A Guide to Creating an Employee Training and Development Program
Creating an employee training and development program from scratch is a challenge. Do it right, and you’ll give your organization a foundation for success for years to come. Do it haphazardly, and you’ll find yourself working and reworking the program, eating up valuable time.
This is your guide to starting (or growing) your organization’s training and development program the right way. Once you have the fundamentals down, you can fast-track your program’s deployment by using a training library, like that offered by HSI. Using existing off-the-shelf content can help you build the program faster, especially if you are the one solely responsible for training at this point.
What is Employee Training and Development?
When discussing new programs and initiatives, the term “employee training and development” gets used as if this were some single thing that HR departments need to create. In reality, “training” and “development” refer to different things, though they are two sides of the same coin.
Employee development is the overall process an employer provides to employees to help them gradually improve skills, acquire new knowledge, and progress in their careers.
Employee training is a program designed to develop and improve technical and soft skills and knowledge to do a specific job in a more efficient, successful, or safer manner.
Each training class or course supports the progression of the employee through their development plan. One way I visualize the difference is by thinking about what an architect does, versus what a contractor does.
An architect will design a building and, with input from the client, decide what the overall building will look like when it is done: How many stories will it be? Will it have a foyer? Where will the stairs be? Will there be columns facing the street?
A contractor, on the other hand, is much more interested in the concrete details: What supports are needed under the flooring? What bolts are needed to secure the stairs? When do we mix the concrete for the columns? How do we guarantee that the building is built to code?
Development, then, is working with your employees to be an architect for their careers. Training provides the “concrete details” in the form of skills and knowledge needed to support each step.
Creating Your Employee Training and Development Program
Training, then, is a core aspect of employee development. But development is not simply a set of training courses strung together over time. There must be an overall plan for development to happen. Your job is to create a template for those plans, one that will ultimately justify the resources your organization is putting into training.
Here’s the outline for creating your own employee training and development program:
- Recognize goals
- Identify competencies
- Do a gap analysis
- Interview employees
- Offer formal training
- Add coaching/mentoring
- Allow self-directed learning
Step 1: Recognize Goals
When developing a training and development program, the temptation is to start looking at tools, training courses, and timelines. Resist this temptation and step back a moment. What are the overall business goals you and your leadership are trying to achieve? What are the intermediate steps or milestones leading to those goals?
Does your company’s strategic plan involve mergers or acquisitions? You will need a plan for change management and sharing the common mission, vision, and values. Maybe there is a renewed focus on customer service. How does it extend beyond your front-line employees?
Step 2: Identify Competencies
Competencies are groups of abilities, behaviors, knowledge, and skills that impact the success of employees and organizations. Some examples of competencies are Customer Service, Business Acumen, and Building Effective Teams. Once you have identified the competencies your organization wants to foster, it will be easier to define learning tracks for employees that instill those competencies.
Why competencies, rather than, say, individual skills or job requirements? Competency-based learning is now a mainstay in the most successful businesses. In one study by Development Dimensions International (DDI), 89% of best-in-class organizations had core competencies defined for all their roles (compared to a mere 48% of all other companies). A separate report by Fortune and Aon Hewitt found that a full 100% of companies making the global top companies list use a well-defined competency model.
(For more on using competencies and competency models, see our article “Competency-Based Learning: Why Talent Management Needs to Get on Board”).
Step 3: Do a Gap Analysis
A gap analysis is simply a report showing where your employees are today, as contrasted with where you want them to be when it comes to their competencies.
It is likely that you already have plenty of data and information with which to start a gap analysis. Your official HR records might already hold things like standard job descriptions, performance evaluations, and even accident and safety reports. Start with these. You might also have other formal tools, such as employee assessment or 360-degree reviews. If not, it might well be worth investing in some so you can get a clear, objective picture of your workforce.
Step 4: Interview Employees
Remember how I said that an architect works with the client to make decisions about the building being designed? That kind of partnership is critical for employee development, too.
In fact, there was an eyebrow-raising study done by communication training company Fierce that surveyed 800 leaders from various organizations and found:
- 44% of employees felt that workplace practices were ineffective and often hindered employee productivity and morale.
- 50% said the lack of company-wide transparency and the lack of employee involvement are primary areas of concern.
- Less than a third of employees felt their input made any difference.
Ouch! Needless to say, if your employee development program is going to work at all, you need to talk to your employees and listen to them. The most important thing to do is to find out what their own goals are within your company. You might have an employee in IT, for example, that does great work and has a good rapport with the rest of the team. He looks, from the outside, like a prime candidate to be promoted to a management position.
But does he want to be a manager? What if he is perfectly happy in his current role and has no interest in leading others? No matter how much training you have in your back pocket, forcing that new role on the person may create resentment, set them up to fail or leave the company.
There are other things you can learn from talking to employees, too: You can get their insights into the findings from your gap analysis, find out how and when they prefer to learn, and so on.
Step 5: Offer Formal Training
With the preliminary work done, now it’s time to target those gaps in employee competencies. A formal training program should be put together that assigns specific training courses to your employees. These should include not only job-specific skills, but also general business skills and soft skills training.
What form should these formal training sessions take? For many skills, short online video courses will fit the bill. These can be off-the-shelf videos on common topics (compliance, safety, communications skills, etc.) or custom-made videos.
The best training programs tend to use blended learning, which uses both instructor-led sessions and digital/online media. With a blended learning approach, digital courses can help free up instructors’ time, allowing them to use classroom time for more productive activities, such as group discussion, practice sessions, or Q&A. (For more on the benefits of blended learning, see our “5 Blended-Learning Benefits for Corporate Trainers.”)
Step 6: Add Coaching/Mentoring
Mentoring and coaching are not at odds with training. In fact, mentoring can be an invaluable addition to your training program, especially for developing your high-potential employees.
A mentoring program creates relationships among employees that allow for the development and transfer of knowledge in order to help the less experienced employees grow professionally. Matching mentors and mentees is a critical component for creating a successful program; you will have to match employees based on:
- Experience. There shouldn’t be too big or too small of a gap between the experience of the mentor and the mentee. The mentee needs to be able to learn and be challenged, but not overwhelmed.
- Expectations. Both parties should know what to expect out of the relationship. The mentor needs to see the relationship as more than just an opportunity to “share war stories,” for example.
- Compatibility. When mentors and mentees have similar approaches and styles of communication, the relationship is often much more fruitful. For example, you might consider getting a DISC assessment and matching employees with similar personality types.
Once you have determined potential matches, go ahead and draft some guidelines and a mentoring agreement. This helps formalize the relationship and can prevent some issues that might develop down the road.
Step 7: Allow Self-Directed Learning
Your high-potential employees will be motivated to learn and advance on their own. Take advantage of that! Open up your learning library to employees so they can find the courses they want (and take them at a time that works for them).
In fact, there are several benefits to allowing for such self-directed learning: It better accommodates different learning styles, increases the speed of professional development, and gives you a better ROI for your training dollars.
In my experience, I’ve found self-directed learning to be particularly beneficial to employees for learning:
- Soft skills. Employees often don’t like to admit they need help with soft skills. But there are so many useful ones to practice and learn: Decision making, multitasking, creativity, communication skills, and more. (You can see a full list of what counts as soft skills here.)
- Business math. Let’s be honest: By the time we get settled in our careers, we’ve probably forgotten 18/20 of the math we learned in school. (Did you pause to figure out if that should have been 9/10 or 90%? See, I’ve made my case!) Learning the math needed for business is easier (and less embarrassing) when you can go at your own pace.
- Point-of-need skills. Imagine an employee who has never had to negotiate before but now finds herself in the position to buy an expensive custom software tool for their department. How wonderful would it be if she could watch a four-minute video on basic negotiation skills!
Doing It All on Your Own....?
I’ve provided this guide so you can get started creating your own learning and development program for employees. Follow this template, and you can have one up and running (successfully) in a fraction of the time it would take otherwise.
Still, you might hit some roadblocks, or just feel like you need a little help from an industry veteran. (For example, do you need a quick checklist for buying eLearning content? Or a tactical guide for setting up a learning management system? Or just need to talk to a learning consultant who has been there and done that?)
We would love the opportunity to help you out. If one of the guides or articles here does not help you, feel free to reach out and tell us where you are in setting up your employee training and development program. We’ll take it from there!
- Are you creating training largely on your own? Check out this article for more ideas on how to do training when you are a “training department of one.”
- If you already have a program in place, or just want to know how to assess the learning already going on in your organization, I recommend our eBook “7 Critical Questions for Evaluating Your Learning Strategy.”
- For more on understanding the complete learning environment, check out our eBook “The Learning Ecosystem.”
- Explore our blog on the "Elements of a Whole-Person Approach to Employee Training."