Is the Client Always Right?

“Our employees don’t know how to manage multiple projects, and we want you to design and facilitate a time management course.” It sounds like simple solution, doesn’t it? But the answer isn’t always that simple. Eighty percent of the time, training will not fix a performance issue. Taking a performance-centered approach and conducting a needs analysis that is centered on performance can help eliminate ineffective, costly training that neither aligns with organizational goals nor fixes the performance issues facing your client.


In 2016, one of my clients requested a training class on time management for their Protection and Control Engineers who had transitioned from being contractors to full-time employees within their company. Supervisors reported the engineers had excellent technical skills, but struggled to manage multiple assignments successfully. Immediately acting upon the client request to develop and facilitate a time management class might have been an option, but too often, Learning and Development (L&D) departments miss out on the opportunity to be strategic partners within their organization by not conducting a needs analysis.


In this situation, factors impacting the company’s performance issues went deeper than just time management. A needs analysis revealed a lack of resources due to initial system access issues upon hiring, a lack of communication between both internal and external customers, inability to build relationships, and conflicting priority demands. Performance gaps were identified that were directly contributing to the current performance deficiencies. After determining these performance deficiencies were due to employees’ lack of skills and knowledge, the next step was to identify what training was needed for them to acquire the skills they needed to manage multiple assignments. 

With support from the client, a comprehensive blended learning course was developed to cover Substation Configuration, navigation of the client’s Project Lifecycle Management Process, Emotional Intelligence, and Project/Time Management. Other performance issues were also identified during the need assessment that could not be addressed by training. The client was given recommendations on how to solve these issues as well.


As learning development professionals if we don’t take the time to find the real solution, it enforces the stereotype that all we do is make things look good. There is no buy-in. Training can become meaningless—something to be dreaded by the employees. Conducting a systematic organizational level needs analysis to identify the actual cause of performance issues and addressing your client problems through appropriate measures will help you gain their trust and make you true strategic partners. So, the next time your client approaches you thinking training is the answer, tell them you will be happy to conduct a needs analysis. They may not want to hear it, but the truth is, the client is not always right.





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