When was the last time you did something without a plan?

Michael Towse urges those in L&D to stop and ask, why are we doing what we’re doing? 

Reading time: 5 minutes.

The majority of what we do is always in line with some sort of identified goal, request or process. Going shopping, we make a list. Walking the dog, we plan our route. You get the idea.

Yet when it comes to learning and development we all too often simply take a dive into the deep end based on a request from senior management. ‘We need training on topic X, and, like a short order chef, we simply take the ticket and start our processes from design through to delivery.

For the learning function in any organisation to be acknowledged as a business unit means we also need to be accountable for business results. If you run a webinar for 100 staff on topic X, you are accountable for a return on those 100 hours of staff time.

What can they do now which they couldn’t do before? What competency can they employ now which wasn’t available to them previously? What difference did that hour on the phone with an often-over-caffeinated training professional make?

Having a plan is business critical, and dare I say it, mandatory for the successful implementation of change, which is what training and support is all about. We want our audience to swap one behaviour for another more efficient behaviour or we need them to create a new habitual action as a result of the learning and support provided.

Trying to accomplish this without a plan is much the same as going grocery shopping without a list.

We want our audience to swap one behaviour for another more efficient behaviour or we need them to create a new habitual action as a result of the learning and support provided. 

Sure, you will come back with a host of items but it is likely there will be items you are not 100% sure you need and the end goal, in this case the meal, was probably thought up sporadically as you wandered around the aisle looking at things which would spark interest. You also probably spent more money than you intended.

Not exactly strategic thinking.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When I talk about the mandatory need for a needs analysis I am not talking about spending countless hours developing a plan so granular that it stifles creativity – not at all. In fact, I would argue that a good needs analysis makes room for creativity at the delivery level.

Asking the requester simple questions will often either help to solidify the training need is legitimate or have them turning on their heels to further investigate why they felt training was the answer in the first place. Questions such as, what is the business goal you are trying to achieve?

What competency are you looking to build? How are you going to track progress towards your lofty goals? All of which need a baseline answer before we dive into the development pool. Now all this sounds relatively straightforward and for most it will be, but it is still not something which we see across the training environment as a default approach. 


We put up barriers such as immediacy of need, a resistance to push back on senior management, a personal core interest in the topic or simply the fact that it is easy to deliver can all play a part in taking a hop, skip and jump over the needs analysis process direct to development, or in some cases, direct to delivery.

If you’d indulge my meal analogy one more time. Every meal, certainly according to my 10-year-old, benefits from a dessert of some kind. Even something simple and uncomplicated, but you’ve got to have something.

Training is no different, we must take the final step during any learning and support programme to assess impact. Both towards our identified business goal and on a more granular trend basis. Easier said than done in most cases but not if you’ve had those discussions we mention above in the first instance.

Identifying what success looks like will give you the identified goals to then reflect on. Did you meet them, in whole or partially? Do you have to cancel what you’re doing or simply tweak it slightly?

Furthermore, identifying how you are going to track progress is also a critical data point. Probably more so than the ultimate business goal. We can lofty aspirations of the impact of our training and support endeavours but if we fail to track the granular information on a regular basis, we fail to see if we are creating impact.

Waiting for your data point X to become more like data point Y may take a year, but the regular check-ins on those data points will help to identify if you’re trending in the right direction.

Having this whole conversation retrospectively is simply a waste of time. Either your stakeholders have moved onto other more pressing topics and the attention on the project has waned or you’ve moved onto another project and new time and resource constraints are in play.

Either scenario doesn’t help, and both impact our ability to ensure we get this right. So, I challenge all my colleagues in the training environment to ensure whenever you receive those requests, stop and ask those simple questions. If the requestor can’t answer them then you could argue that training isn’t the answer.

More like a knee-jerk reaction, and often the easier path than tackling the root cause of the problem. A risky approach which ultimately tarnishes the shine from the learning function as the impact wasn’t met, but ultimately, was never going to be met if we don’t know what the goal is.

We must challenge ourselves to change the default approach. We are, and always have been, accountable for the time our colleagues spend on our training. I’m not talking about the time we put into development of material or bespoke topic research or even the time we put into delivery.

I am simply referring to the time our users carve out of their busy days to spend learning. We are accountable for ensuring that that time investment is paid back by the delivery of training which ultimately helps to shift the business needle.


About the author

Michael Towse is global training director of Pharm-Olam.


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