Like so many other functions within organizations, training has been undergoing a rapid transformation in the last couple of years, with companies having to rethink learning technologies, education needs and whether to provide services internally or to outsource.
Despite these fast-moving pressures and changes, the fundamentals remain important: building an organization in which constant learning refreshes the workforce’s skills and capabilities. These five key considerations are how an effective training strategy can be constructed and contribute to the right culture of constant learning and development (L&D).
1. Start With Your Purpose.
While this might sound a bit remote, every good strategy has foundations built on purpose (and vision and mission). Understand the broader purpose of the company and then consider what your function exists to do. Don’t confuse what you do with why you do it. The purpose is all about why, and that leads to an understanding of what the plan is to deliver. It’s not to deliver courses, qualifications or certificates. It’s about having a workforce that has the skills needed to complete in your market, now and in the future.
2. Define Your Goals.
Of course, your strategic goals need to be SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound). Even more important than that, they should be linked to the outcomes the organization needs, not to activities. For example, setting a goal that everyone will undertake at least 40 hours of education a year will lead to the wrong behaviors (management pressure at year end, sitting in front of online courses without motivation, and so on). The outcome that is needed — as mentioned above – is that your employees are learning the right things and are motivated to keep learning. Finding the right metrics can be extremely tough, but it should be possible to find direct or indirect (proxy) measurements that demonstrate the impact of training.
3. Conduct a Needs Analysis to Identify Future-forward Skills.
If a training needs analysis is done well, it can make the decisions you need to make very clear. Done poorly and you will find the organization stuck where it is because you don’t understand the industry trends and the implications for education, training and skills. All too often, the analysis (or diagnosis) stage is completed quickly by someone filling in a SWOT chart (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), or a variant of that, and then moving on to a PESTLE chart (political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental). Having filled these in, they are then frequently ignored, as if the act of completing them is sufficient. These are good tools, but only if used properly. At this stage, you should be looking externally to see what options there are for additional training support, such as apprenticeships. Don’t restrict your horizon to your own industry. Some of the most interesting developments can be found in other sectors.
As a minimum, form a view of the key changes the organization needs to make in order to keep up with the learning and training requirements of your industry. Even better, consider how you can get ahead of the curve and equip people better than your competitors so you can form part of the company’s sustainable competitive advantage.
4. Lay Out Your Strategic Intent Clearly.
Explain your strategic intent for building a learning culture in a short and simple statement. Next, explain the actions that you will take to deliver the intent. You don’t need too many. It is usually four or five key actions, with clear (SMART) objectives for each. These are the key changes that your strategy will be driving. Here’s where your actions spell out, for example, whether you will outsource some or all of your training delivery or how you will deliver learning to a workforce that is now remote or hybrid. Be careful not to describe what you do as a matter of course. For example, an information technology (IT) department strategy that said it would implement high quality cybersecurity only begs the question of what it has been doing until now.
5. Lastly, and Most Importantly, Execute.
Many organizations have a process for creating, reviewing and approving a strategy, but then do nothing with it. It goes into a folder and 10 months later is brought out; dates are changed, and it is re-approved. This is the number one mistake made about strategy, in organizations large and small. Any strategy that is executed will be better than business as usual, as long as the company is able to learn from what goes well and what doesn’t. Avoid making the most common error and do what you planned to do.
A key part of execution is effective communication. Explain what you are doing, and why. Demonstrate why it is different to what has been done before, and how – if done well – it will deliver what the organization needs. Communication is a difficult thing to get right. If you have an internal communications team, engage with them and enlist their help. The strategy is going to be valid for a long time, maybe several years, so keep the communications consistent. A burst of communications followed by silence tells people that this is a management fad, not a serious initiative.
Culture is the hardest thing to change in any organization. If you want to shift it, then lead from the front. Show how you and the leadership team are taking the medicine and benefiting from it. Make the execution part of the day to day management system. If you don’t take it seriously, why should anyone else?