Tired of your sessions, courses or training curriculums needing to reworked to address new performance challenges? Have you ever thought the real issue might be the strategies you’re using to identify the business need, problem or opportunity that training needs to address in the first place? After all, if you don’t know which business challenges you’re hoping to solve with training, it’s unlikely a course will do the trick.

As learning professionals, it’s our responsibility to use strategies when working with our business partners to ensure we are aligning learning and development (L&D) with business goals. Some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, I agree with this but I don’t know any strategies to identify training needs.”
Or, “I have tried a few strategies … and they don’t work.”  Well you’re in luck.

Here are some true and tried strategies that I have implemented in my assessments as a training professional that have led to impactful outcomes.

1. Visualize Your Desired Outcome

When identifying training needs, I like to use what Dr. Brené Brown’s calls, “paint the picture” thinking.  I use this phrase in many of my need analysis conversations to ensure I’m identifying the root cause of a problem before rolling out a training solution. It’s a way to visually explain what you want an outcome to look like. For example, the business might say, “L&D — we need customer service training.” (Something we all have heard.) We then can use the visualization (“paint the picture”) strategy to draw out what a learner who attends that customer service training will look like in applying those skills, behaviors and knowledge back on the job.

2. Focus on Action Item Objectives

Another strategy I use is remembering “action item” objectives. I’ll ask myself, and key stakeholders, “What will the learner be able to restate, explain, identify, discuss, apply, say, perform and behave” after completing this training?  This ensures that training is focused on what the learner can actually “act” upon back on the job. This strategy is successful because it allows stakeholders to describe what they want someone to be able to do after the training. When people say to learning leaders, “We want them to understand the importance of customer service,” it’s too broad of a goal, and measuring or assessing learners’ understanding is difficult. Thus, L&D may end up having to rework the training curriculum over and over again in attempt to meet a metric that can’t be measured.

3. Don’t Forget to Iterate

My favorite and last strategy can be used along with all others and in every situation. It’s an irritative design strategy that works like a circle. After ensuring that a proper needs analysis is performed using the strategies already mentioned, work to identify common themes within those needs that connect to larger organizational objectives. Then, share those larger objectives with stakeholders for feedback and make sure they’re aligned with the most pressing business challenges that need to be solved.

Then, go back and design a training framework with time components, number of modules (if delivering an eLearning program) and modality options. Then, go back to your stakeholders (again) and ask for their feedback. This strategy gives the stakeholder every opportunity to provide feedback so that you can course-correct your curriculum and specifications as needed. This process does not hand over the keys to “how” the training is designed, it’s more about what learners are being trained on. Too often, we speak with stakeholders one time, perform a needs analysis, begin designing a course and then have a nearly completed program that doesn’t meet the need it was intended to. Consistent exposure to and feedback from business leaders and stakeholders allows for a more effective process.

I leave you with this: When L&D aligns with business goals, we all win because L&D is seen as a strategic business partner. So, ask your stakeholders to “paint the picture,” remember your action objectives and follow up early and often for optimal training success.