Difficult Conversations

Difficult Conversations in the L&D Universe

Everyone’s an Expert

L&D has a slightly co-dependent relationship with HR. If we’re in-house often we’re a part of a wider P&C team – and many of our colleagues have started their careers in more HR focused roles. HR often writes the book on ‘having difficult conversations’ – but sometimes it’s really hard to have them in HR/L&D spaces due to the heavy emotional investment our stakeholders have in the solutions proposed.

Because everyone’s an expert on training/learning when we’re developing a solution we are often put in situations where we have to have what can seem like incredibly difficult conversations with our stakeholders.

Those Sticky Situations

Situations where, depending on the stakeholder, we have to have these difficult conversations include;

  • A course isn’t the solution to everything dammit! While our understanding of how adult learning works has changed considerably over the past couple of decades, many stakeholders still have a training-centric view of how we can meet their needs. This isn’t always a recipe for success – if you never deliver on what they’re expecting (even when they haven’t declared what this is) then the relationship can suffer.
  • Sometimes a stakeholder’s own learning preferences can overshadow the learning solution for the target audience. If the decision maker is, for example, an avid reader, then their expectations of how much pre-reading is reasonable may not be a match for the learning group.
  • The cost of learning solutions can also be a bone of contention: e-learning systems and modules can cost significant money, while longer term they work out cheaper they still can’t be used as the whole solution.

The most important step for getting this right? Find out what they want – what they really want – at the beginning. Often they won’t know, but it’s your expertise that will help draw out the real drivers, which I’ve found are rarely the ‘objectives’ listed in your initial discussion.

Mitigating ‘Difficult Conversations’ During the Project

When your stakeholders are coming to you with pre-conceptions about your area of expertise and passion:


  • Take every opportunity to educate
    • Invite them to relevant events
    • Demonstrate the level of your expertise
    • Learn with them
  • Recognise their area of expertise
  • Offer possible solutions rather than just stating problems
  • Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know” and then finding out
  • Include them on the journey


  • Explain to them just how wrong they are (however tempting)
  • Push a solution they don’t want at them
  • Give them a solution where they don’t understand how you’re meeting their needs.

Like any potentially difficult conversations in business, it becomes easier if you know what the other party is wanting and how they expect this to happen. Often in L&D we have to persuade people that their ‘how to get there’ isn’t the right/only way… but it’s easier to do that if you really understand what their expectations and needs are at the beginning.


Don’t Think Induction is Worth the Cash?

Everyone has to learn when they start with a new organisation or in a new role. There are policies and procedures, learning new systems, navigating new co-workers, managers and employees. There are the unwritten norms (yeah, the policy says you have to do a written request, but actually you need to speak nicely to the Admin Manager…) and don’t even get me started on the huge amount of compliance boxes that need to be ticked!

I’ve worked with organisations that have fantastic, well thought through programs, and ones that didn’t have ANYTHING (one guess as to which ones I’d refer colleagues to work for…). Its just not that hard. New hires are enthusiastic, they’re excited and they’re drinking the Kool Aid. Take advantage of it!

So with the huge amount that new hires need to learn when joining your organisation, and the knowledge that a poorly planned on-boarding/induction program dramatically increases the chances of your new hire moving on within the first 6 months, how much are you investing in your induction program?

Considering how costly it is to make a new hire, and the amount of time it takes for that new hire to get up to speed in a job, you lose considerable cash when replacing staff. So why is it that once the contract is signed and the employee turns up to their first day in the office so many organisations feel like their job is done? Sure they might get the hapless hire (let’s call him Harry) doing his new job in a muddling capacity… but how engaged is Harry going to be? How productive can we ever hope him to be? And if he’s not that well trained then are we even going to want him around in 12 months (and let’s face it, that’s if he stays).

For the vast majority of organisations, their people are their #1 expense. If you are already spending a high percentage of your turnover on your people, there are a couple of things that are important to remember;

  • Well trained people = productive people
  • Well trained people = loyal people
  • Productive + loyal people = higher outputs

A good induction program and ongoing learning and development for your people don’t need to cost the earth, what you do need is commitment from the top.

And the best time to start developing your people? Right at the get-go. Set them up to succeed. They will thank you for it (and so will your balance sheet).