Ten Ways to Keep Training as Flexible and Innovative as Your Organization
July 27, 2021
A robust training and development program is necessary for government contractors to stay competitive.
By Janie Durham
Training and development programs are known to improve employee performance, increase retention and job satisfaction, and prepare employees to learn the skills needed to meet the future of work. That future brings with it forces that can alter the course of training programs; laws and policies change, along with shifting needs of clients and internal employees.
For government contractors, these forces can quickly affect a project. In order to stay competitive, contractors need to be responsive, and that starts with a robust training and development program. This includes meeting the unique challenges of arranging training for employees filling billable roles that might be out in the field or at government sites, as well as training for functional positions, such as accounting and finance, IT, human resources, marketing, and sales, just to name a few.
Training should consist of required compliance training as well as other learning that is designed to support the contract portfolio of the organization, and the development of its employees. Here are some training best practices that can be embraced by government contractors to enhance their flexibility and innovate the way they think about training:
- Involve leadership
- Even the best-laid training plans can collapse if they do not have encouragement and engagement from a high level. It is crucial to have leadership be as supportive of a training plan as possible, particularly when funds must be used to support training initiatives that might need to be launched quickly.
- Do a training needs analysis before you get started
- Before designing a training program that meets the needs of an innovative organization, we need to know where the gaps and strengths are. Enter the training needs analysis (TNA). A TNA is a process that involves analyzing the learning needs of the organization and the trainees within, taking into account the organizational strategy, required compliance training needs, and identifying knowledge, skills, abilities, and other tasks (KSAOs) necessitated in individual roles and team functions. This process is typically carried out by a training and development (T&D) professional who might perform a SWOT analysis, conduct interviews or focus groups, and survey the workforce in order to gather information, and then analyze and translate the resulting data into targeted, specific training. This process involves working with many groups, so it’s essential to have leadership buy-in, as mentioned above.
- Align training with organizational objectives
- Once a TNA has identified the organization strategy, it lets you focus a zoom lens on areas that will give your business plan more bang for its buck. For example, if an organizational objective is to focus more on compliance than anything else, that’s where the focus of your content (and dollars) should go. Or, if implementing a new system is on the horizon, then perhaps the emphasis of training during the ramp-up period should be on that. This will better prepare the trainees for the eventual system release, and endear them to the organization for making sure that the workforce is prepared for what’s coming.
- Tie training into performance goals
- Although conversations about training can and should happen organically, making training goals part of a formal performance review highlights their importance, not just to the overall organizational mission and vision, but to the development of the employee.
- Pay attention to trends
- Or listen to the people who do. A training professional can tell you what the best practices are in the learning industry (knowledge management, content curation, and design thinking are hot right now).
- Make training a continuing conversation
- …Instead of an isolated event. Managers should open a dialogue with their employees in order to get to the heart of what type of training is needed, and why. This includes the learning experience best suited for the learner. Will they get pulled away from work too long if they attend a seminar? Do they feel like they don’t get enough information in a self-paced eLearning course? Without this conversation happening, the trainee might find themselves in an environment that is not well-suited for their learning experience. Afterwards, there should be a follow-up on how the employee perceived their learning experience, and whether or not the employee and manager felt the training was useful. A T&D professional can help with sourcing training and assessing its impact.
- Stay customer-focused
- This is really about two ideas. First, when training is happening at different levels and in different spaces around the organization, it can be difficult to focus on the big picture. Staying centered on both internal and external customers is a great way to keep your eye on the prize. Managers are customers, too—extremely busy ones! Any training they receive should make their lives easier, turning them into satisfied training consumers. Second, sharing real-life customer stories and integrating them into training material and discussions gives more impact and motivation than what would otherwise be generic training content. It pulls the focus back to your organization’s vision and mission and reminds trainees what they are working towards.
- Utilize feedback early and often
- In order to provide the ultimate service to internal and external customers, an organization must be willing to listen to all manner of feedback and evaluate training outcomes. This can be challenging, especially if the results of the training aren’t expected to be seen right away. So we must make every effort to get feedback in a timely manner. For example, if a trainer conducts a conflict resolution workshop, they can get instant feedback from a trainee survey. This can be used almost immediately to adapt items like the length and style of the course, and even the content. Then the trainer can follow-up with the trainees’ managers to determine if the trainee is becoming more proficient at resolving conflict. The keys for the trainer and the organization are to be as responsive and sensitive to feedback as possible for a quick and effective adjustment to the training itself.
- Keep your organization open to all training options
- Being married to one particular vendor for training needs can handcuff the organization to that vendor’s offerings, when it is far better to throw a net far and wide to find the best learning options available. This is especially true for niche organizations that require special technical training offerings.
- Be willing to create and purchase content
- If an organization has dedicated training staff, they are very lucky indeed. Depending on what you are starting from and who you ask, it could take anywhere between 40 to 180 hours of labor to develop a single hour of eLearning. When an organization desires agility, they may not have the time or the personnel. In that case, resources should be set aside to purchase training content from reputable vendors. Training can be purchased “off-the-shelf” and can be customized by the vendor or the organization as needed. In the wake of COVID, more organizations are also turning to content curation as a way to have a pipeline of material to be used in any circumstance. Having content ready to go is an easy way to meet training needs, quickly.
Although all organizations should invest in training and development, government contractors must pay special attention to their training and development program. Whereas most commercial organizations might focus on broad training in the areas of safety, leadership, or their own KSAOs, government contractors need a training strategy that allows for quick changes of tactics to ensure that a constellation of training offerings are directed where they are needed for the most impact. Keeping your training program flexible and innovative will do just that.
Janie Durham is a training professional at Envistacom with a master’s degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and 15+ years in the training and development field.