The effectiveness of internal programs can be reduced over time unless communication throughout an organization occurs on a regular basis. One aspect of this is the training and certification of all stakeholders which can include directors, officers and employees, and where applicable, third parties such as agents, business partners and contractors.A mixture of eLearning and classroom training is often implemented to ensure all stakeholders receive the necessary training at various defined intervals.

Identification of what each stakeholder needs to learn is a critical step in the development process. Analysis should be undertaken to design and develop a plan that identifies the approach for each level of understanding and competency and addresses the audience’s specific needs. This approach allows the training to be built and implemented so that it can reach all identified stakeholders in the most appropriate way.

Importance of knowing the audience

The audience and the success of the business should drive the objectives. This in turn drives the content, design and function of an eLearning project. Why is this important? One of the biggest killers of momentum for an eLearning project is the mid-project reality realization moment: We got the audience wrong.

This usually occurs when the first round of visual design is completed and shared with the subject matter experts and review team. Regardless of the number of times the script is reviewed and read or the number of calls or meetings, it is at that point that someone says, “This doesn’t make sense, and we need to change it.”

With some projects, this occurs at the delivery stage and indicates a major failure has occurred at the start of the project. In the very worst case scenario, it happens during the delivery of the second level of training if it is part of a multi-level training program. The effect is bad – to staff, management and the development team.

Examples

During one multi-level project, it was agreed that three levels of training were needed. The first level training was developed using a group consensus approach, finalized and readied for rolled out. However, at this point, further review took place up the approval chain and significant changes were recommended.

Unfortunately, the second level training was just being finalized. The result? This eLearning module was stopped, and the first level eLearning module was extensively edited. These edits impacted the content of the second level content significantly requiring extensive rework. The third level module was not even started. The development time for these two levels of training took more than 18 months. Even utilizing a group consensus approach, a more realistic timeframe would have been 18 to 24 weeks.

For another training program, the same approach was agreed upon – three levels of training with the first level being available in six languages. The total development time was eight months. The difference? There was a clear understanding of who the audience was and what they needed to know at each level. This was defined at the beginning of the project and included agreement at multiple levels within the organization which did not change as the project progressed.

So how can an organization avoid the first scenario? Know the audience. This allows clear identification of training content and allows the objectives to be set and tied back to metrics. Any project that starts with the blanket training strategy of “everyone in the organization and everything on the subject” is doomed or at very least is going to be tortuous for all involved. A solid discovery session to identify purpose and audience saves many headaches down the road.

Typical structure

So let’s take a look at what is involved in structuring and building a multi-level program on the subject of working with third parties, agents and business partners.

By identifying and analyzing the target audiences, an online eLearning module could be developed that provides a general overview of the company’s approach to working with these third parties for the organization’s employees. The goal of this eLearning module would be to raise awareness of the subject. As this is a more goal-orientated awareness module, it would be difficult to tie improvements back to the metrics.

A second level would be aimed at supervisors within the different functions of the organization. This would address the specific policies and procedures that must be followed to ensure compliance with the organization’s Code of Conduct and standards. This would utilize objectives to ensure that improvements could be tied back to trackable metrics.

For face-to-face training in small groups or larger classrooms, a third level of training would be produced and targeted at managers and executives. The focus here is accountability and culture and putting the values of the organization into action. This training would be delivered as part of the leadership and management training program the organization already has in place.

Now, these three levels of training cover the internal stakeholders within the organization, and if the content is defined, designed, developed and delivered effectively, the organization should see measurable improvements in relation to this subject. However, there is one group that has not been addressed, and that is the third parties themselves.

Reaching the third party audience

Reaching the audience can be tricky as there are several challenges that have to be addressed.

The first challenge is language. Although English is quite prevalent, to be truly global, the eLearning needs to be delivered in as many languages as practical.

The second challenge is access. A high definition video placed on the corporate website is likely to work great for those in western-type countries. But in most likelihood, the greatest risk areas are in locations with weak internet connections.

A related challenge to this is technology. For many large global organizations, highly rigid and established IT standards are in place that define which computers and web browsers can be used. This allows for standardized testing of the eLearning, but third parties will have different types of hardware and software that may cause problems on rollout.

The final challenge is knowing who has completed the training. Many organizations have Learning Management Systems or LMS, and training tracking systems that are inward facing only and cannot be leveraged for external audiences. The eLearning could be hosted on an external LMS, but this may violate IT policies. This is not an issue if there is no need to track who has completed the training but can become an issue if there is a requirement that every new vendor take the training.

Conclusion

Multi-level and audience-specific training is the bulk of the training programs being developed. To be effective and achieve a measurable improvement requires that time be spent on defining what each level and audience needs to know in order to do their part – whether daily on the job or in their interaction with the organization.

Knowing the audience and what it needs to know is at the very core of effective training and eLearning. Accurately defining the audience and its needs is a critical step in the process and takes time and effort to get right. Many factors and discussions go into deciding this, and the tough decisions on what not to include in the eLearning program materials are just as important as what to include.

Jonathan Davis is an accomplished professional with experience helping Fortune 500 companies achieve success in employee communication and training programs. Jonathan focuses on delivering reliable, successful outcomes that increases employee engagement through highly targeted deliverables, creative messaging and robust programs.