Dear Jo: “I’ve Just Been Handed the Training Department!” - Part One

Corporate Training Insights from an Industry Veteran: Dear Jo

A colleague and dear friend once sent me a book, “101 Mistakes Trainers Make.” She and I worked together very early in our careers and often laughed at some of our shared experiences. Her note read, “I saw this book and thought of you. It brought back so many memories. Lest you have forgotten, I marked the pages with all the mistakes we managed to make.”

Every single page was marked.

Over the course of my career, leading learning and development (L&D) organizations within large companies, I’ve tried to learn from those mistakes (as well as the many successes). I was also fortunate to have worked with great professionals—both internal and external—who generously shared their insights and expertise with me.

As a program manager with SweetRush, I also now have greater perspective and appreciation for the role that vendor partners play in corporate training. I consider it a privilege to be able to share these experiences and unique perspectives with our clients.

I recently received an email message from an acquaintance who had been asked to take over L&D in her company. As often happens, this individual has a great track record—but minimal experience in L&D. The question is quite common in these circumstances: Where do I begin?

Dear Jo,
I’ve Just Been Handed the Training Department!

I know you’ve created and/or revamped numerous training functions, so I hope you can help me.

I have been very successful in taking on turnaround situations in my company. Often these are tactical, process-driven challenges, but I’ve just been handed a new and exciting challenge: Fix the training department. As you know, I have no background in training!

I followed my usual procedure to find out what exactly needs to change by interviewing key stakeholders, internal clients, and the training staff. From the clients and stakeholders, the answers are vague at best. They believe training isn’t effective, but can’t articulate why. There were no surprises from the training staff either: they believe they are doing a good job, but have little to no data to support their conclusions. And they tell me they are understaffed and underfunded, which is frustrating for them. Bottom line? No one is happy.

I could also use your advice on what about the training field I need to learn given this new role. I’ve done a little research and realize there is more to this field than I realized and I’m not sure where to begin.

I am at a bit of a loss to know what to do next.

Dear Chris,
Welcome to the World of Corporate Training!

First, welcome to the wonderful and extremely rewarding (and challenging) world of corporate training—or as I prefer to call it—performance improvement.

It’s quite understandable that you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, but your industry knowledge, problem-solving skills, and process improvement background are a great foundation for this work.

Trying to fix something with very little data can be overwhelming and frustrating, and your assessment is correct: you need more information. Otherwise, you may find yourself creating a great solution for the wrong problem.

Welcome to the analysis phase. Don’t let the list below overwhelm you. It’s a starting point, and you should engage your entire team in analyzing the state of L&D within your organization. Engaging the team will establish your leadership, serve as a bonding experience for the team, and quickly provide you the information you need to move to the next step. These lists are not exhaustive, but they’re a good start.

Understand the Business

  • Who are your internal clients, and what types of business challenges are they facing?
  • How clear is the training team on the strategic direction and goals of the organization overall and in various departments (IT, Marketing, Finance, Sales, Manufacturing, etc.)?
  • How well do they understand the role corporate training plays in supporting those strategies and meeting those goals and objectives? (This is actually a good question for both the client and the training teams.)
  • What is the communication process currently in place between the lines of business and the L&D team?

Understand the Process

  • How does the training team receive their work assignments? Do they have a formal intake process?
  • How do they make decisions on which courses to create? (Are they order-takers or performance consultants?)
  • How do they decide if a course should be e-learning or instructor-led courses, or something else such as a quick reference guide?
  • What is their process for design and development?
  • How do they work with their subject matter experts?
  • Do they use external resources? Why or why not?
  • What has been their experience, and how are they using external partners?
  • How do they evaluate learning? What are their success measures? (More on this topic later!)

Of course, as I know you’ve learned from other situations, these questions will lead to others. How exciting that you are in a position to truly affect the business and also significantly impact the lives of your coworkers!


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