss of status or social standing.
  • They lack faith in their ability to learn new skills.
  • The program is inconsistent with their religious or cultural values and beliefs.
  • They fear loss of job security.
  • They fear loss of income.
  • They fear loss of family or personal time.

A stakeholder's withholding of support will typically involve a combination of reasons. Some of these will be a disagreement over facts and others will be of a more personal nature. Sometimes the reason they put up is not the real reason, serving to hide a more deeply personal reason. In one case, prospective participants refused to support a quality improvement training program on the grounds that the program was "not practical". This masked their real reason, which was their distrust of management.

In such cases, simply putting forward facts will not be sufficient to sway stakeholders. Critical here is your ability to gain their confidence in an effort to uncover the real reasons for their objections. Unless and until you can unearth their real motivations, you will be spinning your wheels. The time you spend in formulating a strategy for influencing stakeholders positively will be well rewarded.

Keep in mind that even if their reasons for not supporting the program are unjustified, it is not the circumstances that dictate their reaction. Whether people support or resist your program comes down to how they perceive those circumstances. For any hope of winning over recalcitrant stakeholders, you will need to be able to see the situation as they see it. Remember that time-worn saying: Perception is nine-tenths of the law.

Expert View Author: AIMM MAITD

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Find out more about building powerful training partnerships with your key program stakeholders. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.

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