To write a learning and development plan, you need to be commercially and culturally tuned in to what is going around you. Whether it’s for a single individual, a small client group or an entire organisation, learning development plans come from understanding the needs of the business and the needs of people. Have these two considerations in your line of sight and you won’t go too far astray.
Writing a learning and development plan doesn’t have to be complex. However, it’s important that it’s based on clearly identified and articulated needs. This might be the need to address a skill gap or improve knowledge. Equally, it could be based on a desire to shape something less tangible, like how people collaborate or express their creativity.
Here’s a list of things you can do to get off to a good start and make sure that what gets developed and launched will be appreciated by all parties.
Most learning and development plans are born from a need to fix or improve a source of challenge, opportunity, or irritation. For example, if your organisation is moving from a ‘farming’ sales culture where it’s more about serving current clients, to a ‘hunter’ sales culture where it’s more about acquiring new clients, then training of the sales team may need to significantly change. The knowledge, skills and capabilities needed for ‘hunter’ selling are quite different from ‘farmer’ selling. Knowing this would be highly pertinent to putting together any sales development plan.
When discussing ‘need’ (in old school parlance your Training Needs Analysis), the key is to actively listen. Ask plenty of searching questions of your commercial colleagues. For example:
- What is causing you pain, in terms of delivery?
- Are there any skills or capabilities the team lack that slows down progress?
- What changes would support you in hitting your operational targets?
- What shifts in capability would accelerate success?
- Are there any traits or behaviours that need modifying to make delivery easier?
These may seem very basic questions, but they are extremely important, particularly if your customers are revenue-generating and customer-facing. Your back-office teams also need to be focused on supporting the commercial success of the business, so these questions are no less relevant. Going in with a curious and inquiring mind (rather than assuming you know the answer) is extremely important. As is listening to a variety of stakeholders rather than just one or two.
If you don’t understand the commercials (finance, revenue targets, margins, and profit), now is a good time to ask for some support – perhaps from a finance business partner. Find out what’s really going on and focus on the root cause of the problem – not just the symptoms. For example, the business may be generating the right levels of revenue. But perhaps the margins are suffering because it’s taking more people than necessary to deliver. This may say something about the capability of the people involved or the number of junior team members over more experienced team members. It may also tell you something about what it takes to run the operation efficiently.
Once you have clear answers to these questions, you’ll be in a better position to start to shape what learning and development are required. You’ll also be able to show how a clear Return on Investment (ROI) is often vital when getting learning and development budgets signed off.
Don’t assume it’s just a knowledge or skill gap
As a learning and development specialist or HR business partner, you might be told by your customer that the problem is only about a lack of skill or knowledge. For example, ‘we don’t have enough Java and C++ Software Developers to deliver what’s needed’. Or ‘if only we had more insight analysts everything would be fine’.
This, of course, could be true. You may need to work with the recruitment team to focus on bringing in more talent to train up. It might also be the case that your current software developers aren’t working in ways that are helping the organisation.
For example, you dig beneath the surface and discover there is a collaboration problem between the software and product team. Disagreements have been left to fester. Now they are interfering with productivity. If this is the case, the real training need might be to support both teams with better collaborative working, negotiation or conflict management.
Getting to the root cause of what’s really going on is critical. Writing a learning and development plan is likely to include identifying how things need to change culturally, as much as technically.
Focus on personal and career
It’s not unusual for learning and development to go beyond what people are doing in their day job. Perhaps the organisation wants to reshape its culture around a new set of values. Maybe, coaching for career development is a key focus following the launch of an apprentice programme?
Whatever the case, learning and development plans that are about changes in mindset and attitude are just as important for long-term success. In this case, you may need to think about how to present priorities. Align what’s to be delivered around strategic goals or cultural ambitions.
Know how much can be absorbed
Before you write down your master plan, always consider what else is going on in the organisation. Has another large-scale initiative just been launched? Are managers and their teams being taken off their day job to complete other critical tasks?
It’s easy to generate a large wishlist of learning and development that would have a definitive impact. In fact, your colleagues may be keen for you to capture the full picture and chase down that elusive additional training budget. Be cautious. Individuals, teams, and organisations can’t always tolerate or absorb everything that’s thrown their way (even if they are asking for it). Sometimes change needs to be implemented in a drip-feed fashion, rather than one big bang. This must be considered when producing a learning and development plan. Talk to your client group and work about how much capacity they have for absorbing any learning and development. Only roll out what’s both urgent and important and can be absorbed.
Think about language
Learning and Development subject matter experts will no doubt want to produce a good-looking plan. We recommend you stay commercially aware and speak the language of the customer. Always start by stating what problem you are trying to solve. For example, ‘developing the customer experience team to be competent in writing playbooks for use as part of the engagement process in the new go-to-market strategy’.
We recommend you avoid using HR speak and instead use commercial language recognised by the business. Words like ‘behavioural change programme’, or ‘intensive team coaching practice’ may have meaning to you (because you discuss them regularly). However they may confuse or have less meaning to people outside of HR. Keep your customers onside by keeping things simple, describing the problem and the solution using the plainest words possible.
Think about the tangible and intangible cost
A good learning and development plan will be clear on the costs and implications of what is being recommended. For example, when you’re talking about the cost of any solution, don’t just think about pure costs.
Will you need to take people off their day jobs to train them offline? Is there a need for people need to log in to e-learning remotely? Perhaps even from home or outside their normal hours of work? Will there be a requirement for on-the-job training or mentorship which requires headroom within the working day to get the best results?
Whichever way you plan to deliver your learning and development – face to face, using e-learning, on the job or in people’s spare time – make sure you have the support of the client group.
Know how success will be measured
The days of course participants filling in ‘happy sheets’ have long gone. Learning and development can now be measured in a multitude of ways. This includes using commercial Return on Investment (ROI) metrics as well as more behavioural reviews of changes in mindset and thinking.
Quizzes and assignments can be set during learning, learning sets can be established (where like-minded trainees come together to discuss aspects of the programme). Courses can be passed and failed by participants who must complete exams or tests at the end of their development. Being clear about the measures of success is vitally important. It’s worth laying this out at the very beginning of any learning and development plan.
Understand retention challenges
Psychologists and neuroscientists have helped us understand that recall of information broadcast to participants on training courses is poor. Research suggests that after just one hour on a training course, people remember only 50% of what they are told. One day later, this has slipped to remembering less than 35% and one week later less than 25%. After a month, you may as well start again!
The key lies in how training is delivered. When the material is simply taught, what gets heard in working memory, stays in the mind a short time before being forgotten. To get learning to stick you need to emotionally engage your audience. Have them bring personal insight, and experience to bear. This fires our hippocampus and gets long-term memory working. Chances are that participants will remember more.
People managers and those working in the discipline of human resources are likely to need to write a learning and development plan at some stage in their career. By following these simple tips and keeping close to your client group, you’ll soon be generating plans that have a positive impact.