Technical training and strategy should not be mutually exclusive. If development offerings are going to create the business impact you want from technical talent – and maximize precious time and resources – strategy is key.
Too many organizations think because they’ve experienced some organic success, uncovered some internal efficiency, or have wonderful products or highly in demand services that they don’t need to bother creating a training strategy, said Raymond L. Valenzuela, vice president of strategic services, Caveo Learning. This is a mistake.
Today, the companies that take their eye off the ball and rest on past success are often the very same companies that find themselves extinct when new technologies emerge. Then it’s an endless game of “let’s catch up,” only they can’t. They’re too far behind, and their competitors have already eaten their lunch.
Learning Should Be Proactive, Not Reactionary
Technical talent should be systemically imbued with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need to predict what emerging technology moves a company needs to make today and tomorrow. That’s how an organization stays ahead of its competition and its customers’ needs.
Having an active learning strategy not only ensures that all organizational development efforts support the business, it ensures that technical talent are trained with an eye on the future. Further, the learning tactics that make up the strategy should be tailored to a company’s specific goals. “Without a learning strategy, it’s like playing football without an offensive strategy or a playbook,” said Valenzuela.
To create an effective training strategy the learning function must position itself as a business partner. IT, business and learning leaders should work together, along with any consultants or vendors brought in to assist. All must be willing to dig deep to uncover what works and what doesn’t work for the business. That partnership will enable the learning function or training vendor to uncover, assess, and identify the pain points or opportunities where technical training can have the most significant impact on the bottom line.
“You need to understand the organization, the organization’s goals, the key players that you have on your team, what you’re trying to accomplish, what you have going on long-term, how that stacks up against your competition. All of that is the central strategy that guides activities,” Valenzuela explained. “Then you start getting into more complex nuances of what a learning strategy does for an organization.”
Be wary of any vendor that does not make a plan to get to know your business intimately. Customization is key. Off the shelf products do not equal a strategy. It must be personalized to ensure that your workforce, team or target demographic retain their newly acquired knowledge and apply it immediately on the job.
What Strategies Are Made Of
Different vendors or learning functions may create training strategies differently, but Valenzuela said the following are essential steps in the process:
Assessment: To create a successful technical training strategy requires an initial orientation, intake and analysis phase. A training leader or vendor must understand an organization’s current learning and business ecosystem. This initial deep dive will ask important questions. The answers will inform the strategy. Questions may include:
- Who is the key talent in the workforce?
- What technology, bandwidth and infrastructure are you working with?
- Are there metrics? If so, what do they say about performance in different facets of the business?
- What challenges is the organization currently struggling with?
- What governance does the company have in place?
Situation: This next phase in strategy creation allows stakeholders to establish a foundation for any training that follows. Collaboration is important. To create a performance improvement solution that will meet a specific business challenge or need, key stakeholders and teams must be active participants in the strategy development process. You’ll ask and answer more questions: Who in the organization is critical to its effective operation? What capabilities need to be adopted, used, leveraged or acquired to support a training strategy?
Strategy: Using data gathered during the exploration and situation phases, the learning function or a valued vendor partner will develop a plan and organizational initiatives to leverage learning to achieve key business objectives. That could mean you: Optimize existing performance improvement curriculum, develop an organizational transformation program, identify, track, and measure key performance indicators, or implement necessary infrastructure changes. It all depends on your business and your business needs.
Support and Logistics: In this phase, you will determine resource allocation. Ideally, you want to free leaders and key team members to focus on their core objective – executing the learning strategy. What technical training can you develop using in house subject matter expertise, and what do you need to outsource? For instance, who will take on responsibility for the nuts and bolts related to training program delivery? Is a vendor better suited to take on this activity? What technology is needed or should be replaced to facilitate that delivery?
Implementation and Execution: In this phase, you figure out how and on what timetable you’ll get things done. What is the 30, 60, and 90-day plan for training strategy implementation? What is the transition plan? Who will own the process? How do they fit in with the other stakeholders?
Training should be the bridge between business needs and the talent you have on hand to fulfill them. That’s why an effective strategy is so important.
“You build a strategy to be executed,” said Valenzuela. “But every strategy doesn’t survive the first contact.” It has to be flexible enough to identify, create and then accomplish the organization’s goals now and in the future. The strategy is the guide you train around so that your technical talent is capable of executing when and where they’re most needed.