Link Your Training to What the Business Needs

I am amazed at how the training strategy in so many organizations is no more than a catalogue of training courses from which people across the enterprise can pick. In some cases courses are linked to specific competencies and stated corporate priorities but, in fact, more often they are not.

Why is this so commonplace? Three possible reasons immediately jump to mind:

  • HR goes to line leadership and solicits the critical skills required to support the strategic direction. But the line side doesn’t know or they give vague answers couched in terms of workshop titles (“We need to be customer focus training. Also better critical thinking. Oh yeah, and how about some communications courses.”).
  • HR doesn’t push for more specifics, such as asking:
    • “Where are you seeing this shortfall?”
    • “How do you know this is needed? What are you seeing or not seeing?”
    • “Are we talking about improving at the front-line customer interface or moving all employees to think about how they impact the customer?” (sometimes called a “customer centric culture)
    • “What customer related behaviors would you like to see more of ?”
  • When thinking about development managers typically default to training workshops, period. But many Human Resources departments do too. Create a bunch of courses, put them out there, process registrations, and we are done until next year. To quote a previous boss of mine, “throw it all up against the wall and see what sticks.”

Employee development, of course, is a business investment. Management needs to see it this way. HR does too. As such, it demands an ROI. This means both parties need to exercise discipline to identify what sort of development is truly, specifically needed and why (i.e. what’s it linked to, what purpose or strategy does it serve?).

If you are a manager, don’t accept a compendium of canned course offerings from HR. Ask for more scalpel-like solutions for what your staff need to meet current and future department goals. And if you are in Training & Development, insist that the managers you serve articulate their needs in detail and how meeting these needs will advance corporate goals, challenges and strategies.

Cigna, the global health services company, is moving in this direction. From a recent article in Chief Learning Officer magazine:

“They used to have a stable of programs it evaluated annually but it has since moved away from program-based, portfolio type management and planning to capability maturity planning. By analyzing the business and talking to senior business leaders to determine what is needed for success three to five years out, Cigna can identify what capabilities and associated development are required on an enterprise level.”

It’s so easy to forget that human resources development is not about the learning. It’s about what happens to the business when people apply that learning in their work. In other words, it’s about growth, success, and results.


© 2014 – 2016, Ian Cook. All rights reserved.

Ian Cook About Ian Cook

Ian Cook, presenter and consultant, works with managers who want to increase their effectiveness as a leader and build a stronger team. To book Ian for a training seminar, team facilitation or keynote presentation, call toll-free at: 1-888-FULCRUM (385-2786) or e-mail: For more articles and book reviews of interest to managers please go to: