Don't Kill the Messenger

There are no failures - just experiences and your reactions to them.   - Tom Krause

Have you ever felt like you were under attack at work?

I recently met with a group of cross-functional leaders to talk about training needs for a new process implementation. After we aligned on the training purpose and topics, the leaders sent me a list of team members who could act as subject matter experts (SMEs) and provide content for the training. I then gathered these SMEs together the following week to kick off the training development process.

  Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About five minutes after I started going through my neatly-prepared presentation that explained the request, I was interrupted by someone who challenged the fact that training was needed at all. She said it was way too basic, and if anyone did not know what this information was, then they should not have been hired in the first place – clarifying that what they really needed was tools to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

After she voiced her opinion, I asked the rest of the team to chime in as to whether they agreed or not. Most of them nodded their heads and voiced their own thoughts and concerns. And as you can imagine, it was quite clear that my meeting was not going to go as planned.

Talk about throwing me a curve ball!

It does not sound like a terrible situation – and it really wasn't – but I felt ganged up on and kind of helpless in that moment. I was essentially just the messenger, and it was clear that I had no authority to demand that they provide me with training content. So all I could do was listen, ask questions, understand their concerns, and report back to the leaders.

Regardless of whether we move forward with the training or not, it will take at least a week to figure out next steps as I sift through their feedback and get back in touch with the right people.

Now this situation was not a total bust, but here are a few things I think I could have done better.

Ask more questions upfront to understand the need. Perhaps I did not dig deep enough with the leaders to confirm the problem we were actually trying to solve for, which would have allowed me to make a better assessment as to whether training was the solution.

Ask leaders to communicate the request. Even if I did ask more questions and came to the same conclusion about the need for training, I should have asked the leaders to send a communication informing their teams of what was expected. People are usually more motivated to get in line and change behavior if their leaders or managers are the ones making the request.

Have the right people in the room. In addition to having the leaders communicate the need, they should have been invited to the kickoff meeting to help sponsor the effort. Then at least the leaders and their teams could have had a dialogue right then about what was expected and whether it was actually needed, as opposed to me now chasing down that answer offline.

One thing I think I did do well in this situation was to not take it personally. Yes, I was caught a bit off guard when literally none of the SMEs thought building the training was a good idea. And yes, I felt a bit awkward after the conversation stopped and everyone was looking at me with crossed arms and blank stares.

But I know that feedback is a gift, so I really tried to understand what they were saying and separate that from how I thought they may feel about me as their project manager. I do not want my team to do any unnecessary work, so if this training truly is not needed, then I am glad they brought that fact to me attention.

Either way, I am connecting with leadership soon to get back on track. We will get there, although not 100% according to plan... and that’s okay! You live, you learn.