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Training vs. Consultation

Now on to a topic near and dear to my heart: differentiating TRAINING and CONSULTATION and the implications of using the two interchangeably. When this topic comes up with me, the difference can often be visualized, but not verbalized. Unintentionally commingling the two can result in unfulfilled clients, and dwindling confidence in especially client-facing support-level staff, and a detrimental impact to productivity and the bottom line.

Interchanging the two can occur very easily, especially with more senior training staff who want to be helpful. There is nothing inherently wrong with that depending on the line drawn at the organization. Sometimes, clients can spend hours with trainers/support staff, seeking to optimize solutions from a plethora of alternatives for their very unique situation. If this has been clearly communicated as the role of the training/support staff at your organization, that’s ok. In many cases, however, consultation is separated because it requires a more personalized and in-depth analysis of the individual client and not just the learner, and a high level of domain knowledge to have the confidence to advise among alternatives.

First, let’s discuss what TRAINING is not. Training is not advice. I could probably stop there, but to clarify what I mean, let’s look at an oversimplified, but real-world situation.

Let’s say you (the customer) are typing an essay in Microsoft Word (Word from here on) and part of the essay is a quote that you want to attribute to an author and italicize. The problem is, you don’t know how to italicize in Word, so you reach out to support. The support rep proceeds to walk you through the process of italicizing your desired text and the session is over. In this case, there is a very clear description of the problem the training is looking to solve and a very clear and unique workflow to solve the problem.

Comparatively, let’s say you are typing this same essay in Word and working with this same quote. You reach out to the support rep and not only do they tell you how to italicize the quote, but they also give you the advice that maybe the quote should also be indented. This then becomes consultation (the reputation, experience, etc. of the consultant aside).

Why is it important to make the distinction and set client and internal expectations between the two? Since training is often much more prescribed than consultation, and less open-ended, there should be different client expectations of the outcomes, different analysis to approach the situation, and much different time allocation for providing each type of service. This can cause a definite impact to the bottom line and productivity. I want to make clear that there are often trainers who provide consultation services; in fact, I am one. But when this happens successfully, the two are very often clearly distinguished.

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