If your company’s fiscal year-end is in synch with the calendar year, then you are probably starting the process of creating a talent development plan for next year. Hopefully, you have meetings with key executives scheduled to find out what the business priorities are for the coming year—so you can plan learning initiatives to support them.

Executives are generally concerned with either solving business problems or achieving business goals. Problems are issues that are causing something negative to happen in the business. For example, high turnover among the sales team is a problem. Goals are something positive that the business wants to achieve in line with its overall strategy. An example of a goal might be to launch a new product or enter a new market.

To ensure that training is aligned with the company’s strategic direction, you need to ask about the company’s problems and goals. Here are four questions to set you up for success.

  1. What problems will the organization focus on solving, and what goals will it focus on achieving this coming year?
  2. How will you know you’ve been successful in solving the problem or achieving the goal? Once you get the lay of the land, you can start drilling down into the details of each problem and each goal by asking:
  3. Which divisions or departments will be involved in solving this problem/achieving this goal?
  4. What will their involvement look like? Will you be looking to improve employee performance, roll out a new system, change roles and responsibilities, launch a new product, enter a new market, and so on?

You are looking for changes to the status quo that will require employees to learn something new. For example, if executives plan to roll out a new inventory management system, employees will need to learn how to use it. If they plan to launch a new product, sales people will need to learn how to sell it and the customer service team will need to learn how to support it. If they want to increase the transaction size of each customer order, sales people will need to learn how to upsell. If the legal team will be revising the travel and entertainment expense policy, employees will need to learn how to comply with the new policy requirements.

Your goal is to link as many training offerings as possible to something that is happening in the business. This is how you align training with organizational strategy.

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Answers to these questions don’t just tell you what is happening in the business, they also tell you what criteria executives will be using to evaluate success. While talent development may play a supporting role, it’s critical to make sure that training is sufficient to help the organization meet any success criteria. This means that you may have to plan not just for the initial training, but also for pull-through activities to ensure that learning sticks and is implemented.

You’ll also have a heads up on likely target audiences so you can start thinking about what sorts of delivery methods will be most appropriate. For example, if your target audience is scattered across the globe, instructor-led training is probably off the table unless there is a meeting scheduled where everyone will be in attendance.

Lastly, not only have you identified target audiences, you’ve surfaced specific training needs, providing you with a basis for your training plan for 2018. Of course, there is more work to be done. But, these four questions give you a solid start for a training plan that aligns with your organization’s strategy.