When I was 10, I had a huge crush on a cute brunette named LeeAnn. She had it all: smarts, looks, sense of humor, lots of friends, and a killer dodgeball game. She was at the top of the elementary school social ladder.
I was not. Skinny, red-headed, covered in freckles, obnoxiously brainy, hyper, klutzy, and sporting huge glasses, “nerd” was practically tattooed on my soon-to-be-pimpled forehead. Despite this wide chasm in our social status, I somehow convinced myself that I actually had a chance with her.
To win her heart, I made it a point to say something to her everyday: “Hello.” “The pizza’s good today.” “Your rendition of the Gettysburg Address in class was quite eloquent.” (Yes, I actually spoke like this when I was 10). I was sure this witty repartee would earn her love and achieve my ultimate goal of getting her to “go with me.”
As a reminder, “would you go with me?” was the step that formally established a pre-adolescent romance. Usually asked of the girl, a positive answer to the question gave the boy the hallowed place next to his beloved in the cafeteria and on the school bus. The surest sign that a boy and girl were going together was brazen hand-holding during recess, bus rides, and field trips. The thought of holding LeeAnn’s hand IN PUBLIC made my heart skip madly in my underdeveloped chest.
After a few weeks of lame greetings and clumsily-worded public speaking reviews, I had built up enough courage to ask LeeAnn THE QUESTION…conveniently forgetting that she had never:
- Made direct eye contact with me,
- Spoken to me, or
- Learned that my given name was actually not “Four-Eyes.”
Ignorance is bliss, though, and I was apparently the happiest person alive at the time. So it came to pass that I slipped a note into LeeAnn’s desk during recess to ask her “Will you go with me? Circle one…Yes or No.” I was confident that she would circle Yes, proudly clutch my hand at recess, and actually speak to me.
This, as you have already guessed, did not happen. LeeAnn circled a response, an all-too-predictable NO. But what really hurt was how emphatically she set about breaking my heart.
She had circled NO so much, and so hard, that the pen had actually torn through the paper in four different spots.
My point? Business is filled with intelligent, hard-working, talented people. They are the movers and shakers of their chosen industry. They sit at the cool kids table. They make the decisions, they get the attention and the rewards. They change the world. They are Highly Effective People, move swiftly from Good to Great, sail to the next Blue Ocean, and trot out the next Purple Cow.
We trainers are suckers for them. We are drawn to their drive and success and yearning to fly even higher. We gaze at them from across the org chart and long to make a difference in their lives. We want to sit next to them, hand in hand and win our coveted “seat at the table.” All we ask in return is appreciation, respect, senior management “buy in”, a growing budget, and a smaller-than-average chance of getting outsourced.
We want all of this, conveniently forgetting that typically:
- Business thinks of training as merely a cost center,
- Senior management doesn’t value the training department,
- Most employees despise corporate training, and
- Trainers speak the unwieldy language of learning, not business.
And so it has come to pass that, for decades, the training industry has been boldly asking business “will you go with me?” Unfortunately yet unsurprisingly, business has circled NO because they don’t think we have what they want. Not only are they rejecting us, they’re circling NO so hard that we are quickly being torn from the fabric of the American corporation.
In the romantic comedy that was my grade-school love life, my failing was one of looks (face it: eye appeal is half the meal, folks), actions (I was a spaz, desperate for attention and incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin), and language (using “eloquent” in conversation = playground beat down).
In business, not a lot has changed, especially for us in the training industry:
- Do we look the part? Have we accomplished enough in our own professional lives to be an example to others?
- Are we doing what we do to make ourselves look good and build monuments to our perceived awesomeness, or do we care more about the client’s goals?
- Do we speak the client’s language? Or are we so wrapped up in the business of learning that we forgot to learn the business?
Trust me, asking these questions first will save you a lot of heartbreak later.