How do you say "no" to a training requester (aka VP or above)?

I recently got a request to create a training on awareness for a customer service issue. I asked the requester about the frequency of this problem and VP said that it happened very rarely, and she just wanted people to be aware of this. I really think that our employees don't need a training, they just need to know where to find helpful information when they actually encounter the problem, but I am afraid to say that to a VP.

How would you handle this type of situation?

14 Replies
Steve Flowers

There are several routes to take in this case. They all depend on the characteristics of the manager. Here are a few options:

  • Let's compare the cost of the problem with the cost of the solution. What's the pain and is it worth solving?
  • If it's worth solving, let's compare a few options. Considering what we want the performer to do...
  • What if we did something like this instead (established a knowledgebase that could be linked to through a focused dispatch)? Consider how this solution would also help us solve other problems.

Frame it around resources, provide alternative options with logical argument support, and provide the decision maker an opportunity to "pick" a better alternate (i.e., you're giving them an opportunity to be brilliant vice pointing out why their request is a terrible idea) and you'll probably win. That's how I'd deal with it, but I'm known to be rather blunt and rarely venture outside of my own habitat

Zara Ogden

Sometimes we make assumptions that are incorrect (I am terrible for this). So I try to establish processes in the design process that will hopefully avoid wasting resources.

One of the things that you can do is to complete a needs analysis. If you go through this exercise with the SME it opens their eyes to some of our perspective and opens our eyes to them and their needs.

Now it is very important that we get a bit philosophical. Training is not just e-learning or instructor lead. Training and Development includes lots of media. Movies, Handout, Newsletters, Email, Blog, Simulation, Games, Reinactment, SoMe, iPhones, etc... Perhaps this is a time to discuss different types of sharing information with the end users.

And there is always the "I am the Boss and that is what I want". It is really hard but sometimes for political reasons it is best to just do as we are told. ( I want new _______ so I will give a little) Brownie points are always good.

Oh and don't forget that maybe thier boss caught wind of a one off issue that cause an uproar and now it is dominoing to you.

In any case do a needs analysis and discuss the various ways to training, share, learn, etc... See where it takes you and perhaps you won't win this one but I figure if I keep opening discussions about alternative methods then one day they will be ready and ok with moving into the unknown.

Robert Kennedy

I agree with Zara on this.  Taking the client/customer through an analysis ALWAYS opens up perspectives on items that had not been previously thought about or just needed additional clarity.  It also helps you understand a bit more about what you are about to get into .  That's a good thing.

Needs Analysis FTW (for the win) :-)

Dave Neuweiler

Good posts, all.

Steve hits the nail on the head, but I'd phrase the question a little differently buy getting the answers to these questions:

1. What will it cost us if we don't do anything? (After all, it's an infrequent problem, and the onus is on the requestor to provide that figure.)

2. What will it cost to develop a solution? (That cost is yours to estimate.)

By comparing the two, it'll be easy to decide whether a training intervention (regardless of whether it's e-learning, instructor-led -- or just a simple job aid).

And without knowing anything about the specifics of the issue, I'd really look hard to see whether a job aid (perhaps a one- or two-page PDF) would fix the problem. Something simple often does.

So in short, dealing with a person at an executive level, I'd never say "no." I'd offer solutions along with the costs of implementing them, and then let the executive have it be "his or her idea."

Good luck!

Christine Pascual

Thank you all for your posts!

Zara, that's exactly the situation - he caught wind of a complaint and now he wanted an eLearning module to minimize the chance of it happening again.

Steve and Dave, the cost of this problem is actually pretty high; however our processes are set up in a way that does not allow an error like this to happen (sorry for being vague here).  But you are right - I should comapre the cost of training vs. cost of not training.

As for the needs analysis, no way to do one with the exec... but perhaps I can get my manager to get more information. As far as I know, he wants an eLearning module that goes through many potential scenarios and the only action he wants the employees to take is to contact a specific department within the company. I agree that a PDF and an announcement would be make most sense, but we will see if the exec would approve.

Thank you again!

Zara Ogden

Although the VP isn't going to want to do the needs analysis necessarily in an ideal world you could try and do it with your manager or with a supervisor of the department you are dealing with. And if that is totally not going to happen (mostly my case due to a national org) just wing it. That is what I do.

I use my design doc as a makeshift needs analysis form. When building a project I always start form the ground up and do a Task/Topic Analysis (create steps or order of info based on the topic). From the Task/Topic Analysis I create a lesson plan (in the case of training) or other proposal based on how the training needs to be presented. You can actually use the lesson plan form but clearly indicate that this is not "training". In you case I would also recommend a Summary Report at the beginning that outlines the Topic, Need, Proposed Method of Delivery as well as Reasoning behind why.

I have been working on a project indirectly for one of our Presidents and this is how I laid it out. My manager was quite happy with it as this Pres is extremely detail oriented. Usually I walk through the process with a SME but like you the Pres doesn't have that time and is about 6hours away.

If you would like "friend" me and I can DM you the form I use.

James Brown

Zara you have a good strategy and I have been in that situation with individuals in the past. They have a need; they assign the need to you and then they want something to happen. Of course you see the flaw in their logic but they don't want to hear a long spiel of you explaining why this isn't such a good idea. However if you can  quickly explain with a summary, you should be able to show them why training is not the answer to the solution but another form of delivery would be.

A @work

James Brown said:

I think Kathy More makes the best argument.You don't need a e-learning course if the goal is to inform. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azr2OFw6Woo&feature=player_embedded


I was going to post something from Cathy, but you beat me there. That would be my suggestion: Service the specific issue as much as you need to to make the VP happy, but try to focus the training (and VP) on the idea of using the training to teach the users how to find learning tools to solve their problems - this one and others.

Gerry Wasiluk

Good points.  Unfortunately, all too often folks create a course that just informs because they want to use it with the LMS and track it.  The course and the LMS become a compliance bookkeeping system.  Course sponsors sometimes don't "trust" learners can read a simple document or website so they put the content in a standards-based course and sometimes add a quiz to it.

Also, often hear folks say in such courses, we met the compliance regulations by "exposing" people to the information.

Never knew that "exposure" equals learning . . . 

James Brown

Welcome to the world of micro managing and you are right, exposure does not equal learning.

Gerry Wasiluk said:

Good points.  Unfortunately, all too often folks create a course that just informs because they want to use it with the LMS and track it.  The course and the LMS become a compliance bookkeeping system.  Course sponsors sometimes don't "trust" learners can read a simple document or website so they put the content in a standards-based course and sometimes add a quiz to it.

Also, often hear folks say in such courses, we met the compliance regulations by "exposing" people to the information.

Never knew that "exposure" equals learning . . . 

Christine Pascual

Gerry, that's what a lot of compliance trainings come down to. Most of the times, companies just want to make sure that they cover all their bases but the trainings are not trying to change or improve employees' behaviors.

Zara, we had a chance to meet with the training requester and we talked more in depth about the reasons behind the request and actions that she wanted the employees to take. We were so much more clear on her needs, and we suggested focusing on a long term solution rather than a one-time event. And guess what? The VP actually said we should create a job aid and use the eLearning module as an introduction instead. I think an email directly from her would be a better introduction than a module, but she wanted it to be tracked. I know i know.. tracking is not a reason to create a module (according to Cathy Moore), but I've got to pick my battle wisely, right?

Thanks again all for your ideas and thoughts!

David Becker

you could couch the whole argument within a risk analysis, using frequency, likelihood and impact to establish the boundaries of the problem and then cost out a 'do nothing' approach, then the ROI of an eLearning piece and perhaps most importantly, the 'opportunity cost'. By this I mean, what training need will have to be pushed aside or rescheduled to a later production slot in order to complete this piece of eLearning and what are the risk/cost implications of that?

You may find that to do the eLearning as requested, you have to delay the development of some other program that is more important for the company, that way you push back the prioritization of the work back onto the executive.