Setting Training Targets for Individuals
Tying an individual employee's attendance on a training program to measurable performance results on the job leads to more effective training programs.
Organizational-Unit versus Individual Targets
A critical precursor to the success of any training program is the setting of achievable targets before the program starts. For training embedded within change initiatives and organizational improvement programs, the setting of program goals is usually conducted during the project initiation or front-end analysis stage.
This works well for the setting of targets within these kinds of wider organizational initiatives. So, for example, a productivity initiative may set the following targets:
- increase throughput on assembly line B to 500 per hour by end of year
- reduce milling machine changeover time to 25 minutes by end of month
Such targets apply to the work of organizational groups, such as teams or departments. The success of training programs in support of these kinds of initiatives is measured at the group level. In contrast with this macro approach, much that goes by the way of employee training is aimed at the individual employee. These kinds of training needs emanate from sources such as the following:
- individual performance management plan resulting from poor employee performance
- skill development opportunity identified during a performance appraisal meeting
- employee career development plan arising from a career planning meeting
- outcome of an organizational-unit wide skills or competency review
- operator skill deficiency of new recruit starting work in the organization
- employee moving to a new role within the organization
- employee taking on new responsibilities as a result of job enlargement or job enrichment
In these kinds of cases, focusing on organizational-unit outcomes may not be directly relevant. For example, measuring your department's improvement in overall efficiency following one employee's attendance at a time management course may be akin to attempting to measure the increase in water level of a public swimming pool after a child jumps in.
Linking Targets to Behaviors and Learning Outcomes
In these situations, it pays to focus on a target specifically relevant to the employee's role or future development. Consider for a moment an opportunity for improvement identified during an employee's performance appraisal discussion. If this employee, for example, has not been meeting budget, then focus on this goal when selecting a training intervention.
As with wider organizational change and improvement initiatives, work with the employee's manager, in this case, to identify the required employee behaviors for meeting budget. In this example, the required employee behaviors may include:
- interpret financial statements to determine where management attention should be directed, and
- determine the factors that are causing unsatisfactory financial performance
Once the necessary behaviors are identified, link these with the learning outcomes for the training course. If the training will be supplied by an external vendor, look for a match between the required behaviors and the learning outcomes listed in the training supplier's course specification.
The learning outcomes from the course you select will need to match these as closely as possible if the training is to be relevant and effective. If the vendor's course learning outcomes are not specified in terms of participant behaviors or they are not specified at all, either avoid that vendor altogether or prompt them for an adequate statement of the learning outcomes.
Sometimes, the individual employee's training need does not arise from an inability to achieve their performance goals or other individual employee targets. In these cases, identify clearly and directly the required behaviors. Questions to ask of the employee's manager are:
- What is it that you need this employee to start doing that they are not doing now?
- What is it that you need this employee to stop doing that they are doing now?
- What is it that you need this employee to do in a different way compared with how they are doing it now?
The need for training may have been identified, for example, through your organization's competency review process. Be guided by the behavior descriptions for the required competencies or skills listed in the assessment form. If there are no behavioral indicators on the form, add them before proceeding further. If needed, also refer to the employee's role description for statements relating to specific behavior expectations. By filling in the blanks, you directly link the competency or skill gaps with the training requirements and improved on-the-job performance.
Make the behavior statements as specific as possible. For example, if the employee is required to be more cooperative, do not specify the requirement simply as, "be more team oriented". State as precisely as possible what it is you want the employee to do differently. In this case, it may be the following:
- make at least four contributions per month at team meetings
- avoid making sarcastic comments to other team members
- assist inexperienced team members when requested
These will then become the observable targeted behaviors that will form the motive for attending the training program and later follow-up. Looking at the employee's role description and the behaviors or competencies section of your organization's performance appraisal form will take more time compared with the usual "choose from a list of courses" practice. Starting with a precise specification of the behaviors that require changing, however, is an effective way of ensuring that workplace behaviors will improve following training.
Whether employee objectives for the training have been formulated and communicated or not, the use of Personal Action Plans can help in encouraging participants to develop their own workplace application goals. With this technique, a Personal Action Plan form is distributed to all training participants at the beginning of the program. Participants are then encouraged to add their observations and goals to the form at various junctures throughout the program.
On the form, participants write what learnings they plan to apply on the job, when and how they will apply the learning, the impediments to application and a plan for overcoming barriers. (A proforma Personal Action Plan form is included in our Training Management Template Pack and our From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance guide and workbook.) We strongly recommend the use of this technique. However, we hasten to add that the benefits of using Personal Action Plans is best realized when used in conjunction with pre-training goal setting activities undertaken by the manager in partnership with the employee.
The key to getting results from employee training is to first recognize the critical importance of defining in measurable terms the expected benefits from the program. Clarifying objectives sets the scene for identifying the required employee on-the-job behaviors and, subsequently, the program's learner outcomes. By following this step-by-step approach, you create clear and strong links between the intended on-the-job benefits and the training participant's learning.
Find out more about setting training targets and improving the impact of your training programs. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.
For a step-by-step guide on writing performance-based learning outcomes, check out Leslie Allan's practical resource book. After you complete each step in the workbook, you will have a ready set of documented learning outcomes for your next training project.