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7 Key Steps for Better Training and Development Programs

Training new and existing employees can be a company’s biggest challenge, especially in a rapidly changing business environment. When I was chief human resources officer at Mirage and Wynn resorts in Las Vegas, training and developing our teams could not have been more important. But that’s not the case at many companies, where the struggle to convince leadership to invest in training and development is ongoing.

Here are seven key steps you should consider to both build out and update an effective training and development program.

1. Benchmark against the competition

Before agreeing to support a new initiative, company leaders always want to know what the competition is doing and whether you’re doing more or less. This certainly holds true for training and development; that’s why it helps to network with professional colleagues and through organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management to find out what others are doing.

Start by reviewing social media sites to see what customers are saying about you and your competition; that will reveal information about customer satisfaction and preferences that may also support your request for a new training and development.

And then there are all the online surveys you regularly receive from vendors. Fill them out to get the report at the end of the process. This is the kind of information you will need to support your request for a new training and development initiative.

While working on the plan for the Mirage, we asked other startups what they did, what they would do or not do again, and what they would do differently if given the chance. Most of the companies we contacted were outside our market, so they were willing to share information with us.

We visited more than 250 other companies that had launched new businesses, and the No. 1 thing we heard from them was how important it is to train new employees. They reminded us that companies, like people, don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

We made important connections through that benchmarking research, and many of those connections have continued to exchange information with us—to our mutual benefit.

2. Survey your employees

The best source of information about organizational performance and needs are your current employees. They know a lot about what’s going on and what, if anything, should be changed. They’ll appreciate your interest and provide valuable feedback about what could be better or eliminated. We held focus groups to see what current employees wanted and needed:

  • They wanted to know what was expected of them, why it was needed, and how to do it.
  • They wanted to be trained by someone who knew what they were talking about. We selected supervisors or outstanding employees, and then trained them to be trainers so that they’d know what and how to train, and how to make the training interesting, relevant and fun.

3. Align training with management’s operating goals

Management always has operating goals: better performance, productivity, quality, or customer satisfaction, to name a few. Once you know the goals, you can design targeted programs. Additionally, look for others in your company who have needs that could be satisfied by training: Legal usually supports compliance training, marketing and sales might support training that promotes quality and consistency, and most departments will support supervisory skills training that promotes employee satisfaction.

Design onboarding procedures and new-hire training that ensures employees will be knowledgeable, and focused on standards and customer satisfaction.

Partner with regulatory agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (health and safety), the Department of Labor (wage and hour compliance) and the Department of Justice (harassment and discrimination training) for compliance training.

Get help designing your materials. Consider contracting with teachers from your local public schools and community colleges. They are trained in instructional design and can work with your company’s subject matter experts to create useful and professional instructional materials.

Get supervisors training on how to improve their communication and coaching skills, and on how best to train a multi-generational workforce.

4. Run it like a business

Every new business starts with a strategic plan. Make sure you draft a plan for your training effort that includes all the classic elements:

  • Clearly state your purpose and proposed deliverables. Show that you understand the depth and breadth of what you’re proposing.
  • Include a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis that will help identify the appropriate training.
  • Construct a realistic budget. Include all expenses, and be conservative (better to under-promise and over-deliver).
  • Include an analysis of the benefits to your organization so that everyone can better understand the return on their investment.
  • Know the numbers. Work closely with your company’s financial team to include the appropriate information and how best to display it.
  • Market your program as if it were for customers. Leverage your public relations, graphics and marketing departments to brand and promote your programs, and design surveys to get feedback from participants.
  • Conduct pilot classes to make sure your plan works. Trial runs help identify shortcomings and allow you to refine and make the program as good as everyone expects and needs it to be.

5. Weave it into your company’s culture

Companies want happy employees, so consider a “life-long training” philosophy that focuses on employee satisfaction.

When making promotion decisions, give preference to employees who completed training and performed well. A promotion should be one of the rewards for their efforts. And it answers the employee’s question, “What’s in it for me?”

Celebrate achievements and successes. Let everyone in your organization know when someone completed training and what that means to their growth opportunities. Advertise your programs and participants in internal communications, display their pictures and stories , and talk about it at every employee gathering.

Increase employee engagement by planning more opportunities for them to get involved. They could be trainers or subject matter experts, or could assist in evaluating their new colleagues and helping to reinforce their training.

6. Keep innovating

Throughout my career, I have seen tremendous improvements in the content and delivery methods of training and development programs.

When we opened the Mirage, we used what was then available: slide projectors, white boards and first-generation copies of handouts. As time and technology progressed, we evolved into PowerPoint presentations, graphic workbooks that were more attractive and useful, and digital editing.

I employed lots of “experts” to help design our training, but in the end I found that what our managers needed most was assistance in getting their subject expertise into an appropriate training and learning format.

We employed public school teachers to help develop our instructional manuals and materials. They’re the professionals who teach our children, and they’re trained to do this. They love to work during their vacations, and every city has them. They became a great source of talent to design our instructional materials initially and then update them periodically.

And as we all get more comfortable with technology, there’s a growing need to adopt the latest ideas.

Today there are apps, games, and easy-to-use video and editing tools that can be streamed to mobile devices. We continue to research the latest trends online, network with other organizations and training professionals, and revise our programs to take advantage of the latest best practices.

Case in point: Consider using GoPro and other handheld-type cameras to record messages, then publish them via YouTube. These videos are easily accessed via the Internet on both desktop and mobile devices.

7. Measure results

Successful companies measure outcomes to make sure they continue to get the biggest bang for their buck. The best measures are the simplest ones; incorporate them into your program so everyone knows what’s expected.

We called them “corresponding behaviors”—behaviors you’ll look for and measure on the job to determine if employees actually learned how to perform appropriately. This way, there will be no surprises for employees.

We trained managers who had been the trainers to evaluate employees’ performance several times during their introductory period, and to provide constructive feedback and coaching to let employees know how they were doing in real time; again, maximum feedback and no surprises.

We learned a lot while developing and updating the training and development programs at Mirage and Wynn resorts. Maybe the most important was that training was the best way to keep our promises of quality and excellence to employees and guests.

Arte Nathan served as chief human resources officer for Golden Nugget and its successor companies, Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts. He currently teaches, writes and consults; lives in Las Vegas and the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York; and is an avid musician, hiker, canoeist and book enthusiast.

You can find him at and


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