This article will outline:
- the strategic importance of investing in training and development
- how to identify the training and development needs of an organisation
- the different types of training and development options available to an organistion
- why evaluating the 'success' of training and development activities is important
- factors that influence the learning process
- the role of the organisation, the manager and the individual in the learning process
Defining learning and development
The two terms are often used interchangeably and indeed they are intrinsically linked because without learning, we cannot develop and mature as individuals. Learning and development are natural instincts and we are all born with an amazing capacity for transformation and growth.
Learning is a natural activity and one in which we actively engage both cognitively, emotionally and physically. Learning leads to change within an individual. Change in the way we think, act or perform. The process of learning can be both positive and negative for the learner. We can also think of situations which although unpleasant, have influenced our learning.
Development is the process of becoming more complex and elaborate which leads to advancement and progression. Learning contributes to development and development cannot take place without learning of some kind.
The outcomes of learning and development are:
- skills - improved organisation to responses to perform a task
- competence - the ability to perform to an accepted level of performance
- 'know how' - the knowledge behind doing something that is not explicitly taught
Strategic importance of learning and development
Investing in learning and development is important for several reasons:
- from an organisation's perspective, a flexible, skilled and adaptable workforce is essential in order to remain competitive in a changing and demanding environment. Investing in human resources is also an effective retention strategy boosting workforce morale and enabling an organisation to retain its core staff and limit recruitment costs.
- from an individual's perspective, investment in learning and development enables individuals to grow, to develop and achieve their ambitions and goals. Of course, for this investment to be worthwhile, it has to be concentrated on core business activities which enable an organisation to achieve its business targets and objectives.
It is essential that an organisation's approach to learning and development is linked to its mission, objectives, values and overall business development strategy. This alignment will ensure that an organisation is investing resources in priority areas linked to key business objectives and also that the organisation will not fail in achieving its mission owing to poor workforce attitudes, behaviour, knowledge or skills.
This 'top down' approach to human resource development, ensures that the development opportunities offered to individuals and teams within an organisation are business sensitive and not just individual wish lists that do not support the organisation's overall effectiveness and success.
In developing a human resource development strategy, an organisation might consider:
- its mission, values and beliefs
- its key business objectives
- the core competencies it needs to achieve these objectives
- the importance of human resources in achieving these objectives
- how it views learning, training and development
- the type and nature of development activities available
This evaluation will enable the organisation to produce a human resource development policy and a set of processes and procedures to ensure the effective and consistent implementation of the strategy.
Identifying development needs
In order for an organisation to identify skill gaps and plan how to bridge them, there needs to be a systematic review of existing workforce knowledge and skills. The term 'training needs analysis' is often used to define the process of gathering data on the skills and knowledge possessed by the existing workforce, and the knowledge and skills they will need to drive the organisation forward.
A training needs analysis can be undertaken at a number of levels.
This is a top level review of the knowledge and skills needed to take the organisation forward to meet its business objectives. This review will usually be conducted by senior managers and be linked to the overall business planning process. The output of this review will normally be a training and development plan for the organisation and an estimate of the investment needed in the form of a training and development budget.
This is a review of the knowledge and skills needed for a specific department. Of course, this will be linked to the organisation level review but may be more specific and more detailed. This will usually be conducted by the department head/manager.
This is a review of an individual's specific training and development needs. This usually takes place at appraisal and is conducted by the individual's line manager. This review will be linked to the business objectives of the department and the overall organisation mission.
There are a number of different development options available to organisations. The approach taken will depend on:
- the organisation's attitude to learning and development
- how an organisation is structured to facilitate learning and development
- the organisational resources available
- the nature and size of the organisation
An organisation may decide that it has the necessary skills and resources to train and develop their workforce in-house. The organisation will structure in order to achieve this and will ensure that the necessary resources are available in the form of training facilities, instructors and equipment. This development may take the form of:
- workplace mentoring
- formal classroom training
- on-the-job skills training
A number of larger organisations also have their own training academies where they have the necessary staff and resources to deliver nationally and internationally industry recognised qualifications.
Many organisations use specialist training providers to deliver their training and development requirements as they may not have the resources, skills or expertise available in-house. Training and development may take the form of:
- bespoke training sessions to develop specific skills
- on-line or distance learning
- day release programmes
- specialist consultants
- open and public programmes
There are many universities, further education colleges and private training providers which offer a range of vocational and academic programmes that lead to nationally, internationally and industry recognised qualifications.
More than just training
Regardless of the approach taken by an individual organisation, it is important to recognise that employee development goes far beyond formal training. Development opportunities encompass anything that enable an individual to learn and grow. Within an organisational setting many of these learning opportunities exist and are experienced outside of a formal training environment. It is important that organisations are aware of this and that individuals are given the opportunity to reflect on these learning experiences. This is further discussed in the Member Pages section.
Mentoring and coaching
We can often find these two terms used interchangeably however they are very different approaches to learning and development.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) defines mentoring as: 'The long term passing on of support, guidance and advice. In the workplace it has tended to describe a relationship in which a more experienced colleague uses their greater knowledge and understanding of the work or the workplace to support the development of a more junior or inexperienced member of staff.'
Essentially mentoring is a 'buddy' approach to training and development. Organisations have used mentoring very successfully to improve the induction of new staff into an organisation therefore improving retention, pass on essential skills to the next generation, and to succession plan. Although the 'buddying up' process of mentoring may be formalised with the organisation choosing who to buddy, mentoring is usually a fairly informal means to training and development with the mentor and the mentee meeting on an informal basis. The process is usually mentee lead with the mentor providing the advice and guidance as and when it is needed.
The CIPD defines coaching as: 'Developing a person's skills and knowledge so that their job performance improves, hopefully leading to the achievement of organisational objectives.'
Essentially coaching is a much more formalised approach that is targeted at improving an individual's performance. The process is usually more structured with coaching sessions logged and performance targets and timescales agreed and reviewed at each session.
The CIPD has produced two detailed factsheets on both coaching and mentoring. These can be accessed at www.cipd.co.uk
Evaluating the impact of training and development
We have already established that in order to compete in an increasingly competitive and changing environment, organisations need a skilled and flexible workforce. However, organisations also have limited resources and these resources need to be used effectively.
It is therefore vital that organisations evaluate the training and development opportunities that they support. Evaluating training and development activities enables an organisation to establish if their investment has been a success and if their human resource development strategy has been delivered and achieved.
Through the evaluation process an organisation will seek to establish if the training and development activities provided value for money and also if learning took place leading to a change in knowledge, skills and behaviours.
The effectiveness of training and development can be established in a number of ways.
Many organisations ask their staff to complete questionnaires after they have attended training and development activities. Although questionnaires are a cheap and consistent approach to collecting information, they can be too general in their questioning and are usually only applied to more formalised training and development activities.
Line manager meeting
Organisations may require their staff to meet with their line manager prior to their learning in order to clarify its purpose and then again after they have completed training and development activities. This approach can be very effective when evaluating more informal training and development activities however it needs to be structured to ensure consistency of approach among managers.
Learning is a very individual concept and reflective diaries are a useful means of getting an individual to consider the distance they have travelled as a result of training and development activities. There can however be issues of consistency of approach from the individual.
Many organisations use the appraisal process to gather information on the effectiveness of training and development activities. This approach is useful in that the individual has had an opportunity to reflect on the learning journey and also to apply their new knowledge and skills in practice. However, in most organisations appraisals take place on an annual basis and this may be too long for some individuals to make an effective contribution to the evaluation process.
Delegates can be required to apply their learning on an agreed project and present their learning for sharing with others.
In reality, an organisation will use a range of methods in collecting the information it requires to complete a useful and informative evaluation of training and development activities.
Responsibility for the success of learning and development
We all have an active role to play in ensuring the success of leaning and development opportunities. If learning leads to individual and organisational transformation, and development leads to progression and advancement, then learning and development opportunities should serve these purposes.
However, often organisations and individuals invest time, money and effort into learning and development opportunities without these opportunities making any significant impact on the performance of the individual or the performance of the organisation. There are a number of factors which will impact upon the success of training and development.
Organisation culture and attitude to change
An organisation needs to foster a learning culture, open to new ideas, not afraid of change, not afraid to challenge the status quo. Learning and development are stifled in organisations which:
- do not embrace problem solving
- do not take calculated risks
- are prepared to get it wrong sometimes
- do not instigate transformational change when it is needed.
We can all think of an organisation in which we have worked where even though we knew what was wrong and we knew what to do to put it right, we were unable to do so because the organisation was not open to change.
Organisation attitude to learning and development
Organisations need to foster the sharing of learning, of knowledge and ideas. This should be the purpose of investing in learning and development opportunities - to spread learning throughout the organisation so that it can develop and grow. It may seem like stating the obvious, but many organisations fail to grasp this concept. It is crucial that the process of how learning is going to be shared and used is considered in the organisation's human resource development strategy and evaluation strategy.
Organisation resources and financial stability
Organisations need to invest in learning and development; however, this is one of the first budgets that is usually cut by non-learning organisations. In times of financial instability is it perhaps more pertinent to invest in learning and development in order to lead transformational change. However, this implies that the investment is invested in the right learning and development opportunities!
Learning and development should be evaluated in financial terms. If our investment in learning and development is not making a difference in quantifiable terms on the performance of the business then either we have invested in the wrong opportunities or we are not fostering a learning culture. If learning and development are not making a different to the effectiveness of the organisation, then the investment, in organisational terms, has failed.
Leaders' attitudes to learning and development
Effective leaders are always learning and they encourage their teams to do the same. As leaders we need to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. We do not always know all the answers - no-one does! Many managers feel threatened by new ideas or suggestions for improvement coming from their teams. They feel that their knowledge and competence are being challenged. But our role as a leader is to learn and develop and this involves knowing and understanding our strengths and weaknesses. Successful leaders build on their self-knowledge and encourage their teams to do the same.
We are born with an amazing ability and fascination for learning and development. Any of us who have children will be amazed (and sometimes frustrated) at their fascination for learning. They constantly challenge the status quo by asking: 'But why?'. They see all opportunities as learning opportunities. Even a bath can turn into an early science experiment mixing shampoos and bubble baths to see what will happen. As adults we can sometimes lose this fascination for learning. But without it, we become tired and lack-lustre. We continue doing things as we have always done them.
Investment in learning and development is not just for our own career progression it is for the progression and advancement of the organisation as a whole. Many of us forget this principle. We are therefore, responsible for implementing our learning within the workplace. If we take a quality improvement training programme then we should implement the tools and techniques we have learnt. We should strive for improvement and advancement.
Further developments in member pages
The member pages of the Body of Knowledge are only available to members of the CQI. Further developments in this section include overviews of:
- the key learning theories
- Investors in People
- the concept of the learning organisation
I have selected a number of texts and websites that I feel will give useful and additional information on the topics outlined in this section.
Mumford, Jeni (2007), Life Coaching for Dummies, John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
This is a useful and comprehensive text outlining coaching techniques which are appropriate to both personal and business coaching.
Senge, Peter (2006), The Fifth Discipline, Random House Business Books.
This is a useful and comprehensive text explaining the concept of the learning organisation.
www.managers.org.uk The website of the Chartered Management Institute
This is a useful website which has free access to a number of research reports on various management issues.
www.i-l-m.com The website for the Institute of Leadership and Management
This is a useful website which has free access to a number of articles on a variety of management topics.
www.businesslink.gov.uk Business Link website.
www.cipd.co.uk The website for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
This is a great website with free access to a number of factsheets on training and development issues.