Leading a training department is hard. It involves careful planning, anticipating a variety of business and employee needs, and addressing those needs with the right solution. It also demands a variety of skills, from leadership and strategic thinking to resource management and performance analysis.

Over the last decade, Training Industry, Inc., has collected data from thousands of training professionals across industries to determine what makes the most successful training organizations great. Based on this research, we have identified 10 best practices you can implement to take your training department to the next level, making it an essential part of the business.

This research forms the basis of Training Industry’s continuing professional development programs for training managers, including our flagship Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTM™) program. Throughout this article, we share insights from certified training managers regarding the 10 best practices of great training organizations.

  1. Listen to Uncover Real Business Problems and Needs

Often, the first step in creating and delivering training is identifying a business problem and determining whether training is the right way to address it. This process is known as diagnostics, and listening to uncover needs is a key practice. Over 70% of respondents to our survey indicated that this practice is “very important” for great training performance, making it the most important best practice. Unfortunately, only 23% of learning professionals indicated that their organization had optimized this practice. This gap represents a need for improvement. When you listen to uncover needs, you serve as a performance consultant and strategic partner, identifying impediments to achieving business goals and leveraging your expertise to remove barriers.

“It is important to have confidentiality or anonymity,
in many cases, so that you are getting a diverse
and broad spectrum of feedback.”
Julie Kirsch, CPTM,
Director of Training and Development,
Calibre CPA, PLLC

  1. Use Instructors With Great Facilitation and Presentation Skills

Training delivery is often the most obvious element of training to learners and stakeholders. As a result, this process deserves, and typically receives, a good amount of time and attention. Just over 60% of learning professionals rate this practice as “very important,” making it the second best practice for great training.

One way to ensure high-quality training delivery is to use high-quality instructors — teachers who have great facilitation and presentation skills in addition to content knowledge. In a business environment where virtual training is increasingly popular, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations are realizing the importance of having instructors with strong virtual facilitation skills, from the ability to use virtual training platforms to the ability to engage online learners.

“We’re cultivating our subject matter experts on how to
facilitate learning rather than present the material.”
    – Chris Cassell, CPTM,
Manager of Sales Training Operations, Align Technology

  1. Customize Training to Meet the Organization’s Needs

Our research indicates that the most important process capability of great training organizations is strategic alignment — the ability to align training programs with business goals. By customizing training programs to meet business needs rather than simply purchasing some generic off-the-shelf content, learning leaders can ensure training is relevant to learners’ jobs and goals.

All of these best practices are linked, integral components that make up a high-performing training organization. When you’ve listened to uncover business needs, it’s easier to customize training to meet those needs, because you understand what’s caused those business problems, how training can help and what that training should look like.

  1. Make Training Engaging and Interactive

In order for training to be effective, it must engage learners. Afterall, people don’t learn when they aren’t interested and participating in learning. Our research found that the most important content development practice is making learning engaging and interactive. Create programs that capture learners’ attention; keep them engaged; and encourage interaction between learners, between instructors and learners, and between learners and the content. This is the first step toward improving outcomes.

  1. Use Knowledgeable Instructors

In addition to having great facilitation skills, your instructors must understand the content they’re teaching. High-performing training organizations strike a balance: They train their trainers in adult learning principles, and they look for subject matter experts (SMEs) with a disposition toward training to facilitate courses. Just shy of 60% of learning professionals rating this practice “very important,” it is the most important content development practice.

  1. Establish Agreed-upon Business Objectives

Again, strategic alignment is key to training success. Unfortunately, with only about 20% of learning professionals reporting this practice as optimized, it is the second-lowest strategic alignment practice in terms of performance. When learning programs do not align with business goals, they do not drive sustainable impact. Work with business leaders to identify and agree on business goals; if those discussions are outside of your control, be sure to meet with stakeholders to understand the goals of the business and align your programs accordingly.

  1. Adapt Training to the Organization’s Unique Business or Culture

In addition to customizing training for your business’ needs and your learners’ jobs, the culture of your organization is also a critical consideration. For example, if your company tends to be slow to adopt new technologies, and learners are reluctant to use new software programs, introducing a training program in virtual reality (VR) may not be a good idea for your business — regardless of how effective such a program might be in another company or industry.

  1. Assess or Measure Learning Outcomes

As budgets tighten, it’s more important than ever for each business unit to prove its value — and the training function is, perhaps, under more pressure than most. Often seen as a cost center, training can be the first department to receive cuts during difficult times. With almost 60% of learning professionals saying this practice is “very important,” it is the only reporting and analysis practice to make it to the top 10 most important practices. Measuring learning outcomes, particularly as they impact business results, is the primary way you can avoid this scenario from happening to you and your team.

Assessing training is also important for process improvement. By identifying where training has succeeded and where it has failed, you can make changes to your programs and improve future results.

  1. Use Relevant Examples

Just as it’s important to customize training to your organization’s culture, you’ll want to make sure the examples and case studies you use in training reflect the industry you work in, the unique business your company does and the individual jobs your learners perform. While not rated as the most important content development practice, it does have the strongest performance ratings, with almost 30% of learning professionals indicating that their organization has optimized the practice. Even if the principles of the content are universal, your content will be more impactful if it’s relevant to your learners.

  1. Involve Subject Matter Experts

You’re an expert in adult learning. You’re an expert in management. You’re an expert in instructional design and program development. But you can’t be an expert in everything, which is why it’s important to involve SMEs in content development. They know the content best, so relying on their expertise to understand the material and distill it into easily digestible formats will help you make your training programs accurate and effective.

As we wrote in our recent report, “What Makes a Training Organization Great”:

Great training organizations are process-oriented. They seek to deeply understand their problems and then use a clear, structured approach to solving them. They do not have the solution to every imaginable problem — but they do have systems in place that help them thoroughly understand and solve most problems.

These 10 best practices will help you make your training organization a process-oriented, problem-solving, goal-achieving organization — positioning you for success and aligning you as a strategic partner to the business.