All projects begin with a lot of enthusiasm and the mild to strong conviction that they will succeed. Whether it’s a kitchen remodel or a large, international corporate endeavor, nobody ever goes into battle thinking that they don’t have the best idea about what and how needs to be done.
Then things tend to get complicated, obstacles arise and some projects end up being resounding success stories while others crash and burn. And when the latter happens, everybody wants to know what went wrong and who is to blame for it. Most often it turns out that there was not enough (or correct) information to start with.
In the case of learning programs, the outcomes can only be calculated once the participants have had time to process the information and the chance to apply it on their jobs for (hopefully) improved results.
And when they prove to be below par the issue usually was that decisions were made on a gut feeling rather than thorough analytics. It often is the case that L&D professionals don’t know what data they should take into consideration and where to get it from.
Conducting a training needs assessment
This is probably the most important step and unfortunately often overlooked or done in a hurry.
Conducting a training needs assessment means more than sending emails to all executives and team leaders within the organization and asking them what they think the people in their teams need to learn. Their input is valuable enough but does not suffice.
Usually L&D specialists need to gather this kind of information from several sources.
- Taking a good look at job descriptions can give a pretty good idea of what skills and competencies are necessary.
- Analyzing performance reviews will provide valuable information about where the gaps are and about the number of employees who will need a training intervention.
- Informal discussions and focus groups are also very good ways of testing the field and seeing what employees feel they would benefit from.
Only after putting all these pieces together is it safe to draw some conclusions and make a list of potential topics. Then of course there should be a refining process to see what the priorities are, what stays and what goes, what is imperative and what can wait.
Aligning learning with company objectives
The measure of training effectiveness will always be how it translates into business results. This means that it needs to stay closely connected to the direction and goals of the organization.
Corporate strategy is meant to chart the course for any company that knows what its purpose is, and what it wants to achieve. It basically starts with the “why” it does what it does, not with the “what”. As Simon Sinek brilliantly pointed out, the successful companies are those who manage to communicate their purpose instead of explain or advertise their product or service.
The connection between learning and corporate strategy should be well communicated and obvious to all involved. Alignment means L&D professionals should use corporate strategy to get learning investment. Providing teams with learning that is designed to facilitate a specific, effective or behavioral outcome is the way to ensure positive results.
This validates both the time and monetary investments the learning program requires, gives employees a sense of ownership and enhances employee importance to organizational success.
Keeping an eye on the future
Both an extensive training needs assessment and a good coordination with organizational goals have bearing on the present or maybe immediate future. Yet learning is meant to be beneficial for a longer period of time so besides taking into consideration what needs to be done in order to fill gaps and achieve those objectives, those in charge with designing learning paths should also look at predictions for what is to come in their industry and act accordingly.
Certainly, nobody can know precisely how things will evolve but in this day and age there is enough information and ways to compile it and get a rather clear idea of what the general direction of things is.
Social analytics are a great example of a very modern trend that can provide precious input about employees’ informal activity and interests using unique metrics that can help boost motivation and engagement.
Sociological research is of great help in determining how generations change, what they bring to the table and how big of an impact they will have in the workforce.
Behavioral psychology offers great insights into the characteristics of each generation and what makes them tick. For example, recently they have identified a micro-generation, the Xennials who experienced an analogue childhood and a digital adulthood.
The good news is that all the information is readily available and easy to put together due to today’s technology. The less great news is that it still means a lot of work for instructional designers.
The key to a successful training program is making sure it is just what the company, the employees and the industry needs.
Making an effort to look at all the data and base learning decisions on analytics rather than executive requests or gut feelings will surely prove a lot more beneficial to all involved.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.