Whether you are aiming for increased sales, more efficient production, better use of IT or simply a reliable team that can solve its own problems, business training is often the best way to help your staff develop their skills. Training can turn an employee from mediocre to good, and make a good employee excellent.
A systematic approach starts by identifying where training can most benefit your business, before planning the best way to get the results you want.
1. Assessing your training needs
As with any investment, target most of your training on the areas where you can reap the biggest, fastest and easiest rewards.
Is there an area of your business that is experiencing problems?
Ask yourself, and your employees:
- Is any part of your business being held back in some way?
- Do you have a shortage of a particular set of skills, or a likely future skills shortage?
- Do you receive customer complaints? If so, what are the causes of these complaints?
- Is any part of your business underperforming?
Employees often need training when your business is changing
- When you launch any new product, train your team how to sell and deliver it.
- Each time you purchase new software, include training on how to use it.
- New technology is rapidly changing how people do business. Keep up with the latest advances in your industry, and digitally upskill your staff.
Use training to ensure business continuity
- Many businesses rely on one person to complete a particular technical operation. It is vital to document the process and train other employees as a precaution.
- Some hazardous processes cannot be undertaken by anyone who is not trained.
When considering your training needs, compare training with other possible solutions
When training isn't the answer
Training is not the answer for every business problem. Before investing in training solutions, analyse what is really needed.
If an employee consistently underperforms, they may be the wrong person for the job
- The answer may be a switch to another role, or, in extreme cases, dismissal.
The problem may be caused by inadequate systems and policies
- For example, poor handling of customer enquiries may be caused by an overwhelming workload and inadequate equipment. The answer may be to add more staff, or to upgrade the technology.
Basic training can often be achieved with a staff onboarding knowledge base
- This documents where to find things (eg key templates, tools and systems), how to complete basic tasks, office procedures and other basics.
- People can then train themselves, updating each entry as necessary, so the information remains up to date.
2. Setting training objectives
Set SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-limited) objectives
- This helps keep training relevant and focused.
- For example, doing a time-management training course with the ultimate objective of 'clearing your inbox by the end of every day' will focus you, during and after the course.
Often, the objective will be to reach a specified performance standard for a task
- Set the standard by assessing how well an experienced person completes the task.
- Break the objective down into three required areas: knowledge, skills and attitude.
- Clearly set out the success criteria for each area.
Keep training objectives in line with business objectives
For example, if you are setting up an ecommerce website, train staff on how to handle incoming orders and enquiries, as well as how to update and maintain the website.
3. Securing employee buy-in
Successful training depends on getting your employees involved.
Win your employees' support for the training
- Explain the need for it and the leanring objectives you plan to achieve.
- Explain the benefits for the employee as well as the business. Be enthusiastic.
- Initially, train those who are keen. Then let them demonstrate the benefits of the training to the doubters.
Ask employees what training they think would improve their productivity
- If an employee asks for training, ask him or her to explain the benefits it will have for your business.
Find out how each employee prefers to learn
- Some people may enjoy group learning, while others prefer individual study.
- Some people prefer to read up on processes and background before getting started. Others are keen to get hands-on experience as soon as possible.
- Learning management systems allow you to put together personalised training programs that fit each employee's individual learning style.
- Explain the different training options you are considering. Let people know their training preferences will be acknowledged.
Consider implementing personal development plans for employees
- These are a systematic method of identifying training needs and agreeing the best way forward.
4. The training plan
A training plan is essential to define the structure and outcomes you want from training.
Draw up a training brief, setting out your practical training objectives
- For example, you might list ten tasks and five awkward situations a new credit controller should be able to handle.
- Without this approach, there is a danger of the employee learning the theory, with no practical understanding of how to apply it.
For each course, have a written training programme
- Identify the stages of the programme, the location, the content and methods used, and the name of the trainer.
- Sign and date items as the employee progresses through the training. A copy of this record can then be added to the employee's personnel file.
- Documentation is essential for most formal qualifications, such as NVQs, and to satisfy health and safety requirements.
- Note the cost of each element, so you can evaluate which stages are worthwhile.
'Off-the-shelf' training courses address many of these issues automatically
- Many are designed to achieve, or count towards, a particular recognised qualification.
List all the training activities for the year in your training plan
- Confirm that the budgets, resources and timing are all viable.
5. In-house training
All businesses automatically carry out in-house training when a new employee arrives, sometimes without realising it. The challenge is to get everyone's performance up to standard, as quickly and cheaply as possible, with minimal disruption.
Most in-house training takes the form of on-the-job training.
- This lets people learn at their own pace and apply new knowledge immediately.
Take care when deciding who will provide the training
- The trainer must be technically able to do the task. Provide relevant training for trainers, including how to set goals, how to break information down into small steps, and how to judge the trainee's needs and progress.
- The trainer must have the capacity to handle the training and still complete their own tasks. You may need to reduce their workload in the short term.
- If the trainer has bad work practice or a bad attitude, these will be passed on.
Job shadowing involves one person showing another all the aspects of a job
- This is especially suitable for new employees, as part of their induction. Shadowing is a painless way to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time.
Once a person can do the job, continue coaching the employee
- Periodically review progress. You can give feedback and guidance on how further improvements can be made.
Consider finding a mentor
- Mentoring can be especially useful for senior employees whose performance has a major impact on the business.
- Mentoring can be extremely effective in helping to unlock the potential of your more dynamic (or difficult) employees.
- Mentoring is usually carried out by someone outside the immediate team, or even by someone from outside the company.
- People can open up to an outsider in ways that are impossible with a line manager - not least because the line manager may be part of the problem.
- A good mentor is a good listener, with the experience to suggest practical solutions. He or she should also set an example and challenge the trainee's ideas.
6. External training courses
The main advantage of using external trainers is that they are specialists
- The trainer may have spent years refining a course.
- The trainer can bring you up to date with current best practice.
In-person training comes in a wide range of forms
- Lectures and conferences typically thrust a mass of information at a large audience.
- Seminars help people acquire knowledge in a more interactive way.
- Workshops give people information and let them practise working out problems.
Learning management systems offer a number of business benefits
- Online learning is a powerful and cost-effective way of introducing new ideas and approaches.
- It is especially useful when you need to train a large number of staff across different locations (eg to demonstrate compliance with health and safety regulations).
- Learning management systems allow you to customise employee training based on each person's role and learning style.
- Trainees progress at their individual pace.
- Courses can be completed at home or in the workplace.
- The system can automatically monitor progress and assess learning.
External training can bring fresh ideas and energy into the learning process
- Mixing with trainees from other businesses can be an opportunity to discover how these other businesses do things.
- A good trainer may challenge the way your business currently operates.
Buying business training
Choose a provider that addresses your needs
- Watch out for providers that try to sell you a standard training solution, instead of one adapted to your individual requirements.
- Business support organisations are a good starting point. As well as courses of their own, they can direct you to a range of alternatives.
Establish who will deliver the training and what experience he or she has
- Sometimes the person selling the training is far more impressive than the trainer who turns up on the day.
Look beyond the learning activity itself and agree what support is needed
- For example, staff training on a new database might be in three stages: agreeing objectives, completing the main training, and follow-up support to help people achieve agreed action plans.
Compare the expected benefits of the training with the total costs involved
- Allow for the direct costs, as well as the set up time and the lost work time of those attending.
- Consider the wider benefits - what impact would a 5% uplift in productivity as a result of training have on your bottom line?
- Ask external training providers to quote for 100% of costs, even if an exact estimate is not possible. Ask what additional expenses will be charged for - such as phone calls and travel.
- Consider how to reduce training costs - for example, by training one member of staff to provide ongoing support to others.
- The benefits of training will be lost if employees return to a workplace where they cannot use what they have learned.
7. Measuring training effectiveness
You will know your training has worked if it delivers the objectives outlined in your training brief.
Review the impact of the training on performance, as part of a regular appraisal process
- Any additional training needs can be discussed at this point.
Evaluate training by asking your employees to review their training experience
- Was the training relevant to the job and appropriate to their level of expertise?
- When employees complete any training, discuss how their learning will be put into action.
- Training assessment forms may help you discover more about the course and establish what worked and what did not. But be aware that what the trainee sees as a 'positive' training experience is not necessarily valuable to your business.
Monitor improvements in the performance of the business
- Measurable performance indicators include sales, production costs, output, attendance levels and staff turnover.
- Qualitative improvements may include higher quality goods or services, better teamwork, more satisfied customers and more innovation in your business.
- Has the training added value to your business?
- Read advice on the need for training from Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service).
- Read guidance on identifying learning and development needs (free registration required) from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development).
- Find a personal development planning checklist and template from the Chartered Management Institute.
- Contact your local enterprise agency, Local Enterprise Partnership, local chamber of commerce or trade association for information on training courses.
"The question is not just how much your training will cost, but how much it will cost if you don't train." - Peter Neall, Neall Scott Partnership training consultants
"If you work as a team, train as a team. One person attempting to carry out 'best practice' in isolation is doomed to failure." - Toby Peyton-Jones, Siemens