By Dick Handshaw

Tired of Being an Order Taker?
If you ask trainers what bothers them most about their jobs, they will tell you they do not like being order takers. So you might ask, if not order taker, what do they want to be? The answer most often would be a strategic business partner.

There are two reasons people find themselves in this predicament. Many people may say they lack the skills to be a performance consultant along with all the other things they have to do in their jobs. Most of them would say they just do not feel like it is appropriate for them to be talking directly to the head of a line of business; or even if they do, they do not feel it is their place to tell that head of the line of business what to do. The first problem might not be that hard to resolve. The training they need is neither long nor difficult. The initial training should be followed with plenty of practice and feedback and some on-the-job coaching. The second problem is a little more difficult.

If you find yourself in the latter situation, even if you build the skills, it can difficult for trainers to act as strategic business partners. You cannot be successful if the culture, meaning your manager, will not support an environment where consulting is accepted, encouraged, and rewarded. Do not be too hard on your manager, though, if he or she does not want to jump right in and support you. The transition will be time-consuming, and there is definitely some risk involved. You can save your manager a little angst by starting out slowly and working with one key client who is likely to support you and work with you. Once you have a success or two to which you can refer, you can begin to roll the process out further.

Let me warn you of two pitfalls. Performance consulting is not offering your opinions to your clients and hoping they will take up your ideas. Performance consulting is asking the right questions, so your client will discover the correct solutions with you. And finally, avoid putting the title “Performance Consultant” on your business card, at least right away. Advertising the fact that you are a consultant does not get the job done nearly as effectively as acting like one.

Proactive Performance Consulting
Jim and Dana Robinson begin their chapter “Proactively Identifying Performance Consulting Opportunities” in the second edition of their book Performance Consulting (Robinsons pp.203) with a quote from Wayne Gretzky. It reads, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” That is the best description I can think of for the concept of proactive consulting.

Let’s think about what that means to people who have to provide learning solutions every day, on a budget, on a schedule. It means we have to pay more attention to developing relationships. We want to be brought to the table earlier, and we want to participate on a strategic level. That means we will do far better if we seek to understand our client’s business, including his or her pains and opportunities, before a specific initiative or project arises. Building trust among individuals takes time, especially when there are risks at stake. That is why relationship building is so important. It is not something you can put on a project schedule or assign a convenient due date. It is an investment you make over time and it does pay off. In their book, the Performance Consulting (Robinsons pp.203) go on to state that the purpose of the proactive discussion is “to deepen your knowledge of your client’s business and to strengthen your relationship with your client. But you also have your antennae up to identify opportunities where you might add value when you have not been asked to be part of the project.”

Mastering this simple skill alone will resolve most of the complaints I hear from people about being seen strictly as an order taker and having to use valuable corporate money and time developing learning solutions they know will add little value. Beginning a methodical process of proactive performance consulting will position you to be invited into opportunities earlier in the process. It will also give you access to information you probably have not had in the past. Last, you will have a greater and more informed voice in identifying solutions to problems, whether they are learning solutions or other types of solutions.

The Reframing Meeting
Once you establish a proactive interviewing routine and develop a true consulting relationship with your client, you may no longer need the skills of conducting a reframing meeting. However, most of us are going to come across the need for this type of meeting more often than we would like.

The purpose of the reframing meeting is simple. You need to change your client’s focus from activities and solutions to defining business results and defining required performance outcomes. While the purpose is somewhat straightforward, the actual skills required to achieve the desired outcome require practice and can be challenging. One difficulty of this meeting is that your client brings a preconceived solution to the meeting and is expecting to tell you what he or she wants you to do. Your client may expect you to dutifully “take the order.” Perhaps the biggest difficulty in conducting this interview is that you also may enter the meeting with your own preconceived solution. In either case, we call this “solution jumping” and it is to be strictly avoided in this meeting. The next step from this meeting should be to agree to gather some data or conduct some analysis to have better information with which to make a decision about problem definition and solutions.

Performance Consulting, Second Edition, Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson, Copyright, 1995, 2008.

More information
To view example role plays of both these skills, go to and click on the Resources tab. You will find eight principles and sample videos for both proactive and reactive consulting.

About the Author
Dick Handshaw is a consultant, speaker, and champion for real innovation and quality in instructional design. He is a pioneer in the field, with more than 30 years of experience as a learning and performance improvement professional and entrepreneur. Dick has served as a consultant for many organizations to help them establish a results-oriented learning strategy, methodology, and practice.