As training professionals, we need to become experts at asking the right types of questions to develop performance solutions for our clients. This is what led me to develop the Fredrickson Business Initiative Strategic Questionnaire.

Surprisingly, most training and measurement strategies fail before they even have a chance to succeed. The reason is that many trainers fail to ask the most important training question:

“What are your business goals for the project/initiative?”

It’s no coincidence that this is the first question on my Initiative Questionnaire (PDF). Let me explain why.

The most important question

Defining the business goals for any initiative would seem like an obvious step—and something that should be done long before training becomes a part of the initiative. However, many times trainers simply don’t ask about the business goals. And when they do? Consider these real-life stories.

The first story is one I’ve heard dozens of times from people using the questionnaire. During the initial meeting with the project sponsor to discuss the training request, the trainer or training manager asks, “What are your business goals for the project/initiative?”

The response tends to be an uncomfortable silence followed by a promise to get back to the trainer soon. Surprising? Absolutely, but it happens more often than most of us would believe.

Sometimes it emerges that while there may be a goal, it’s not very well thought out from a business perspective. This was illustrated to me by a trainer from a major retail company who told me the story about asking the question and getting an answer that was anything but a business goal. The answer the trainer received? “We want people to feel better after the training.”

While it’s admirable that they wanted people to feel better, it wasn’t the type of business goal one would normally base an initiative on. So the trainer and the business client agreed that the question needed more thought. After more discussion, the result was significantly different: To decrease a specific behavior that was leading to a safety concern.

Think of where they started and where they ended in defining the business goal. Now think of the difference this made in the training and the ultimate business result. That is one powerful question.

Sometimes the question can help your clients help themselves. I was working with one of our major manufacturing clients to redesign their three-day class on their software development methodology . As we discussed the business goals, I learned that one of the most important elements of meeting their business goals was the development of a list of expected productivity gains and cost savings that would be achieved when the system was fully implemented. The plan was to monitor and maximize system use after implementation.

Unfortunately, the current three-day course had less than five minutes dedicated to this concept. Anyone like to guess what major change we made to the instructional design? Exactly.

The power of acceptance

Unfortunately, many initiatives with clearly stated business goals still fail. Why? There are a variety of reasons, but one that is often overlooked is the power of acceptance.

In the book, Making Six Sigma Last, George Eckes introduces a simple equation for change:

Quality × Acceptance = Effectiveness

Most initiatives focus their time, effort, and resources on the quality component of the equation. Yet they fail to develop a plan that will effectively move the outcomes of the initiative into the daily work procedures of the organization.

The problem is that achieving the highest level of system quality—let’s say a “perfect” score is 10—can be still be negated by a low level of acceptance. Using the Quality × Acceptance = Effectiveness equation, 10 × 0 = 0.

Thus the overall effectiveness of the initiative can be dramatically limited or even eliminated by a poor level of acceptance. As trainers, how can we develop training and measurement solutions that will help move the initiative through acceptance to measurable business results?

The four areas and 20 questions of the Fredrickson Business Initiative Strategic Questionnaire will help guide project managers, senior leaders, and trainers to identifying key information and gaps as they develop their solution. The questionnaire covers four main topics:

  • Business results
  • Processes, skills, and tasks
  • Proficiency
  • Implementation, measurement, and accountability