Much of the training undertaken by business is quite reactive and carried out for some diverse reasons.

The glossy brochure which arrives at a time when Sally has been complaining about the job, or pay, or both. The leadership course which "seems like a good idea". Well, we always want to improve leadership. The reward for hard working staff. The idea that we had better do some training because successful companies seem to do it and we've read that good employees are likely to stay if we provide training. While we would always be supportive of business developing staff, it seems that much effort and expense is misdirected. How can we avoid this mistake?

If we start with identifying what knowledge skills or behaviour we need after the training, then we are going to stand more chance of being on the right track. These training needs may arise from your business plans, performance management process, recruitment needs or even a systematic approach to identifying the training and development needs of the business. They may also arise from individual requests.

All too often they are listed as vague programs rather than specific outcomes. For example, many performance appraisals will list "Excel skills" as a training objective. A more effective way of addressing this is define exactly what is required e.g. "to be able to enter key statistical formulae and produce graphs showing sales trends by product"

The secret to making sure the training investment is worthwhile is to determine what it is you want to achieve. This is best done by spending time writing very clear training objectives.

These usually take the form of "At the end of the training/development program, the participant will be able to"

For example, a training need may be identified as situational awareness. The objective may then be written as: "At the end of the training program, the participant will be able to describe, in a systematic and objective way, a business situation and list the various factors impacting on it, and their possible consequences."

A training objective for "innovation" may be written as: "At the end of the training program, the participant will be able to use a number of techniques to draw together possible unrelated resources to develop solutions to problems or implement improvements."

Formal training courses are not the only option. Once a need has been clearly defined we may find there a are a number of ways to meet it. Enlisting the help of someone who already has the required skill and ability to coach the trainee is an often overlooked source of development. There are also inexpensive books, CDs/DVDs and other materials available including online courses that can be very effective.

A creative approach to training and development starts with defining what you want and being proactive rather than reactive.

It is also valuable to follow up some weeks or months after the training to review how the outcomes are being put into practice. This reinforces the value put on the training and helps assess how well a particular method has worked and judge whether to use it again to meet a similar need elsewhere.

About the Author:

Paul Phillips is a Director of Horizon Management Group; a specialist human resource management consulting firm. He has over 30 years experience in HR and, while based in Australia, has worked in a number of overseas locations.