Why do we train our employees? Well, it depends on who you ask. Some people believe that the purpose of training is to motivate employees or to reward high performance. A few will train just to meet their training quota, and then there are those who train their employees to create a reputation of staff development. Most of the time, though, employees themselves don’t even understand why they’re attending training.
But even successful training is wasteful if it’s done “for the sake of it”. Because training can be one hefty investment. In fact, U.S. training expenditure exceeded $70 billion in 2016. That’s a lot of spending! And like any spending in business, it should pay off.
So, what’s the ultimate return on training investment? The achievement of strategic business objectives, of course. This means developing training that will equip employees with the knowledge and skills that in turn will contribute to reaching the business’ strategic vision.
What Are Strategic Business Objectives?
We know every business is different. Each is unique in the way that they operate, the people they employ, and the strategic vision they’re striving for – to name but a few.
Yet, all of their strategic business objectives can usually be described within four common categories. That’s, making money, building a reputation, becoming faster, or becoming better.
Increasing Financial Gains: This one probably hasn’t taken you much by surprise, because increasing annual revenue and/or profit is the most common type of business objective. But in order to increase financial gains, the business needs to reduce costs, while making more sales. And to do this, they require a strong, competent and motivated workforce who understands their respective roles in achieving the business’ strategy.
Building a Brand Reputation: The better the business’ reputation, the longer the list of loyal customers it tends to boast. But how did it achieve its sterling reputation? Through positive customer experiences, at every customer touch point. This means knowledgeable sales consultants, helpful support staff, high-quality products and services, and skilled user-experience experts.
Improving Speed of Production: Producing products and services faster enables businesses to reach more customers in the same amount of time. This means lower costs, and increased sales. But more efficient production requires employees who are skilled in their roles, and who can work quickly without risking quality.
Maintaining a Competitive Advantage: In today’s global economy, it’s not enough to be the fastest. Businesses need to continuously learn, to innovate, and to customize their offerings. This allows the business to compete proactively, rather than react passively to change. But embracing new technologies and practices, and evolving with changing market demands, requires a resilient and learning-focused workforce.
Why You Should Align Your Training Programs
The achievement of strategic business objectives is quite clearly related to the people who work in the business. Their knowledge, skills, and motivation to learn are key to increased sales, improved brand reputation, efficient production, and competitive advantage.
This is why training, and its alignment to strategic business objectives, becomes so important. By cascading the strategic vision and mission down to training and development goals, employees are able to see them operationalized. They become real, they become tangible, and they become meaningful in relation to their own jobs and tasks.
Because when training programs are designed and developed toward business strategy, employees are able to better understand how they personally contribute to the achievement of business objectives.
And this understanding leads to their buy-in and reduces their resistance to training. This is why every training program should be practical and relevant to the roles and responsibilities of employees, and directly assist them in achieving their performance goals.
So the question becomes, how do you do it? How do you achieve this connection between training and business objectives?
6 Steps for Aligning Training With Business Strategy
Aligning training with business strategy requires little more than six simple steps, followed in a logical order.
- Identify your strategic business objectives: You know the saying. “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. And sometimes, where you are heading is not the best place for your business. So, start by understanding the strategic business objectives that you’re working toward achieving. These might be related to hard goals, like increased revenue, profit, or productivity, or softer goals like brand reputation, customer experience, or organizational culture. But no matter the objective, make sure that it’s measurable!
- Define the performance results necessary for achieving them: Now, in order to achieve the strategic objectives that you’ve identified in step 1 above, you’ll need to define the performance results that will reflect their success. For example, increased revenue might rely on higher sales, and a reduced number of customer complaints might indicate that customer experience is improving.
- Identify the roles, tasks and competency areas where this performance will be measured: Because you’ve defined the performance results that will lead to your strategic business objectives, you can start to identify the specific roles, tasks, knowledge, and skills that will help the business to perform in the right ways. Like how Sales Consultants might help to achieve increased sales through their first contact calls, and how Support Teams could use their knowledge of the online platform to better assist customers who have queries.
- Evaluate the gaps and set related learning goals: Once you know which roles, tasks, and competencies can help you achieve your performance results, it’s time to evaluate where the skills gaps lie. So, within each role (starting with the most important), assess the level of knowledge, skills, and abilities. And where there are gaps, set the learning objectives that will close them. For example, if there is a gap in communication skills among sales staff, then the associated learning objective might be to “Improve communication skills among Sales Consultants”.
- Communicate these goals (and their relevance) to employees: As much as YOU understand the importance of these learning objectives to the broader business strategy, don’t assume that employees share the same understanding. After all, they haven’t been as involved in the last four steps! So, clearly communicate the importance of achieving these learning objectives, and how their achievement will enable employees to make a meaningful contribution to business strategy. Because of understanding, leads to their investment in the training that comes next!
- Design and develop training for achieving learning objectives: Okay, here comes the fun part! With your direction clearly defined, you can now design and develop training that is clearly aligned with broader strategic business objectives. By designing your training specifically to close the competency gaps identified before, your employees will be working toward their learning objectives. By achieving the learning objectives, they’ll be equipped to perform better in their roles. And that performance will directly contribute to the achievement of business strategy. Tada! It’s all come together.
Be Different: The Costs of Misalignment
Surrounded by rapid change and a need for speed, many businesses today still fail to align their training with strategic business objectives. Actually, studies have found that only 12% of employees feel that they can apply the skills they’ve learned from training to their jobs. And as many as 67% of businesses say that they fail to execute well-formulated strategies.
It’s time to be different and break away from this majority. It’s time to align training with strategy by involving the employee.
By following the six steps outlined here, and incorporating business strategic objectives into performance metrics, you’ll be designing and developing training with real business impact. You might even want to try eLearning, for an even greater impact!
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