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Nigel Harrison



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Why do most organisations jump to learning solutions too quickly?


In advance of his session at TrainingZone Live, Nigel Harrison explains the concept of 'solutioneering' and its impacts on learning solutions in business.

In a perfect world our clients would present us with rational problem statements, eg "We think we have an issue in sale, please work with us and see if there are any learning needs as part of our solutions", but instead they jump straight to solutions; "They need sales training".
Notice the language in the rational problem statement;
  • 'we' - shows that they have not abdicated responsibility for the performance problem
  • 'An issue' - shows that they recognise that there may be multiple causes
  • 'work with us'- indicates they expect you to be a trusted partner
  • 'any learning needs' - demonstrates that they recognise that learning solutions may not be needed
  • 'as part of our solutions' – reflects their adult recognition that they are still accountable for the performance and implementing a range of solutions
But in the real world it does not happen like that. Our customers approach us in an agitated state asking for instant solutions. "They need sales training - can you get it organised by June, I have the budget agreed by the exec".
"To build the credibility and effectiveness of the L&D professional and learning solutions we need to engage as business partners and help our clients to face up to the real performance problems behind their attempts to jump to quick learning solutions."
Notice the language in the irrational problem statement;
  • 'They' – the client has already decided who the target group for learning solutions are
  • 'need sales training' – they have selected the solution and method and expect this to solve the complex performance problem on its own
  • 'you get it organised' – you are now responsible for implementing the solution with no further involvement from themselves – you are a 'pair of hands' not a trusted advisor
  • 'I have had the budget agreed by the exec'I am more powerful than you
  • 'By June'I have made a commitment for delivery which I expect you to keep for me
Such a simple statement reflects how this L&D person is regarded by their clients. It could reflect deliberate domination and manipulation or it could be innocent 'solutioneering'.

Forces which encourage innocent solutioneering

  1. The human desire to make sense of complexity, to turn the fluid into concrete, randomness into patterns (Gestalt)
  2. Pressure in the organisation to come up with solutions rather than problems
  3. It just the way things have been done in the past
  4. How the L&D function has positioned itself as the organiser of instants solutions e.g. 'sales training'
  5. Line managers feel it is their job to analyse business problems and do not see why they need to share this with the training supplier?
  6. We all talk in generalisations rather than detail - "we need sales training" is merely a handy way to discuss a complex topic
  7. We all jump to conclusions too quickly and find comfort in framing problems as solutions
  8. In order to protect our self-image we project onto others, deny that we have problems and and avoid the effort of difficult changes that we have to make

Or it could be deliberate manipulation...

  • 'They need' projects the problem onto someone else's inadequacies, so the spotlight will not be on me
  • 'sales training'– deflects the spotlight on to an acceptable solution that people will probably not challenge and someone else has to implement
  • 'can you get it organised by June' deflects the responsibility from me, sets up the supplier with a deadline and sense of urgency so they face the possibility of failure
  • 'I have the budget agreed by the exec' shows that I talk to the executive and you do not: do not question me, this is a done deal – I have the budget owe to see this through
I prefer to take the view that most people solutioneer for innocent reasons but the fact remains that we still have to deal with it.

How do we turn people around from innocent solutioneering and deal with performance problems rationally?

  1. We do not challenge the fantasy but work with the energy of the quick fix solutioneering by working with urgency
  2. Recognise the suggested solution but do not accept responsibility (by repeating the client's words)
  3. Ask open questions to get the client to open up around the real performance problem without challenging them eg "Who needs this training?"
  4. Encourage the client to work with us to map out how they see the problem
  5. Build trust by active listening and authenticity
  6. Build enough rapport so that we can help the client face up to the real problem – "what is happening now?...what do you want to happen?”
  7. Quantify what this (the performance gap) means to the client "What will this cost if we do nothing?"
  8. Use a rational/diagnostic approach to investigate causes for the performance gap and link together a range of solutions including management action (by the client and any learning solutions
  9. Build an adult-adult relationship with client so they respect your partnership in working with them to improve the performance and results of their team
It is not easy but can have powerful results;
  • More effective/focused L&D solutions
  • Increased credibility of L&D
  • Better management support around L&D solutions
  • L&D seen as part of performance improvement and measurable business successes
In my experience most organisations are irrational/emotional places where solutioneering is rife. On my skills workshops I always ask the same question and always find that my clients estimate that more than 60% of their current problems are caused by previous solutions. L&D teams often suffer from lack of power and credibility and unrealistic expectations for training which is seen as an act of faith rather than something that has a measurable value to the business.
To build the credibility and effectiveness of the L&D professional and learning solutions we need to engage as business partners and help our clients to face up to the real performance problems behind their attempts to jump to quick learning solutions.

Nigel Harrison is a Chartered Business Psychologist – see him at TrainingZone live or read 'How to be a true Business Partner' available from


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