Not long ago a training consultant got a call from a sales manager insisting, “We need sales training!” The consultant’s unexpected answer? “Are you sure?” Then the caller explained that some of his organization’s customer-service reps were doing four times the volume of others: It had to be that some were better skilled, or others less properly trained, than the rest, right?

The consultant agreed to help, but insisted on observing the company’s top performers, to get a better understanding of the techniques they were using. As it turned out, the top producers weren’t better salespeople at all, but rather had developed a more effective method for processing customer transactions. Once the consultant recognized that, it was easy to document their techniques and build short training interactions around them. The result was an almost instant uptick in sales across the entire customer service team.

The message? To get the results you want, you must understand the reality of your situation. Here are some less-than-obvious, common-sense steps that will help you do that, and avoid wasting time and resources.

Step 1: Get real information from the right people — A modified version of “Developing a Curriculum” (DACUM) can be used in situations effectively. DACUM, which was created by educators to design courses, analyzes what people really do and what they need to learn.

In contrast to getting only the leadership team or training department heads in a room, training designers should bring in “the boots on the ground.” These are the top performers, the gurus, and the go-to people everyone in the organization knows and relies on for insights and results. A facilitator leverages a process for extrapolating all that invaluable institutional or “tribal” knowledge that exists only in their heads.

Here, diversity of perspective is critical; don’t be afraid to have a mix of people. Here’s a sample group:
•  The new person who really gets it: That person in the organization who’s been in a role for six months to a year and really seems to grasp its purpose. He or she provides a fresh perspective.
•  The go-to person who has been there forever: He or she can be described as having forgotten more about the job than most people will ever learn. They provide historical knowledge about how the role has changed over the years.
•  An adjacent collaborator role: Don’t be afraid to bring in someone who is not in the role, but “close” to it. This individual can provide an outsider’s perspective and bring knowledge and experience to a different role.
•  Key stakeholders: This group is essential because they need the results. They are often your champions who need to understand the process and often support your budget.

Step 2: Create an occupational definition — Get everyone in the room focused on the role and get discussions about leadership, work ethic and good communication out of the way. You can use a simple quadrant matrix to document:
•  Reporting lines: Who does the role report to up, down and laterally.
•  Critical knowledge and skills: What specific skills are essential to doing the job well?
•  “Nice to have” abilities and traits: What type of person tends to perform well?
•  Learned but wasn’t taught: What were those “a-ha! moments” your group had on the job?

Step 3: Define the body of knowledge for peak performance  — A Duty/Task Matrix can be used to define the body of knowledge necessary to perform in the role. You only need some big post-it notes and sharpies. Get the information on the wall so everyone can see it. Put duties down the left, and tasks going across left to right. Here are the definitions and some examples:
•  Duties. This is a something that is top-of-mind for the role. It doesn’t have a beginning or an end. It is ever-present while on the job and usually ends in “–ing.” For example, a restaurant manager’s duty is “maintaining food safety”; an automotive maintenance manager’s duty is “selling parts and services.”
•  Tasks. These are processes or procedures that have a beginning and an end. They usually can have a metric associated with them. These roles fulfill duties by repeatedly completing a series of tasks, usually four or more. A defined task requires an object, verb, and qualifier. For example, a restaurant manager’s task is “wash hands properly”; an automotive maintenance manager’s task is “write a customer-facing estimate.”

When you identify all the duties and the tasks required to fulfill a role, you’ve documented the entire body of knowledge used by your experts in the room. You’ve also just blown the mind of your lead trainer, because he or she had “no idea!” your people did all this stuff!

Step 4: Understand the gaps and criticality — The Duty/Task Matrix stands before you and now you need to know where the information is, and what tasks have the highest impact on performance. Here are steps to follow:
•  Draft a gap analysis. Go task by task. Where is it documented how to perform this task? In HR? In Operations? Marketing? Or is it in one of your expert’s head? Has it been passed down over time? If it’s the latter, it’s a gap!
•  Consider criticality. Everything in your Duty/Task Matrix is important, but what’s most critical? Use a simple rubric and define the impact of failure on the business, performance, individual or team. Ask these questions: If the worker fails to perform this task, does anyone notice? Does it create some rework? Possibly a lot? Will you lose a customer? Will someone get hurt?

Step 5: Build your plan — Now you have all the information you need to build your plan. You know what the role looks like, contained in your Occupational Definition. You know the body of knowledge that needs to be learned, as described in your Duty/Task Matrix. You know what exists and what doesn’t, laid out in your Gap Analysis. And, you know what information is critical to performance, as summarized in your Criticality Analysis.

You can build Learning Maps for the role, from beginner to expert. You can start to design and develop training around the gaps that really impact performance. You can map these duties and tasks to competencies and leverage them in cross-team training interactions, and make decisions on the right method for delivery.

Now you are armed, much like a marketing department, with an analysis of your customer base and potential for results based on empirical data and not simply feelings. Now you can go to your lead trainer with a plan that justifies a budget and will deliver results. And, you’ve done it all in two days. 

Dan Black is the chief learning strategist at Tortal Training. He specializes in GSD – “getting stuff done” — and is recognized in the industry as a “pleasantly disruptive force” that challenges conventional thinking on training and talent development. Contact him at