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Top reads 2008: A training needs analysis for Santa


As Christmas draws near, the competencies of Santa and his Elves will once more be tested to the limit. Dawn Smith asks an expert panel to consider the training needs of Big S and his team, and the challenges involved in delivering the training. Below are their suggestions for a North Pole training programme. Happy Christmas!

The North Pole team needs a specialist set of core competencies, and although Santa should be expert in all of these by now, some of his less experienced elves and seasonal helpers may need training.

Peter Davison, CEO of Arian Associates Ltd (a.k.a.'Santa's little trainer') suggests that these core skills include:

Chimney Climbing
Sleigh Driving
Reindeer Feeding
Toy Making
Toy Painting
Sleigh Servicing
Navigating the Globe

Time management is also vital, comments training consultant Felicity Dwyer, for scheduling all the activity between 12am and 6am on 25 December, through the various time zones. However, Iain Blake-Lawson at Insight People Development Ltd notes that Santa "seems to score well here. As far as I know he’s not missed one yet".

Updating Santa’s skills

Although he’s mastered the traditional skills, Santa is likely to need some fresh training on new technologies and regulations. Graham O’Connell of the National School of Government believes that 'post-chimney innovation' will be high on his list of priorities, while "getting his head around the new air traffic control regulations will be vital." Iain Blake-Lawson identifies "a possible need for training on any new satellite navigation technology being installed into the sleigh."

Time management is vital for scheduling all the activity between 12am and 6am on 25 December.

Another important training topic is managing cultural diversity, says Felicity Dwyer. This view is shared by Iain Blake-Lawson, who says: "All those reindeer, elves, pixies and other magical beings to manage. Probably needs a refresher course each year."

Iain also recognises that Santa’s Workshop & Xmas Delivery is now a global enterprise: "and with increasing use of technology, the elf team is bound to be working flexibly rather than needing to be based in Lapland. He’ll need a leadership programme in managing performance of remote and distributed teams."

Elf, Safety & compliance

"Of course, back at base, he is in charge of elf and safety," notes Graham O’Connell. "Manual handling is controversial. Manual has complained of harassment for several years, so perhaps there is a need to revisit some key HR issues."

Elf & Safety is also an area that concerns consultant Jennifer Taylor, principal of Further Developments Ltd. She believes that Santa should consider extending the delivery period, to allow "a safer and shorter working shift for reindeer, and potentially remove Santa’s high risk assessment for effecting entry via chimneys".

"This year I think Father Christmas will need to be very clear about some of his compliance training," says Claudine McClean of Structured Training Ltd. "The Naughty and Nice list contains not only the names of everyone in the Santa-believing-World, but also their home addresses, their wish lists and vitally important behaviour information. Nobody wants to see the Naughty and Nice list falling into the wrong hands. Ask Alistair Darling!"

Delivering the training

"Time would be pretty tight at this time of year, so I would target the start date for say February 2008 … to have everyone up to speed for next Christmas (2009)," says Peter Davison.

'Ho Ho Ho' is not in line with the leadership style that the HR Elf will be trying to inculcate throughout the team.

However, Jennifer Taylor recommends that Elves should be released for learning events in months other than January and February, "partly because at these times they tend to take most of their holiday entitlement if not suffering from excessive fatigue".

The location of Santa’s workshop and the snow would make travelling to deliver the training rather difficult, observes Peter Davison. He would endeavour to arrange a venue mutually accessible to everyone and preferably without snow. "Parking would also be a problem," he adds. "Not much in the way of reindeer parking facilities anywhere close to us that I know of." Given all the challenges, a distance/blended learning package is recommended by Felicity Dwyer.


Of course, evaluation of the training’s effectivness will be necessary. Felicity suggests using quantitative and qualitative measures, as follows:

Number of mince pies and carrots eaten
Number of houses visited
Number of gifts delivered
Number of times spotted in guise of parents

Customer satisfaction with presents:
Exceeded expectations: "Wow you shouldn't have!"
Fully met expectations "Thanks - just what I wanted"
Partly met expectations "That's nice, thank you"
Didn't meet expectations "What presents?"

Ho ho ho?

Finally, Jennifer Taylor suggests that a supportive executive coach might be found for Santa, to develop his leadership skills. In particular, she is concerned that Santa’s standard response of 'Ho Ho Ho' is not in line with the leadership style that the HR Elf will surely be trying to inculcate throughout the team.

With thanks to:

Claudine McClean, Structured Training Ltd.
Felicity Dwyer
Graham O’Connell
Jennifer Taylor, Further Developments Ltd
Peter Davison, Arian Associates Ltd
Iain Blake-Lawson, Insight People Development Ltd

Dawn Smith is one of TrainingZone’s most popular writers, as you’ll see from the top ten list of best read features for 2007. A journalist of more than 15 years standing, she also runs a successful copywriting, webmarketing and translation agency, The Final Word. You can contact her via

This feature first appeared on site in December 2007.


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