Delivering Learning That Works

Simply throwing training at individuals may miss priority needs or incorrectly target non-existent needs.

Figuring out just what are the organisational and individual priorities for training is not something to be left to human resource specialists. Managers need to be involved in the process so they understand how to do training needs analysis and can successfully implement it throughout their team.

While some learning relates to present needs, some should be future oriented and aligned with business plans or long-term organisational strategy. Incorporated within the strategic plan should be the supporting “people plan”.

Where is the organisation going? What skills, knowledge and behaviour must its people have, to undertake that journey? And beyond that – how will these behaviours be encouraged, reinforced, and rewarded?

For example, if state-owned enterprise wishes to move from public-service culture to marketing, profit-driven business – do its people have the necessary commercial skills and mindset and how are these created?

Perhaps an employee feedback exercise has highlighted management or leadership weakness. If the organisation is serious about improving skills that contribute to future business success, it must address that weakness with leadership development.

There’s no magic formula to determine what level of organisational investment to put toward training and education – though any enterprise that is serious about the subject will set budget. (Some companies invest fixed percentage of turnover – from say 2.5 percent.)

Most larger enterprises have resources in the form of an HR/training department; smaller ones should expect managers to take on the responsibility.

The reality is that today’s workers will walk if their employer doesn’t make an effort to keep them motivated, challenged and engaged by contributing to their skills development.

That doesn’t mean training can be force-fed. If individuals don’t also take on bit of responsibility and show willingness to learn, problems arise.

In thinking about learning needs, organisations must look at how much money needs to be spent and where. genuine commitment to meeting training and learning needs must also include an evaluation of learning outcomes.

Mapping the learning path

Training needs can arise at three levels: the organisation, the activity and the individual.

Organisation refers not just to the whole but to any department, section or team with its own objectives. At this level training need is any behaviour or skill lack that hinders achievement of organisational goals. It could be lack of sales skills that impacts negatively on business or lack of interpersonal skills that affects staff retention.

At activity level, training need applies to all those doing the same work – perhaps using specific piece of equipment or working in an area with specific safety requirements, for instance.

At individual level, training need relates to particular person’s lack of skill, knowledge and understanding, or behavioural issue that might be holding them back. While learning needs at this level are usually identified through performance management processes, smaller companies lacking these formal systems should at least discuss and action individual learning needs.

At organisational level, key strategic drivers should be identified and the skills or behaviours that will support these pinpointed. One way to do this is to formulate competency frameworks.

These pinpoint competencies or behaviours required at various levels within the organisation and provide tool to help staff assessment. If people can’t demonstrate the needed skill/behaviour, then training may be needed.

Competency frameworks should not be hugely complex or detailed – it is better to focus on key skills or behaviours that will really make difference and check if your people have them. Techniques to do this include performance management, competency-based interviewing, psychometric testing, self-assessment exercises, group discussions, and 360-degree feedback.

Learning and development is vital at every level of an organisation – and senior managers probably need the most encouragement as they frequently find it hard to either find the time or acknowledge the need. It is still amazing to see how many managers have been in their positions for years who have had very little specific management or leadership development.

For those who want reference measures or guidelines, the UK’s “Investors in People” standard ( is widely recognised as representing good practice.

Proof an organisation is actively encouraging the development of their people is demonstrated against four principles in the national standard. These are commitment, planning, action and evaluation.

Delivery options

How organisations choose to deliver learning will very much depend on what they’re trying to achieve. There is range of options, all with their own merits.

Examples include:
• Qualification courses: many specialists/professionals have to pursue these for continuing professional development.
• Public courses (eg, NZIM’s short courses)
• In-company designed programmes
• Mentoring or coaching
• Conferences
• E-learning
• Books
• Distance learning
• Work shadowing.

In-house programmes have become very popular. These can be tailored to address specific company issues, to reinforce culture or values, or address specific project needs. They also double as good team-building opportunities.

Seminars and public short courses provide valuable learning and networking opportunities as long as they target relevant needs. At more senior levels, managers will often want to go outside the organisation to learn from others in different industries.

Longer-term development programmes (eg, NZIM’s Managerial Excellence Programme) provide both good networking opportunities and the chance to integrate learning back into the work environment. Management development is most effective when integrated into longer-term approach with various ongoing learning activities, peer group and senior management support.

How effective is training?

This is not an easy question to answer, but it is vital that any enterprise knows what it is spending on organisational learning and if that spend has helped it meet business goals.

Managers at all levels should contribute feedback on the impact of training and development for individuals and their team. Questions to answer are: Did the training activity achieve what it set out to do? Has knowledge increased? Have skills improved? Has behaviour changed? If so, what impacts have all these had?

It may not be easy to measure the impact of training and development but there are several ways an organisation can maximise its return on learning effectiveness. These include:
• ensuring correct needs are identified
• exploring different delivery mechanisms
• ensuring management commitment to all development activities
• involving key people in the design and content
• ensuring programme delivery is in tune with corporate culture
• letting everyone know the purpose and anticipated outcomes of any learning programmes
• encouraging people to take responsibility for, and ownership of, their own learning
• making learning fun, relevant and challenging
• integrating learning with specific work projects, action plans or assignments so it can be immediately applied
• getting honest feedback so changes can be made if needed
• sharing training successes and learning from failures – spread the word
• experimenting with different types of learning – eg, coaching, mentoring, work shadowing, projects, delegation, e-learning and knowledge groups
• encouraging managers to help reinforce development
• sharing learning after the event – discuss it, reinforce it and reward it
• keep reviewing what you have

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