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For Trainers

What Makes an Organization's Training Plan Strategic?

Jeannette Gerzon
Organization and Employee Development
MIT Human Resources
November 2011

To ensure the organization is served in both the short and longer term, a strategic approach to training is key. Training itself, of course, varies in delivery methods from e-learning segments taken online, to live classroom training, to off-site programs, learning on-the-job, cohort-based webinars, and other formats. Given delivery options as well as many other variables, what does it mean for an organization’s approach to training and learning to be strategic?

Fundamentally, a strategy involves a plan to get from a starting point to a particular goal or set of goals.  A strategic training plan would involve articulating these intended outcomes and a combination of several related aspects. These include but are not limited to the following aspects:

Clearly articulated outcomes

These may be called desired outcomes, goals, results, or end-states. For a plan to be strategic, intended outcomes need to be articulated, decided, and supported. The destination provides the focus, and with clarity about the focus, a strategy to reach it can be developed.

Guiding Principles

Before or soon after the process of articulating the desired outcomes, it can be helpful to delineate the guiding principles that support the inherent values of the organization. For example, “Providing timely and effective feedback to staff is important to our organization’s success,” might be a principle that could help guide the development of a training program for managers. In this way, management development programs might refer to a model for feedback that is used throughout the different management training sessions. Articulating the guiding principles supports organization values and provides direction for the process in reaching the goals.

Impact on the organization’s mission and operations

A training plan is strategic if it fundamentally underscores and impacts the organization’s operations and mission. This bottom line may be increased revenue or it may be other aspects that impact the fundamental focus of that organization. Desired results must be articulated and benefit the future state of the organization. For example, by ensuring training is standardized for project managers, project timeframes and deadlines may be more accurate and achievable.

Senior leaders’ and management involvement

Both senior members and managers should be aware, supportive, and engaged in the program planning and offerings. Without their involvement, staff may conclude the training does not matter to these senior leaders. With senior staff and management input and presence, staff  know they can take the time to attend the trainings and be supported on the job. In addition, to bridge classroom or online learning programs to actual on-the-job needs, the role of the front-line manager cannot be underestimated. If John in department B takes a two-day training on meeting facilitation skills, but returns to his home office and never facilitates a meeting, the training’s use is limited. Bridging the connection between the formal and informal depends on the front line manager who needs to be specifically involved. This involvement may include choice of training, content, on-the-job support, measurement, and other aspects.

Current state assessment

Most training programs should include a needs assessment to determine specific training needs. Needs assessments involve many of the factors noted above and provide strategic insight into, literally, the “what” that is needed. However, sometimes a group or an area already knows its needs. For example, if software has just been updated, it may be obvious that staff need training to use it. This “just-in-time” training addresses an immediate need and is more tactically focused. Sometimes, just-in-time training is delivered alongside long-term planning. That is, just-in-time training and assessing needs do not need to oppose each other. Both may be just what is needed. Often, a gap assessment is also explored and clarified. A “gap assessment” identifies the gap between the current state and the future’s goals, and then training can be provided to meet these needs.


How will the training results be measured and sustained? Although these are two different questions, they go hand-in-hand because it is difficult to ensure sustainability without measurement. Also, different types of measurement and different returns on the resource investment to take these measurements need careful consideration. This resource investment includes staffing and other resources to develop, organize, and implement chosen measures. There are numerous trainings available on “return on investment” (ROI) and different calculations and processes from which the ROI might be determined. Exploring these choices of measurement and making decisions regarding best use of resources assist in reaching the desired goals. In other words: if the cost of measurement exceeds the use of the measurement, such measures are not strategic.  At the same time, without clear measures, it can be difficult to sustain the training and know if it is producing the desired results. So, it is important to explore the measurement options and make choices that work well for the organization.

End-user Input

Although sometimes overlooked, end-user input in both the assessment as well as later phases, facilitates strategic planning. This might be done through focus groups, interviews, surveys, or a combination of these options.  Does the training plan incorporate and meet the perspective of those very people who will use it?  If so, strategic goals are far more likely to be reached.

Performance measures

How is performance measured in the organization and how does this relate to the training plan?  If Lee takes a training on rolling out a new software program for his department, is he measured on his success in doing so?  If Lee takes this training, but in his performance review is rated on entirely other measures, the training does not relate directly to his review.  For an organization’s training plan to be strategic, the connection to performance reviews and measures to that training is critical. If connected, the organization enhances its strategic orientation because training is then applied, literally, to what is expected to happen on the job.  This means that it is far more likely the goals will be reached.

Time frame

Developing the timeframe as part of the goal will support reaching the goals successfully for the organization. Timeframes vary. Some groups now plan in tighter timeframes given the speed and pace of today’s technology and workplace. While some think in terms of 1-3 months, others in 1-3 or 3-5 year spans. Choosing the timeliness of trainings is also key to answering the question of whether the learning can be fully applied on the job. For success, infrastructure (e.g., management support) is needed to ensure applicability and sustainability within the timeframe as planned.

Development and planning

Who will lead these efforts forward and with what team and sponsorship? Designating the players including a project manager is key to reaching training goals. Delineating the actions to be taken, the schedule, and the roles (what, when, who) allows for successful implementation.


A starting point, clear goals, and a plan to reach these goals suggest a strategic orientation. To be successful, however, implementation planning, compelling communications, and inspired teaching are essential. Also key is the participation level of those who attend. Strategy can create the structure for excellent instruction and training. However, it is the combination of strategy with inspired instruction and dedicated participation that is most likely to genuinely satisfy the outcomes.