From Order-Taker to Solution-Designer

January 13th, 2020

In this excerpt from The Agile Learning Organization Program we highlight how the learning function can help our organizations solve problems through learning. The Program launches in the Josh Bersin Academy on January 15.


What is arguably the most important thing (and definitely the first thing) a learning function should do to better help solve real business challenges? We have to change the way we operate.

Traditionally, our role has been to solve the problem that our internal clients come to us with. A manager might show up and say she needs a course about PowerPoint skills for her people. We offer her a course that teaches PowerPoint skills. Her employees do it, but she doesn’t see much change in her team. The problem? They didn’t actually need a course on PowerPoint; they know how to use the tool. They needed a course about something else—how to communicate, how to tell stories—something the manager couldn’t see and needed our help to solve.

In order to truly help the business with the complex problems we face each day, we have to offer something radically different. When someone shows up and says they have a problem and the solution to that problem, we can’t always simply agree. We have to be open to challenging them. We can go from order-taker to solution designer.

Challenging our colleagues and internal clients doesn’t mean saying no. In fact, quite the opposite. It means truly understanding our client’s business so that we can offer real insights and advice. It means listening for their underlying needs, the things they might not know they need but are really at the heart of the problem they’re trying to solve. It means being assertive, provocative, stimulating, and willing to spark lively conversations all in the name of finding the right learning solution.

Why is it more effective to be a challenger, or a solution-designer, than an order-taker? In part, it’s basic human psychology. Our internal clients may think they want a yes-man, someone who will nod and give them everything they ask for. But what they actually want, and what they will ultimately come to value more, is someone who can advise them.

The next time you’re faced with someone telling you exactly what they need, flip the script. Ask them to outline the problem more—and see if, together, you can find a solution that will solve (or at least uncover) the real problem. To dive deeper into what it takes to put learning at the forefront of our organizational strategy, join the Josh Bersin Academy today.