Make Training a Strategic Business Practice

Development is not a short-term solution

By Samantha Howland Mar 28, 2014
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In today’s uncertain business environment, change represents the biggest constant. Competitive forces, technological innovations, shifting regulatory climates and economic volatility continue to increase the pace at which our world evolves. To survive and thrive, organizations must stay vigilant to market shifts and continuously p​lan for and adapt to new conditions.

They must also continuously improve their business propositions and strengthen valued customer relationships. Serving a critical role in organizational evolution, the successful training function aligns its work to support the business’ vision by enabling workforce readiness, not just in the near term, but also over time.

Given the challenges of the constrained economic environment, most companies function today with a lean operational model. Employees and management cover larger spans of responsibility and focus their efforts on predictable productivity to meet targets. Ensuring that people can adapt to and deliver on evolving demands requires a proactive, fluid development effort.

Forecasting the appropriate knowledge set, skills mix and behaviors that the business of tomorrow will need demands the ability to both plan ahead and respond quickly to build capabilities. Adaptive organizations have evolved their training function to be more than a course catalogue. They lead a service organization designed to drive a continuous learning culture with a set of offerings that address both current and future business needs.

What’s required for the training and development function to achieve this critical business contribution?

A Strategic View of the Future

Leaders within the human resources, talent development and learning functions need a strong view of what the future may bring to the organization so they can set a training agenda that runs in parallel.

Essential to gaining this perspective is the completion of a strategic review process that identifies future environmental conditions, changing customer or market dynamics, and associated corporate directions. Those responsible for building corporate talent should be active participants in these exploratory and strategic discussions given their knowledge of the training investment and approaches needed to prepare workers for long-term job requirements. These leaders can represent a view of the different skills present in the company along with a realistic voice on the development requirements needed to align to future business directions. They can also identify on-the-job learning opportunities such as rotational assignments, mentoring situations or short-term project initiatives that supplement formal training requirements.

Alignment on Talent Strategy

With a view of how the business may need to adapt to effectively compete over time, create a plan that aligns with the evolving talent requirements. What critical roles are required in the future to ensure the ability to execute a winning business model? What core knowledge, skills and behaviors are needed for pivotal roles? A proactive training function identifies the timing necessary, and a flexible delivery model ensures workforce readiness at the right time.

To achieve this, the training and development agenda must include a service structure aligned to balance changing needs on a go-forward, proactive basis, not only interventions that address current skill requirements. This requires more than a static view of skill building. Instilling the ability to learn from ongoing projects, as well as from both internal and external networking and mentoring relationships, furthers skill development effort with minimal cost.

Flexible Delivery Model

To ensure long-term success, business demands efficiency, productivity and value creation by contributing employees. This requires a clear sense of one’s role and the output required to add value to the overall department and corporate objectives.

Similarly, the learning function should exemplify flexibility, efficient delivery and measurable results. No longer is it sufficient to provide a static set of courseware with a pure open enrollment, come-as-you-like invitation. Instead, the learning function should be well integrated with talent strategy, performance expectations and workforce engagement. This effort requires diverse offerings, clear value propositions for targeted employee segments, flexible delivery models and scheduling.

Methodologies for these practices are widely available to trainers and learning professionals.

Training, as a label for the development function, implies a one-way delivery engine where experts provide specific direction on core expertise or task delivery. Many organizations today recognize that “learning” connotes an ongoing, multidirectional effort that includes not only formal programs, but also activities that occur on the job where more than 70 percent of capability-building occurs. Talent leaders should consider their strategies as a diverse set of structured and supported initiatives that enable their organizations to continuously adapt and prepare for a changing world.

Samantha Howland is a senior managing partner at Decision Strategies International, a leading future-focused strategy and leadership development consulting firm.

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