HOW TO PREPARE A STRATEGIC TRAINING PLAN
What Is A Strategic Training Plan?
A strategic training plan defines the training needed to achieve the goals of a business and lays out a comprehensive road map for meeting these needs. A strategic training plan provides a vision that sees a world-class training organization before it is manifest. The plan answers these questions:
What are the challenges facing our organization and our strategies and goals for dealing with these challenges?
What skills, knowledge, and competences do we need in the organization to achieve our goals?
How can we make sure that our employees, suppliers, and customers know what to do and how to do it: what is training’s role”
How adequate is our current training system to address these needs successfully?
What kind of training system do we need? What should it look like three to five years from now?
What strategic goals shall we establish for training?
What training strategies will most effectively and efficiently achieve these goals?
What is the estimated training workload to execute these strategies?
How many resources should we commit, and what is the expected return on investment?
What organizational, management, and administrative systems do we need to deploy the resources effectively and get the job done?
How shall we implement the plan?
Strategic training plans can and often should be developed at a number of different levels. For example, you have a plan for:
An entire corporation
A business unit or division
A function such as research and development
A major work location or plant
The questions are the same, the scope and complexity are obviously different. For the purpose of this article, we assume the plan is for an entire organization or corporation or a major business unit.
If you intend to develop a plan with a smaller scope, simply scale everything to the scope you have selected. The principles and procedures we give you will work for any scope.
Why Should You Develop A Strategic Training Plan?
There are several major reasons for developing a strategic training plan:
To support the business in its quest for quality and productivity
To figure out the important training requirements of the business
To get participation and support from executive management
To have a road map or game plan for building the infrastructure and getting the important training done
To provide the framework for measuring training effectiveness.
Without a strategic training plan, many of the important training requirements of the business may go unrecognized and may not be addressed at all or poorly addressed at the last minute. Strategic planning can help identify the consequences of not addressing important training needs and help mobilize resources to avoid these negative consequences.
Figuring out the important training requirements of the business in a proactive, forward-looking way provides enough advanced planning so training can be ready when needed for critical requirements and not treated as an afterthought, providing too little too late.
Executive management is accountable for business results. In today’s rapidly changing environment, business results can be seriously affected by ineffective training. A strategic plan is a tool for executive management to ensure that business results will not be hampered by a lack of effective training.
Management should participate and actually make all the key decisions. If executive management is properly involved in the planning process, it will provide the leadership and resources to execute its decisions. Stimulating executive leadership in the training arena is as important as obtaining management support for resources; if the leadership is there, the resources will automatically follow.
The planning process provides a structured mechanism for dialogue with executives on all the important training issues of the organization. The strategic training plan provides the necessary vision and a road map for achieving that vision by mobilizing all, the players in the process. It provides expectations and direction for everyone involved and eliminates routine contention over what to do and in what order.
Finally, the strategic training plan provides a framework for measuring training effectiveness. Measuring training effectiveness without a strategic training plan is like evaluating the size and shape of a suit without putting it on the body of the person who expects to wear it. In the context of a strategic training plan, we can ask:
Did we accomplish the important goals?
What was the benefit to the business?
Was the benefit worth the cost?
What did we miss?
What was the cost to the business of the misses?
HOW TO PREPARE THE STRATEGIC TRAINING PLAN
The specific sequence of steps required to prepare a strategic training plan will vary depending on the size and nature of the organization, the presence or absence of a significant existing training organization or organizations, the planning skills employed, and time and resource constraints. They include:
Following a structured planning process
Building in decision points along the way
Documenting the plan
Using computerized spreadsheets for the quantitative part of the plan.
A Structured Planning Process
Regardless of the specific approach you use, you should follow a structured, step-by-step planning process designed to address the key planning questions and issues and systematically complete the planning decisions.
It is a good idea to start by writing the outline for the final strategic training plan, and then design the process to make sure that everything you want in the final plan is created during the process. Your process should be tailored to your own needs and follow the logical flow that provides answers to all the important questions and issues you have outlined in the final plan.
A major strategic training plan could take six to ten months and a great deal of effort. It can save much time and anguish at the end of the decision points are established along the way which will guide successive planning efforts. For example, if you can get executive management to agree on the training implications of key business goals and strategies and a vision for training to meet the needs of the business, then it is easier to spend the necessary effort to quantify what it will take to accomplish that vision.
If you get all the way to the end of the planning process and the executives say, “Well, we didn’t really want you to do all of that,” you have wasted a great deal of effort.
Document The Plan
The planning process and planning decisions are much more important than planning reports and documents; however, it is important to document the plans for several reasons:
Documented plans record what was done and the rationale for what as done.
A report provides a communication vehicle to others who were not part of the planning process.
A formal planning document forces you to think through all the issues.
A report will provide you or your successor with a road map for updating the plan next year and the year after.
Many managers sneer at planning reports that lie gathering dust on shelves. This is not the fault of those who wrote the report, but of a lack of implementation commitment on the part of management. The report is an essential archive of the planning process and a resource for those who must execute the plan.
Computer Spreadsheets and Databases for Quantitative Planning
Some parts of the plan will require quantitative forecasts of training requirements, training material requirements, resource requirements, and the like. Even in a fairly small organization, the quantitative part of this plan can be involved, with many different options presenting themselves. It is a good idea to use spreadsheets and database programs from the beginning to do the quantitative part of the plan.
With computerized spreadsheets and databases, it is easy to keep track of:
With a computer, you can ask all the what-if questions without spending many hours tediously recalculating everything for every change that you want to examine.
Who Should Be Involved In Developing The Strategic Training Plan?
The key players in the strategic planning process include:
Top management of the training function
A project leader or planning manager
Outside consultants (optional)
The following paragraph describes the roles of each of these key players.
If the executive management is to use the strategic training plan as its tool for assuring that training is positioned to support the needs of the business, it should own the plan. The roles of executive management in the planning process include:
Making all strategic decisions
Providing leadership and resources
Holding training and line management accountable for implementing the plan and reporting results.
The top management of the training function obviously has a large stake in the strategic training plan and should share ownership of the plan with executive management.
The roles of the top management of the training function include:
Organizing the planning effort
Assigning planning resources
Performing many of the planning tasks
Making technical decisions
Executing the plan
Accounting to executive management for results against plan.
A project leader or planning manager is needed in most cases to lead the planning process. The planning manager’s role includes:
Developing the project plan
Assembling the planning team
Facilitating planning meetings
Writing the reports.
In most cases, the planning project will be more extensive than can be completed by an individual person. Therefore, a project team is required. The team could include only training personnel, or it could include members of line management. The roles of the planning team include:
Organizing and evaluating options
Framing recommendations to upper management
Computing resource implications of various planning options
Designing the infrastructure
The planning process can be a high stakes process. If you have not been through the development of a strategic training plan, or if you have insufficient time or resources in house to accomplish the plan by the needed schedule, an outside consultant can be a significant help. The consultant’s role may include:
Consulting on the planning process
Coaching the planning manager and project team through the process
Facilitating planning meetings
Performing some of the planning tasks
Preparing the planning reports
Supporting the planning team in presenting the plan to top management
Serving as an expert resource to the planning team.
Strategic training plans should be tied to business planning circles. Ideally, the strategic training plan should be part of the strategic business plan. This means that as a training organization you must find out about the strategic business planning process and calendar and determine how best to integrate the strategic training plan.
The strategic training plan should be updated every year and become a routine part of the strategic business plan of the organization. The first time such a plan is developed, the effort will be greater than required for the annual updates.
Conversely, the first time through you should limit the scope. Do not try to answer all questions completely and definitely the first time through. You can fill in details and add nuances in succeeding years. If you get too complex the first time, the result might be mind-boggling and you will never implement it.
The strategic training plan should be used as a framework to establish the annual plan and budget for training. The annual plan and budget are easier to sell if it is based on a strategic plan that has executive management ownership and commitment. The annual plan and budget spell out for the coming year:
Needs and curriculum design projects to be undertaken
What new training programs or materials will be developed or acquired
How much training will be delivered and by what means
Specific training organization or administrative systems improvements to be undertaken
The resource cost in people, budget, equipment, and facilities.
There is a need for a strategic training plan to become a much better training organization. There is equally a need for every organization to embrace a strategic training plan for its human resource development programs to improve their job performance and enhance management goals and objectives.