Training specialists need to adopt a consultancy approach if they are to
prove their worth. Here we introduce the first three of six key skills
Imagine the following scenario. Opencall Communications is a UK mobile phone
company. It has grown rapidly due to a new agreement with another network
allowing it to slash its prices, and its market share has grown to 12% this
year, which is equivalent to more than 3 million customers.
However, a recent training scheme for a new computerised information manual
for customer services personnel has failed. The HR and training department was
brought in at the implementation stage, but was not involved in the planning.
It was left out of the loop because many line managers see the department as
being out of touch with the needs of the managers, while others see it as an
obstacle or a necessary evil.
As a result of this, the HR and training department is not being included in
business decisions. Initiatives fail due to lack of confidence in the function.
Performance management and training also suffer.
To succeed, HR and training needs to be pro-active and focussed on business
issues and to act as a facilitator.
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. Part of the problem stems
from the change of focus for HR. Historically, HR managed training and
performance almost exclusively, but this is now the domain of the line manager.
The difficulty is that line managers are not equipped to manage training and
performance. The result is bad practice, which creates problems that HR has to
clean up – damaging the reputation of the function by association.
This preliminary stage of consultancy is one of the most important,
especially when applied to a training situation. Scouting is where the HR
professional pro-actively analyses the business’s outputs and identifies areas
that could benefit from change. Coming to the line manger with areas that could
be improved is beneficial in three ways:
– Exploring training issues from a business angle is invaluable – linking
training objectives to business performance indicators has been shown to
dramatically improve employee success.
– The HR professional is seen to be in touch with the business and an
– You can direct the process, maximising the success of the HR solution.
Entry and contracting
This stage is the first contact with the client. The goal is to find out
exactly what is going on. Following a structured procedure at this stage will
vastly increase the chances of finding workable solutions, quickly. At SHL, we
recommend using an interrogation model, such as the SOLVE model (below) to make
sure you get all the right information and the commitment of your client. The
model guides you through several stages at which different questions are asked.
Situational questions are questions about how things are now. Use these to
add to your knowledge of the problem. For example, how many of your staff have
had refresher courses in the past year?
Obstacle questions are negative questions that probe the problems with the
existing situation, known as the implied needs. This is the beginning of seeing
the problem as the client sees it. For example, are any employee groups less
effective than you’d like?
Linking questions focus on the consequences of the implied needs, making
them tangible by giving them grounding in concrete business objectives. For
example, has the training deficit resulted in the loss of clients?
Value questions are questions you pose to tease out the value of the
solution to the problems you’ve identified. In this way, you increase the
attractiveness of the solution and the client’s ability to express their
explicit needs. For example, how much would you save?
Evaluation focuses on success and helps the client identify what would it
would look like. For example, what are the key measures of success?
After going through the SOLVE process you should have successfully identified
the client’s expectations. Don’t forget, that it’s vital that you set out what
you will deliver and achieve on their behalf.
This is where all the information gathered in the preliminary stages is interpreted.
The client has already stated what the need is – it is now up to the HR
professional to translate it into discrete problems that can be solved. You can
split this translation process up into two stages; the first stage is
prioritisation, the second stage is the real diagnosis.
Stage 1: The two-by-two model
This model looks at the most important needs and classifies them according
to degree of changeability and current success. This is one way to help a
client to focus on those things that can be altered to solve their problem (see
Stage 2: The diagnostic window tool
This tool gets the client to think about which factors contribute to the
problem and then prioritise each one effectively.
It categorises these in terms of ease of change and importance.
– Note the business challenge that has been identified
– List related issues
– Categorise according to what is going well
– Check what can be realistically changed (this may require discussion with
other people or organisations).
Remember to keep things simple and that the tool is intended as a guide
Focus only on those things that contribute to meeting the business challenge
and question whether the issue on the chart relate to the business challenge at
Start with the assignments that are important and easy to change – quadrant
1 in the diagram above. Success in this area will help build up trust and
confidence between you, the line manager and the employees. For example,
selecting the right training programme.
Quadrant 2 represents those tasks that are important, but harder to change.
You will earn the respect of the line manager by achieving these targets. For
example, re-training experienced employees to a new system.
Do not to fall into the trap of tackling those issues that are both easily
resolved and not important. These are known as temptations (Quadrant 3). For
example, booking training rooms.
The final category is labelled ‘tolerables’ – targets falling into quadrant
4 – which consist of those things that are unimportant and hard to change.
This kind of assignment is often resource intensive, usually has poor
results and is best avoided. For example, trainers’ name badges.
You now have a road map for the first of the next three stages of the
Put the skills to use
Try this scenario.
After looking at the quarterly customer service report you
notice that the number of complaints has risen by 25% and that call waiting has
also increased. Why?
– Not enough staff
– Staff not experienced enough
– New information system is causing problems for the staff
– Staff are de-motivated by rude customers upset about having
to wait so long
Entry and Contracting:
You approach management about the level of complaints
– Situation Questions – How many more complaints were there
– Obstacle Questions – What is stopping the calls being
– Linking Questions – Have these missed calls resulted in lost
– Value Questions – How much revenue would we save by answering
– Evaluation Questions – To what level should we reduce the
number of missed calls?
When things are going well recruitment is changeable while
salaries are unchangeable. When things are not going well, the number of
complaints is changeable, but the number of telephone lines is unchangeable.
Chosen need – Reduce number of complaints: Contributing factors
– Training on technical information
– More expert staff
– Volume of calls
– More voicemail options
This article provides an overview of the first part of the SHL
consultancy course. The course itself offers an in-depth, hands-on approach to
consultancy skills training.
Next issue: the final three skills of
planning and negotiating interventions, taking action and evaluation
For more information on the
course, please contact the SHL Client Support Centre on 0870 0708000, www.shlgroup.com