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Opinion: Training strategy must change


An organisation’s training strategy must take account of recent legislative changes and support mindset and behavioural change within the business, especially for line managers.

To ensure that these issues are included in the training strategy, training departments must transform themselves from being suppliers of training courses to becoming proactive business partners. In addition, training strategy should not be developed in isolation of HR strategy to ensure that the most cost-effective actions are chosen to achieve behavioural and mind-set change.

Training managers are becoming better and better at aligning training strategy with business strategy. They provide the range of training the business demands evidenced by impressive training and course catalogues and role specific training paths.

In most businesses training managers go round to business managers during the budget process and/or the performance management process and ask for training requirements for the coming year. The training strategy is then updated based on business managers input, generally this input is focused on skills/content class room training for example new product training for sales staff, leadership/presentation skills courses and IT training.

But this demand approach does not work anymore! There are several reasons for this.

One reason is that business and line managers often do not recognise new training and development needs, as they are unaware that management style or mind sets require changing. Businesses increasingly focus on embracing and complying with diversity and anti-discrimination legislation to retain and attract staff, staff and line managers often need to behave and act differently from how they have behaved in the past. As they are not aware of a development need and often do not understand how this legislation applies to their behaviour, they would not alert training managers and request development actions.

Another reason is that staff are often unable to articulate which kind of development intervention they or their staff might require or are too embarrassed to ask for what they need as they do not want to look like a failure in the eyes of their peers.

A good example for this is the devolvement of HR responsibilities to line managers. Line managers are being asked to take over more and more responsibilities from cost reducing HR departments such as dealing with grievance and disciplinary in the first instance, developing talent, recruiting new staff and developing direct reports through coaching and mentoring.

In addition, staff nowadays expect more from their line managers than ever before. HR provide advice and guidance but do not have the capacity to support line managers with face-to-face support on an ongoing basis. Line managers often feel left alone and find it difficult to cope with their new duties as they do not have any role models within the business or sufficient support from HR. A significant number of line managers often feel that they should cope and perceive asking for help as failure.

Although some training departments conduct training needs analyses when new legislation is passed and they become aware of business changes, the results of these analyses are often not included in the training strategy, as the business is unwilling to pay for the additional development activities suggested.

In order to be able to stand their ground and to be able to address apparent learning and development gaps such as the ones mentioned, training managers need to become proactive business partners instead of behaving and therefore being seen as a supplier of training courses.

As business partners training managers are able to advise and convince the business leaders and line managers on new learning challenges such as the mind set change required by diversity legislation, and support the business through offering different types of training and development for different learning needs such as one-to-one coaching for behavioural issues and the introduction of mentoring. This change in role of the training manager and indeed the training department must form part of the new training strategy.

What key areas should a UK organisation's training strategy address to balance the increasing and changing learning/training needs of their staff without blowing HR budgets?

Balance is the key word. As budgets for learning and development are often limited the business tends to see content and skills training as a priority because without it daily operations might suffer. To ensure long-term business success, however, training managers need to ensure that the training strategy strikes the right balance between content/skills training and behavioural development interventions. As recent court cases have shown, it is vital for businesses to avoid lawsuits for bullying and discrimination – the damage to reputation, the bottom line and staff recruitment/retention is high.

To help business managers understand the need for different types of training and development and support their inclusion in the training strategy, the training strategy should include the rationale for each type of learning and development, the impact, risks and opportunity cost of not doing it, its benefits including impact on the bottom line.

In order to achieve maximum results within a limited budget the training strategy should not be developed in isolation of the wider HR strategy. Some HR interventions such as using role models or changing the recognition and reward process may go a long way towards behavioural change and reduce the need for training and development interventions such as one-to-one coaching.

Bettina Pickering is a Managing Consultant for PA Consulting Group, a management, systems and technology consulting firm.


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