Dear Heroes,

Recently, I’ve been hitting a brick wall with my manager. I just gave an awesome presentation on why we need to change our e-learning approach. But my manager insisted that “it’s overkill for what we’re doing.” I’ve got all of these great ideas for creating interactive and engaging e-learning courses, so I’m getting really frustrated! What am I doing wrong?

-Frustrated in Florida


Dear Frustrated,

We hear stories like yours all the time in the e-learning field. You’ve got some great ideas for change, but the boss/manager/company isn’t coming along for the ride. Frustrating, right? But before you blame yourself, let’s take a step back and consider your situation through the lens of another experience:

I have a friend who’s changing careers. On more than one occasion, interviewers have told him that he’s overqualified for the job, which can be frustrating to hear when you’re a candidate. However, some research indicates that overqualified employees experience less job satisfaction and less commitment to their employer. So it makes sense that employers are concerned about whether an overqualified employee will stick around and be happy in the job.

On the other hand, job candidates know that the “you’re overqualified” stamp can be coded language for something the manager either can’t legally express (“you’re too old”) or doesn’t want to admit (“I’m intimidated by your qualifications”).

So, what does this have to do with your situation?

Sometimes a Simple PDF is Better Than an E-Learning Course

Your manager might have a legitimate concern. For example, let’s say your manager asks you to create a simple job aid featuring common keyboard shortcuts. But you want to create an interactive scenario where the learner needs to use the keyboard shortcuts to save the fairy princess from the evil emperor Zorgon before he uses her to activate the pink mushrooms and destroy the purple bizzles! Super creative idea—and total overkill. In this scenario, your “overqualified” course is simply not an efficient use of company resources.

My Boss is Intimidated by Me

On the other hand, your manager could be veiling the truth when he says “it’s overkill for what we’re doing.” It could be that he’s intimidated by your ideas because he doesn’t fully understand them, or that he’s worried about being shown up by the new kid on the block.

Here’s what I’d do:

  1. Be honest with yourself. Are your ideas truly overqualified for the task at hand?  Though we might not want to admit it, oftentimes, our managers are correct. If that’s the case, then drop the issue and save your great ideas for an appropriate course. However, if you truly feel as if your manager is using coded language, then…
  2. Seek First to Understand. I’ve always loved this Stephen Covey principle because it’s so powerful when we practice it. Sometimes we want so badly for our ideas to be accepted that we fail to understand the other person’s point of view. So put aside your ego and ideas and schedule a meeting to find out where your manager’s coming from.  Approach the conversation with a genuine sense of empathy, collaboration, and compromise. Remember, the meeting is not about YOU and your point of view.  Focus on your manager and make an attempt place yourself in his shoes.  Taking this approach gives you the opportunity to…
  3. Be an ally. If your manager is anxious about his position, build him up and support him. It never hurts to say “Hey Jim, I really value your opinion and I was wondering if you could help me out on this.” With a thoughtful and empathic approach, you are inviting your manager to be a part of the change process. Validate his concerns and search for some common ground. Once you do, you can…
  4. Take baby steps. Change is hard for a lot people, and baby steps are a good start. For example, maybe you can agree on a small change to the course structure, or the course navigation. When you find some common ground, implement the small change, and be done. Then on a future course, work on another small baby step. It can be slow-going, but your manager just may surprise you when he sees the positive results! And a side benefit is that your workday will be a lot more enjoyable if you’ve got a good working relationship with your boss.

I hope this helps give you a start. As with most workplace dynamics, it’s about relationships. Start with that, and work to be a positive agent of change within your organization.

Good Luck!


PS. If you have some advice for "Frustrated", or have been in a similar situation, please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Sarah Redmond

It's also worth realising the budgetary constraints with creating true elearning vs what I call glorified presentations - one takes weeks of work and is difficult to edit and review, the other is easy and fast to produce (an SME creates a powerpoint, then you just basically put it online with a quiz) and you can have ten modules up in the same timeframe, which is great "for the numbers". TRUE eLearning is not generally something that you get to do as an employee of a company, it's usually something farmed out to consultants for a higher profile piece, the rest, the rapid publish, is what we then get left with. I've come up against the same brick wall, so I've had to become a consultant on the side to do the meatier projects which indulge my creativity and just stick with the compli... Expand

Chris MacNulty
Kelly Prince

It is hard to find a job with a company that "gets" learning. Even if you have a supportive learning organization, you may find your internal clients aren't ready for what you can develop (even if it is appropriate on all levels...budget, audience, learning and business need.) Much of my role over the years has been selling and educating...selling the organization on the solution, selling my SMEs on the time investment and what they will get in return for the areas they support. It's hard when you know you have the knowledge and innovation to do "Brandon-Hall" work. We all want to build the next "Broken Co-Worker." And, as Sarah noted, a lot of times those types of solutions get to be created by the consultants, not the internal team. But even then, I've been on that side of the equation... Expand

Robert Lengacher