Pile of question marks

5 questions to ask in response to a training request

In Design by JD Dillon

“We need training on …”

L&D pros hear this statement on an almost-daily basis. Stakeholders come to the door with a pre-determined solution. There’s a problem in the operation. People aren’t doing the job as expected. So they must need more training. Knock knock, L&D!

Many of these “requests” come with pre-determined logistical details too. “We need a 30-minute eLearning on customer service that can be launched by the end of the month.” But … how do you know 30-minutes of digital content is going to solve this problem? Oh … that’s what was done for the last request, and you liked that content. So we should just do the same thing again, right?

That’s just not how learning works.

To provide better outcomes, L&D pros have to get strategic in how we respond to these presumed solutions. But we can’t just push back willy nilly or deliver an outright “no.” We have to be firm and do our jobs right. However, we also have to play the role of influencer to help people think differently about the work that we do and the role learning plays in workplace performance. Otherwise, stakeholders will just get frustrated, go around us to find an alternative solution and stop involving us in high-priority challenges altogether.

Here are the five questions you can use in response to a “we need training on …” request to make the shift from order-taker to strategic partner.

1 | How did you determine you have a problem?

You’re looking for a metric. We can’t determine the impact L&D has on an organization if the process begins with gut feelings and anecdotal observations. Determine how the perceived problem is already measured to establish the ultimate goal of any future learning intervention.

2 | What do you want people to do differently to fix the problem?

You’re looking for specific job behaviors. “Sell more stuff” is not a job behavior. If the problem is missed sales goals, and they want to increase sales by X percent, the stakeholder must also help you identify the behaviors that lead to improved results. They may know the answer. Or you may have to dig in to find it yourself via a job task analysis. Either way, you need this answer before moving forward.

3 | Why aren’t they doing those things already?

You’re looking for alternative causes. Truth is employees probably don’t need training. It’s more likely that the problem is the result of bad processes or poor resources or lack of motivation or a host of other potential causes. If the stakeholder can clarify that an improvement in employee knowledge or skill (along with maybe some other stuff) will fix the problem, then you can move to the next question.

4 | What do people have to know to do those things?

You’re looking for basic knowledge requirements. You’ve already clarified the expected job behavior. Now you need to know what employees need to know in order to execute on the job. Then, you can draw a solid line between the nice-to-know (informal solutions) and need-to-know (formal solutions) stuff.

5 | What information related to this problem is already available?

You’re looking for the simplest solution. Apply the Modern Learning Ecosystem (MLE) Framework to provide just what employees need, when and where they need it. In most cases, employees don’t even have basic information they can use to try to solve the problem on their own – before formal training is built and delivered. And then the problem persists because they don’t remember most of the training. If an easily found job aid will do the trick, that’s all you need. If the knowledge and skill required to solve this problem is more complex or the issue has a high degree of criticality, then you’ll need a more structured solution.


Stakeholders are still going to ask for silver bullet training. They’re still going to want familiar interventions. By challenging these requests in a strategic, confident and insightful way, you will not only deliver more right-fit solutions, but you will also start to expand people’s mindset when it comes to what “learning” can really become within the modern workplace.

Be well.

  • JD Dillon is the world’s foremost expert on frontline learning and enablement. He is also one of the most prolific authors and speakers in the workplace learning community. For 20 years, JD has worked in operations and talent development with some of the world’s most dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. He is the founder of LearnGeek, a workplace performance advising and insights group. He is also Chief Learning Architect with Axonify, where he builds technology, content and services that enable frontline employees around the world to do their best work every day.