Navigating the Training Terrain
This Orientation Guide on Learning and Development offers advice on how to create a training program that aligns with strategic business goals.
Training programs are often labeled as nice-to-have cost centers that are the first to be cut when times are lean.
But in reality, training is one of the most important investments a company can make in its own long-term success. When training opportunities are aligned with business objectives, they improve employee engagement, increase productivity and ensure an organization gets the greatest return from its most valuable asset: its people.
Integrated systems streamline workforce analytics. In the most mature training organizations, the workforce management systems related to onboarding, workforce planning, talent management and performance management are all integrated, giving these companies an edge on talent development, said Elissa Tucker, human capital management program manager for the APQC. “It makes it easier for them to anticipate skill needs, and fill gaps.”
And the need for effective training is only increasing as the economy rebounds. Almost 40 percent of U.S. employers today face talent shortages, according to ManpowerGroup’s Talent Shortage 2013 survey. And half of employers admit that such shortages hamper their ability to serve their clients and customers.
When companies can’t fill key roles with new hires, they have to work harder at preparing the employees they do have, said Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup president, in a news release. “As talent shortages in key areas persist, we need to focus on training programs that create opportunity for employers to fill their talent gaps.”
However, building an effective training program isn’t easy. It’s not enough to roll out a catalog of off-the-shelf courses to anyone who wants to take them. High-impact learning organizations create custom solutions designed to meet strategic learning objectives in an easy-to-access format with metrics to prove their effectiveness.
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U.S. Hardest Jobs to Fill
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Building such a program takes time, commitment and most importantly, money. High-impact learning organizations spend 34 percent more per employee than low-performing organizations, according to “The Corporate Learning Factbook 2013” from Bersin by Deloitte. Bersin defines high-impact organizations as those with “mature, effective L&D functions” that focus on improving performance through training and other talent initiatives.
The benefit of the investment in training is substantial. High-impact learning organizations experienced three-times greater profit growth than their competitors over the past four years, according to Bersin data. They also have higher levels of engagement and retention, which is critical for companies fighting to attract top talent, said Karen Leonard, lead analyst of benchmarking for Bersin, and author of the Factbook.
A strong training program demonstrates to new and existing talent that the company values them and is willing to invest in their professional development, said Elissa Tucker, human capital management program manager for the American Productivity & Quality Center a business benchmarking firm. “It shows commitment, not just from HR, but from the highest levels of the organization.”
Leading organizations prefer custom content. Bersin data show high-impact organizations spend more on custom instructor-led content, while their low-impact peers stick with off-the-shelf courses. “Many organizations start with standardized content, then recognize the need for a customized learning approach as they mature,” Bersin by Deloitte analyst Karen Leonard said.
This Roadmap offers HR leaders a framework for building a high-performing training program that aligns strategic business goals with talent needs.
First Stop: Workforce Planning
The only way a company can meet its strategic business goals is to identify the talent, experience and job skills the workforce needs to achieve them. This process is called workforce planning, and in the best organizations it is the foundation of all training and development decision-making.
“The information you glean from this process is how you identify the training needs of the organization,” Tucker said. But not every company invites HR to these sessions. In those cases, HR leaders have to review strategic planning reports, and when possible interview executives about their long-term goals to tease out the training requirements needed to support the business. When you understand the company’s business goals and the skills needed to support them, you can link them to specific talent needs and gaps in the workforce.
Choose Your Vehicle
Once you’ve identified critical skill gaps and the trainee population where they exist, you are ready to design your training offerings. Things to consider:
Off-the-shelf or custom made: The topic, audience, schedule, budget and location of trainees all affect what format training should take. If 500 dispersed employees need Microsoft Office training immediately, an off-the-shelf course may be just the ticket. But if 15 executives need leadership training, you probably want a custom workshop.
Social learning takes off. In 2012, U.S. companies spent an average of $13,675, on social learning tools and services — an impressive 39 percent jump over 2011 levels, according to the Bersin by Deloitte “Factbook.”
Knowledge-sharing on-the-job: Many employees prefer to learn on the job, which can be a cheap and effective method, Tucker said. “It puts less onus on the training department to develop courses and more emphasis on employees and managers sharing knowledge.”
Learning doesn’t end in the classroom: The most effective courses are not stand-alone events. Many include virtual pre-training modules, and post-training tools, including online communities of practice, lessons-learned databases or moderated Q&As. “Social learning, combined with formal programs, experiential learning and ongoing support and reinforcement, is facilitating a shift from blended training programs to continuous learning environments,” Leonard said.
Prepare for impact: Every course should include metrics that will be used later to assess the success of training event. “Measurement is extremely important,” Leonard said. “It’s what differentiates high-impact training organizations from their peers.”
Training can be difficult to measure because so many factors affect business performance, but it is a critical part of any training process, said Laurie Bassi, CEO of McBassi & Co. “The purpose of measurement is to demonstrate that the learning and development program is delivering its intention, and is aligned with driving business results.”
At the simplest level you can measure a course by number of attendees, satisfaction surveys and completion rates. More advanced metrics link training to changes in behavior and improved business results. The more quantifiable these metrics are, the easier they will be to capture, Leonard said.
A good training program doesn’t shoehorn everyone into mandatory training programs. It targets those who need new skills with courses chosen or crafted to meet those needs.
Get everyone on board: No matter how good a course is, it won’t be successful unless managers agree to let employees take it, and employees see the value in it, Leonard said. Before you move forward, be certain that you have stakeholder support.
Are we there yet? Following every course, the training department should track the measures of success, and ideally link them to past performance. For example, a company might link new hire training to reduced turnover in the first year, customer service training to improved customer satisfaction surveys, or sales training to increased annual revenue.
Leonard suggests reviewing these metrics on a quarterly basis. “At the end of the day, you want to see changes in behavior that impact performance,” she said.
If changes aren’t apparent, use these reviews to either tweak or cancel programs that aren’t performing. It can be difficult to cut courses that you’ve invested time and money into, Leonard said, but if they aren’t delivering value, those resources can be put to better use elsewhere.
Where to next? Training managers should meet at least annually with executives to review current training results, discuss how programs are helping the company meet strategic goals, and consider what else is needed, Leonard said. This is also a good time to start planning for the next 12 to 36 months, she said. “Blend qualitative and quantitative input from trainees and their managers to create a full picture of the impact of your program.”
CASE STUDY: Peer 1 Links Training to Long-Term Goals
In 2012, Sheila Bouman was hired to build a training program for Peer 1, a Canadian IT hosting provider. Company leaders wanted Peer 1 to be known as experts in customer service, so Bouman started by talking to managers and employees about what prevented them from meeting that goal.
The response was consistent, said Bouman, an independent consultant. The company was rolling out products so quickly that there was no time for service reps to learn how to support them. “They were thrown into a ‘tell and sell’ environment, and there was a real appetite for more formal training.”
Once she understood the problem, Bouman brought in an instructional designer to survey all customer-facing employees about their confidence regarding every process, product and tool they supported, and used those results to build a training road map. Then she selected a couple of high-profile products, and created task-based online training that service reps could complete on their own, along with searchable step-by-step support aids they could access on the job.
The initial feedback on the courses was so positive that Bouman gained executive support to hire six more instructional designers. She was also able to build out the training program to include all of the company’s products as well as a series of leadership workshops.
Today Bouman validates her training by assessing its effect on the business. She looks at employee engagement, productivity, retention and promotion of high-performing staff, business results, customer churn and how quickly the company is able to roll out new products.
And while she won’t attribute every improvement to training alone, early numbers demonstrate impressive results — the company ranks among the highest revenue per employee in the industry, and employee engagement is up 13 percent since the training program was launched. “These numbers say a lot about our productivity,” she said. “It is because we are helping employees explore their full potential.”