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Human Resources Q&A: Is training the right solution? Part Two

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The first part of this series gives definition to training and development. While these terms are often used interchangeably, the two are actually distinct in purpose. Training builds capacity to perform the current job, while development builds capacity for a future job.

Additionally, the needs analysis was introduced in the first article as the foundation on which training decisions are ideally grounded. Simply stated, it’s critical to understand the problem (i.e. the gap in performance) and what might be caused by the problem before you can begin to identify the right solution. Once a thorough needs analysis has been conducted, you’re then armed with relevant data to guide and inform your options. Possible revelations of the needs analysis include:

  • Clarity of the performance gap and its impact to the organization
  • Readily apparent solutions to the performance gap (i.e. software upgrade)
  • The specific area of the job where training is needed (i.e. data handling, processing and management)
  • Confirmation of those who will need training
  • Definition of the learning objectives
  • Insight to the design and delivery of the training
  • Evaluation criteria – to measure the success of training

If the data clearly points you to the need for training, your attention will next be turned to the design and delivery of the training needed. The design phase can be broken down into four steps: objectives, content, methods and principles of learning. Let’s start with the first two steps.

1. Objectives

Learning objectives are needed to define the behavior and/or skill the training participant is expected to be better able to perform and/or apply following the training event. The findings from your needs analysis will inform the learning objectives. For example, if the employee is inexperienced with the organization’s payroll administration application, a learning objective might be:

“Participants will be able to create, populate and make changes to an employee record.”

In developing your learning objectives, remember that you are striving to close or eliminate a performance gap. And so when you create the learning objectives, ask yourself: will this learning objective contribute to reducing or eliminating the performance gap?

As well, it will be wise to receive the perspective of the employee’s manager, to ensure the objective yields the outcome the manager is expecting/requires to meet departmental objectives.

In addition to improved performance, the learning objective serves to:

  • Provide potential assessment criteria the trainer can use to measure the level of knowledge both before and after training
  • Focus both the training content and training method(s)
  • Inform evaluation criteria to assess the success of training
  • Alert training participants to what they can expect to learn/experience
  • Communicate the importance and relevance of the training the participant will receive
  • Manage the expectations of the employee’s supervisor/manager
  • Give advanced warning to the manager so that he/she can be prepared to encourage and support the transfer of learning to the role

2. Content

With agreed upon learning objectives, you will then consider the content of the training program – specifically the material that will be covered to facilitate, guide and support the desired behavior and/or skill improvements. And, within this step of the design process, you will need to critically assess whether content is a product you will purchase from an external source or whether it is a product that you have the resources (i.e. time, skill and human capital) to create internally.

If the decision is to purchase from an external source, I’d suggest that your selection of an appropriate source is best accomplished with a Request for Proposal (RFP) along with an objective decision-making tool. The RFP should clearly state the educational need along with the learning objectives among other requirements, so that you are able to adequately evaluate the vendor’s ability to develop an effective training solution.

On the other hand, if your organization is adequately resourced to develop the training program from within, you will be fortunate to benefit from a fully customized solution incorporating the perspectives and experiences of subject matter experts and high performing users.

Progress through the first two steps of the design process has had you asking a number of questions – questions that will be important to contemplate with any significant investment you intend to make,regardless of whether you are investing for present or future organizational needs.

The next article will introduce training delivery options and techniques to support your training initiatives.

To submit a question for a future column please leave a comment below or contact No identifying information will appear in this column. For paid professional advice about an urgent or complex situation, contact Veronica directly.

V. Utton & Associates offers boutique-style human resource management services to small and mid-sized organizations with particular expertise in the non-profit sector. For a fresh "VU" on people practices contact us at

Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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This is a great article and raises some really important points about expectations between the employer and the employee. Working with a coach can be a very powerful way to shift a Manager's performance because they are working on their own personal awareness and practicing new behaviours on a week by week basis that will ultimately bring about lasting change. I am really passionate about support managers as a leadership coach so a little biased here. Diane Lloyd
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