You've sorted out your business aims but does your team have the skills to get there? Follow these five steps to create a strategic training plan that really delivers.
First things first. Before you even think about your killer training plan, you need to be clear what your business’ objectives are. With this firmly in mind, a training needs analysis (TNA) can then be carried out to determine the size and nature of the gap between existing skills and those required to do what is needed by your business.
Robin Hogg, a trainer for Investors in People (IiP), explains: “In essence it is about being able to describe the current knowledge and skills levels of the workforce and what those levels need to be to achieve set objectives with minimum stress.”
In an ideal world, a TNA would be carried out by professionals who will have the skillset to undertake an in-depth analysis, says Fiona Lander, MD at performance management consultancy Lander Associates. However, she adds: “For smaller businesses the costs may be daunting so they may implement a DIY TNA. In this case the line managers need to work as a team and commit to some one-to-one face time with employees to look at their jobs, skills and competencies.”
Shelley Gallagher, head of training at recruitment and training firm Pareto Law, advises starting right back at the beginning, assuming nothing. “Look at job profiles, roles and key performance indicators, and more importantly how they’re performing against these targets. If people are exceeding, why? If they’re underperforming – why do they think that is, and identify gaps.” These might have come from past training so make sure you don’t repeat mistakes.
There are many different methodologies you can use for carrying out a TNA. Gallagher recommends incorporating a number of different approaches, in line with job roles. “For field-based sales staff, remote questionnaires are good because you’re asking the same questions to everyone and using a uniformed approach. For sales teams based on-site a workshop discussion works well because it’s quick, and one-to-one interviews can be used for those who wouldn’t feel comfortable in that environment.”
Looking at the outcomes of performance review meetings or appraisals can also help establish training needs, as well as keeping managers involved so that they retain ownership and responsibility for successful implementation.
And, of course, don’t forget to factor management training into your strategic plan. Ben Collis, head of training at research and recruitment firm Freshminds, believes this is crucial: “We take the development of managers very seriously because they are the cultural guardians. Training isn’t all about sitting in a classroom, but it’s an important platform because someone who’s trained in management will have more confidence and have faith in their own abilities.”
IiP trainer Hogg says a TNA should be carried out whenever necessary, which could be at a set point in the year, when something has gone wrong or not as planned or when you’re about to embark on something new.
However, he adds: “The most logical time is when you are producing or reviewing your major business objectives for the next phase of the organisation’s development.” In other words, part of the consideration of what the objectives can be should be whether the organisation possesses the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to deliver those objectives or whether staff will need development to be capable of achieving them.
When it comes to setting a timescale for a training plan, Lander recommends preparing a plan annually, and reviewing every quarter to ensure that it’s working effectively. However, the nature and timeline for your organisation’s objectives will provide context for your training plan. Hogg adds: “The typical range is three months to five years, but if you make a new batch of products each day, three months may be too long.”
The training budget can be set as an overall total, or per person or department. Hogg says the former is more likely to lead to a strategic approach, while the latter gives a veneer of equality of access.
Fiona Lander of Lander Associates concurs: “The budget can either be set per capita, for example a company with 10 employees deciding that it will spend £1,000 per staff member therefore setting its budget at £10,000, or it can be set as a percentage of turnover, which can range between 1% and 3%.“
External training can bring in new skills and resources, as well as building motivation by showing staff that you’re investing in them. But choose a training provider carefully and look at their services not just the content. Internal training should also be logged as an expense as it is still a cost to the business.
4. Fitting in
Experts agree that every new starter should receive some form of training, the level of which will be determined by the role and your TNA. “Whether it’s providing basic health and safety training, explaining jargon used within the organisation, introducing bespoke IT packages or more complex training solutions, its nature will depend on the skills required for the role,” says Hogg.
There will always be some staff who need more training, such as new starters or those who have been internally promoted, but all should have equal access to discussing their needs and requesting training if they feel it is necessary to do their jobs.
Hogg adds: “If the training is required to develop skills necessary to do the job it should be recognised as part of the day-to-day, not a soft alternative. However, the length and proximity of training sessions can be altered to suit the operational needs of the business.”
Offering in-house training in bite-size chunks where possible can be a great way of fitting it in around day-to-day responsibilities. Pareto Law’s Gallagher recommends allowing staff to take responsibility of their own development by running optional sessions. “We offer open coaching clinics on a weekly basis that are run by myself and my internal training consultant. They’re not pushed on anyone, it’s very much driven by ownership by each individual. They know they are there and it’s entirely up to themselves to book on a workshop.”
Time should also be allowed for the practising and consolidation of any newly acquired skills.
An often overlooked part of evaluation is the need to take measures of performance before any training begins and to set clear targets for what that performance should be after the completion of training, says Hogg. Senior managers should then agree these measures, how and who will collect the data before, during after the training (eg line managers). He adds: “With the example of morale, how did you know you had a morale problem? Was it a staff survey or feedback from staff representatives? The same method can be used to tell if things have changed/improved.”
Results must be measured against the original plan – what were the overall and individual objectives? If these have been achieved then the plan has been successful. Lander adds: “If you want results to reflect the bottom line, you need to put measures in place at the beginning to gauge this, such as measuring staff turnover.”
Investing in training will build motivation by introducing new challenges and making people feel valued, particularly if you take the time to listen to their needs. This should have a positive effect on both attraction and retention. Lander continues: “This will then have a direct impact on profitability, and the money you spend on recruitment will be for growth rather than replacing staff.” Split the attrition rate into 0-9 months, 9-18 months, and measure those pre-training and post-training.
Another measure is an increase in productivity – if staff are given better skills and managers better soft skills to help get the most out of their teams you should see an increase in efficiency. Lander adds: “In a sales environment it’s quite easy to measure. Training in how to sell should have a direct impact on sales, and training in negotiation skills might lead to better margins.”
Results of training can take time to become visible. Review regularly and don’t expect to measure them overnight.