January 2018
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January 2018
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Newsletter Article

Create Training Programs That Stick

Most businesses, no matter the size, have training programs. These may be well-organized and tested programs, or they might be in-the-moment cross-training on a new system. Either way, creating an internal system that will make these training programs stick within your organization is important for employees and the business.

When programs are around for a period of time, evolving and growing, employees continue their education, and the business will see a return on their training dollars. No one likes to reinvent the wheel, yet many times, we do just that when we do not have a documented approach in place that monitors how internal training happens. As many of us plan training budgets for 2018 and reflect back on how those dollars were spent this past year, getting the most bang for our buck is essential as we think of what we want to accomplish.

At GL group, we have not always had the best track record of creating training programs. Training was left up to the learners. While I do believe that learners should own 80 percent of their development, we didn’t provide many tools or a structure about how learning should happen in our organization.

As we began to see growth over the years, the impact of not having a solid training structure in place became a business need. We spent a lot of time and made many mistakes along the way in pursuit of creating some programs that accomplished the goals we had set organizationally. Today, we have not only created programs that build upon our gaps internally, but our programs also focus on succession planning.

Below are some tips and tricks that we picked up along the way as we created training programs that have stuck in our organization and continue to grow and develop according to our business needs.

Survey employees and find out what they want to learn. While you cannot rely completely on what employees want to know, you can find out what they think is missing from their skill set. Set up focus groups, send out surveys, or just simply walk around and ask. Not only will you learn a lot about what skills are missing and where training could have an impact, but you also get employee buy-in and support as you work to create these programs. And getting buy-in is key to making anything stick!

Survey leaders. Leaders will tell you where the business is headed and what skills they feel are lacking organizationally. Knowing where the business is going will be instrumental as you build these programs. If done right, it can help employees improve performance as the business grows.

Involve the executive team in teaching. Only they know where they want the business to go, so tap into that knowledge and create programs in which they can be involved. At GL group, our executive team teaches various classes internally around culture, leadership, and financials and serves as mentors in our Emergent Leader Program. Being involved allows them to not only shift their knowledge to the next generation of leaders, but it sets a tone organizationally that continued learning is important.


Follow-up is critical. Once a program gets started, you must evaluate and assess the impact of the learning often. Is it accomplishing what you initially set out to accomplish? Do other leaders see a return on the business? When you receive feedback, make changes along the way and adjust when needed. If you put the program together and then walk away, there is no way to keep it alive and ensure that it evolves as the business needs shifts.

Create learning tracks that connect with your business. We have found value in using our annual strategic plan (ASP) as a guide when creating training programs. It helps the business see the value in the learning that is being created. All of our training programs must tie back to our ASP, and we communicate which “track” each class falls in within our strategic plan. When the business can see the impact of training and how it is connected to the goals of the business, you will have much more support in keeping it going.

Get others involved. Don’t let training be only an HR thing. To truly make something stick, you must get outside of the human resource or organizational development walls. The best way to do this is to have other employees or leaders own different aspects of training. Find a leader who is passionate about cross-training, and let them create a program. Ask an employee who is a subject matter expert to teach a class. Find ways to get others involved and let them be a part of the process.

Talk it up. I have never been a fan of the saying “no news is good news.” When you don’t hear about something, especially in the business world, that is because it isn’t going well and no one wants to shed light on it. Take the opposite approach and find ways to talk about training all of the time, even when things aren’t going as well. Share what is working, ask for advice when something isn’t connecting, and provide updates about the various programs that are happening.

Make it fun! Everyone wants to be involved in something when it seems like the cool thing to do. When you make learning engaging and exciting, others will not want to miss out on the party. Look for key influencers who serve as informal leaders and get them excited about the programs rolling out. They will spread the word for you pretty quickly and will encourage others to participate. Give awards to those who are learning rock stars and others will quickly be asking how they, too, can receive some recognition.

The most important thing to keep in mind when creating training programs is that you cannot do it alone and you have to show the impact on the business. When you can connect learning not only to the growth of an individual but also the growth of the company and make it fun in the process, you will be amazed at how organically each program becomes a training program that sticks!

Do you have any best practices to share? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.

© 2018 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Lisa Whealon is the chief people officer for GL group, a premier provider of literature and educational materials. Whealon has been with GL group for seven years and currently oversees the HR function, including talent development and acquisition, organizational design, and internal communications for the four-division company.  Culture is king at GL group, and Whealon leads the people initiatives, which includes creating a new WOW! benefit every year. She has helped launch GL group’s Emergent Leader Program and GL University and assists in the support of WOW! Benefits, such as Sandy Vacations, the Marcia Jaffe Scholarship, and Bring-Your-Baby-to-Work. Whealon serves on the Forbes HR Council and is a member of the local and national SHRM and ATD chapters.  Prior to her work at GL group, Whealon worked as an executive team leader for a big box retailer and was responsible for business operations and talent development and lead key people initiatives.
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