When you think “network,” maybe you think LANs and WANs. But if you don’t also think of the allies you’ve developed in your organization, you’re training on thin ice. Training can’t happen in a vacuum. To do your job effectively, you need allies in your organization to back you up, keep you informed, provide access to other key players, and, perhaps most importantly, to trust that you know what you’re doing.
To see how networked you are—and how important your network is to you—we conducted an informal survey of trainers, training managers, and instructional developers and asked them:
- Who’s most important in your intraoffice network?
- How do you leverage the resources available to you?
Here are some of the responses. (For tactics you can use in expanding your network and your sphere of influence, check out our article on building your network .)
Up, down, and all around
Rule No. 1: There is no such thing as being too plugged in. “A lot of different factors go into building your intraoffice network,” said Heidi Fisk , program director for Influent Technology Group , which produces conferences and seminars for technology trainers. “Different players come in to support—or sometimes deter—you, depending on what you’re doing. So having a really broad network is important.
“That includes as high up as you can go and also as low. Sometimes your biggest ally is somebody’s secretary, and sometimes you want to go right to the top.”
Gary Ware agrees. “Making and staying friends with the department secretaries is the first priority,” said Ware, an instructor at Productivity Point International in Houston. “They know and control what happens in their departments. The management, staff, and non-management depend on them and trust them. The secretary can also let you know the mood or philosophy of the manager so you know how to guide their training decisions.”
Then there are the middlemen. Managers and supervisors—the people who actually need training for their staff—are crucial allies. Develop a rapport with them by understanding two key areas of concern: getting their staff trained within budget limitations and keeping their department running while that happens. Work with their schedules, provide regular status reports, and give them a way to measure training results, Ware said, and you’ll have another ally.
Make friends with the technical support/IS staff
In her previous job as sole desktop trainer at a company with more than 14,000 PCs worldwide, Fisk found it crucial to recruit help from technical support staff, both at the corporate headquarters where she worked and in the field.
Most of the company’s remote locations had a technical support person on site. Fisk saw potential in that role. At each location, she said, “I turned that person into my eyes and ears for training and coached them to become a training liaison. They would help me implement needs analysis or surveys; if there was a technology rollout, they would help me coordinate the training that went out into the field.”
By leveraging the existing staff, Fisk saved her corporation from having to make new hires. She also relied on those contacts to make her more effective. “The support people ended up being very good allies for me because they dealt with [employees] on a day-to-day basis. They could say, ‘This group is really struggling with using Word,’ and then I would arrange for training.”
Fisk found this strategy just as useful at the corporate headquarters. At the time, there was a rift between the human resources vice president, to whom Fisk reported, and the IS vice president. Fisk could have easily found herself cut off from the IT staff. Instead, she made an end run around the upper-level animosity and got in tight with the support team. One of her most important accomplishments was to win a place at the tech support/IS meetings.
“Getting invited to the table is one of the biggest challenges but also the biggest thing, if you can leverage it,” Fisk said. “I got to the point where [the desktop apps] didn’t roll out until there was training in place.”
More thoughts on who’s important
When you’re doing technology training, your organization’s IT staffers can be your best friends. But valuable players can come from all over the company. Consider these opinions:
- Other trainers: Shannon Lear worked in the IT Training group for 3M Company's Austin center before leaving to start her own training company. At 3M, her most important allies were her fellow trainers. “We provided backup for each other in every way, from covering classes to handling students that showed up at our desks when we were gone,” she said. “They were great sounding boards, and between us, we could answer almost any software question.”
- Development staff: If you’re training users on proprietary software, you’d better be pals with the developers. Marge Petkovsek trains clients on proprietary financial software that her company, FIMI (Financial Information Management Inc.), produces. The development staff is “very supportive when it comes to actual product information,” Petkovsek said. “They've gone out of their way to show me actual code so I could better understand what the product does or how it works.” She returns the favor by letting them know about any bugs she finds. Jeff Kerfeld, training manager for Spanlink Communications, said his company’s product development group provides three crucial services: information on behind-the-scenes product functionality, quick turnaround on bug fixes, and information on features to be included with future releases. “All of this information combined allows me to provide more accurate information to our customers and become more credible as a source of information.”
- Trainees: Students can supply valuable information about choosing a cost-effective, efficient course. To keep yourself on their radar screen, “Question them before and after the class to ensure the class was the correct one, travel was acceptable, location and accommodations were comfortable,” Ware advises. “Showing concern is the key.”
- Old buddies: If you switch departments, your former co-workers can be a gold mine. You’ve already established a rapport with them. They trust you. Fisk, who got herself invited to tech support meetings, leveraged the fact that she had come from that department before she became a trainer. “Making those alliances is really important,” she said, especially if you’re working solo. “It’s survival.”