Training Policy and Strategy for Success
This factsheet gives introductory guidance. It:
* Clarifies the difference between strategy and policy
* Gives the components of a training strategy and
defines policies that will support it
* Gives systematic steps for creating or renewing a training strategy.
What are policies and strategies?
HR likes to be thought of today as in 'strategic partnership with the business'. It is important that HR professionals can go beyond the desirable intent and put it into practice without getting absorbed in our own HR agenda. In training, a clear basis for deciding priorities is essential to ensure resources are used in the best way. It is also important to make sure business strategies do not fail because the right capabilities were not in place at the right time.
Thus 'linking' an HR or training strategy 'to the business' is not the best expression to use. It implies the strategy is put together first and then connections found to convenient areas in the business strategy. Rather, the latter should drive what training should do. It is a different starting place.
Strategy is all about choices and therefore a particular strategy describes what HR will do, and not do. Whether it is written down or not, it exists and is seen in the activities that do or do not take place. However most professional managers would agree that a systematic approach to building a strategy is likely to be more effective in running an organisation, and so it is for training and development. This factsheet will provide the basic steps for doing this.
The importance of a policy is to provide consistent guidance to people in the organisation. Derived from the strategy, it provides a set of guidelines and requirements that reflect culture and values, and are reviewed and changed as needed. The policy is supported by processes and procedures.
The words 'training', 'learning' and 'development' are often confused, as they are all part of the process of increasing capability, usually of individuals but also of teams and whole organisations.
There are many different approaches to what is contained in a strategy. Many would say that it is only about direction and key platforms of intent, and would not be more than a page. Others will extend it to include current initiatives and plans. Since a strategy is no good without implementation plans it makes it much more useful to link it all together.
There are two essential sets of choices to be made. The first is what we should provide (Parts One and Two below), and the second is how we will deliver the resulting portfolio of programmes and processes (Part Three below).
So the kind of things we might find in a strategy are:
Part One: An 'umbrella strategy' which will not be changed very often. This will be:
- A statement of what the organisation 'believes' about learning and the learning process and the way it should be applied within it.
- A description of the kind of learning culture we believe the organisation needs.
- A mission/vision statement for Human Resource Development (HRD).
- A statement of the ongoing processes, and their goals, which will support the above (such as appraisal, potential identification, succession planning, personal development plans, event evaluation).
The above will be supported by a set of Policies – see below.
Part Two: A set of learning initiatives that specifically support the current business needs, and their goals, priority and resource requirements.
Part Three: A set of choices for how the function/overall process will be managed.
Putting Part One together
Part One defines the 'umbrella' of principles, policies, processes and ongoing programmes that form the backbone of the training strategy. It will be defined by the nature and ambitions of the organisation and draw on appropriate good practice where relevant. To put this together, the following need to be analysed:
Mission, vision and values: How will these be perpetuated and reinforced through training and other learning methods?
The general principles and beliefs about people and their development: What are the shared beliefs?
Maintaining core competencies: Making sure the organisation has the expertise in those areas of knowledge and skill that are essential for the business, and those that distinguish it from competitors.
Responding to external changes: External trends and events that must be taken into account.
This analysis leads either to define for the first time, or to re-evaluate:
- a set of statements which encapsulate the organisation's beliefs
- a set of processes which put them into practice
- ongoing programmes of training providing support as necessary.
A foundation of all of this is the set of beliefs. These are often, quite naturally, defined by HR – if so, there is a great risk that they are not intellectually owned by senior managers and therefore not carried out in practice. So they should be debated and agreed by the senior management team. They are important because they have a major effect on the activities of HRD. Key questions to be answered (and the textbook answer is not necessarily right for every organisation) include:
- Do we want to build a 'learning organisation', where learning is valued at every level and encouraged as a continuous process?
- Who should be the prime player in owning development – employees, managers, HRD?
- What is our understanding and definitions of potential?
- Do we believe in developing our own future managers and executives whenever possible?
- Do we believe in investing in future development of our people (all of them?) or just providing training as needed for the job?
- Do we believe in investing in personal development – with no direct business benefit – as an employee benefit?
- Do we believe in the benefits of coaching and mentoring?
- Do we believe in supporting continuing academic qualifications for our staff?
- How important is accreditation in specific knowledge and skills?
The HRD professional might feel there are obviously right and positive answers to all of these. But HR is part of a system called the organisation, and managers must share in (and fully understand) these beliefs for them to work out in practice.
The results of this analysis will be developed into a series of policies, processes and ongoing programmes for the different 'populations' in the organisation.
The policies that follow Part One
Policies articulate the principles in practice, and provide consistent guidance for members of the organisation. Here are some considerations in putting together a set of policies.
The style and culture of the organisation – how much is consistency valued?
The number and detail of these policies will reflect the culture and style of the company. Each could be as minimal as a one-sentence statements, for example 'It is the policy of this company to encourage further education of all employees, at the discretion of their local management'. At the other extreme, the same subject may be encumbered with detailed forms to be completed, authorisation levels, regulations concerning different courses permissible for different grades, procedures for recovering costs if a person leaves – a good bureaucrat could make several pages of such a policy!
The key issue here is the extent to which managerial judgement is the dominant factor as opposed to ensuring consistency. In HRD, the tendency may be to the former, whereas in other HR matters legal and compliance requirements dictate the degrees of managerial freedom. Good policies only require one authorisation signature.
How much information needs to be kept on how policies are being applied?
There may be good reasons for knowing how many people have been trained in what areas, costs and durations, etc. For example, the organisation might want to know the level of training spend for benchmarking purposes, or the number of people taking particular programmes for publicity reasons.
This may not affect the policy statement, other than to say something such as 'units will be requested to provide data on the take-up of this policy'.
To what extent will we be audited (by external bodies) in the application of policies?
There is an increasing volume of regulatory compliance being placed on organisations. In the public sector, government lays down requirements and requires reporting on compliance with them. Different industries have either legally or voluntarily imposed demands for specific training. Often these necessitate more detailed forms to be completed than mere numbers. For example, for Investors in People accreditation, an organisation is expected to demonstrate the reality as well as the words. Also, the people in the organisation must buy into the accreditation for it work!
A policy must state the way in which compliance will be monitored and may need to impose appropriate forms and schedules.
Some typical areas of policy
- Levels of investment: a guideline for average days per person per year, or a percentage of salary.
- Feedback and development processes: use of these for identifying development plans.
- Further education and attainment of qualifications and certification.
- Mandatory training: to meet compliance needs or to support other policies and processes.
- Non-core staff: policies on training subcontractors.
- Equal opportunities – as applied to training.
- Career breaks: training opportunities.
- Provision of equipment at home for e-learning.
- Government policies: support and/or compliance.
- Coaching, counselling and mentoring.
Putting Part Two together
Part One covers the core 'semi-permanent' ongoing elements of the strategy. In addition to this, however, the strategy must cover what the business is trying to achieve currently and how to help it through specific initiatives. The portfolio of activities is driven by:
- the 'top down' agenda derived from what the business needs to support it
- the 'bottom up' agenda derived from evaluating individual and team needs.
It is easy to be driven by the second alone, putting together courses and events aimed at individual and team development. If however this is the only focus, some vital activities that will support the business may be missed. So HRD needs to sit down with managers on a regular basis and systematically look at:
'capability' implications of:
- business/unit strategies and objectives
- organisation and manpower plans
- change initiatives.
operational issues: such as quality, ineffectiveness, waste, customer dis-satisfaction, internal conflicts, and so on.
At the end of the exercise, prioritisation will have to be made, taking into account:
- how critical the learning change is to achievement
- how urgent it is
- the cost/benefit balance
- the ability to deliver the change.
This is very different from a training needs analysis – for more information, see our factsheet on Identifying learning and training needs.
It does not ask what training is needed. It asks about changes in capability that are critical for success, and opens the door to the variety of learning solutions available. Many learning solutions will involve providing experience, or learning from others.
Putting Part Three together
This is the set of choices for how the function/overall process will be managed. It will include:
- The resource mix to be used (buildings, equipment, resource centres, e-learning, internal and external mix, HRD competences).
- How HRD will be organised.
- What tools we will use to support the processes.
- How HRD activities will be funded.
- Partnerships to be used (business schools, customers, consortiums).
- How HRD activities will be measured and benchmarked.
- How the strategy, policies and plans will be communicated to the various stakeholders.
All employees should take on board training to further their knowledge, so it can be passed on to others to give them confidence.This will advance the person and the organisation to increase the `bottom-line` and encourage all employees that training is a continuous process of a life long passion for success.
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Note: About the Author Colin Thompson
Colin is a former successful Managing Director of Transactional/Print Manufacturing Plants, Print Management/Workflow Solutions companies and other organisations, former Group Chairman of the Academy for Chief Executives and Non-Executive Director, helping companies raise their `bottom-line` and `increase cash flow`. Plus, helping individuals to be successful in business and life in general. Author of several publications, research reports, guides, business and educational models on CD-ROM's/Software and over 400 articles published on business and educational subjects worldwide. International Speaker and Visiting University Professor.