Training and development (T&D) is the strategic process of enhancing employees’ skills, knowledge, and abilities to improve their performance and keep them engaged. Investing in a robust T&D program is crucial for your company’s success as it directly leads to increased employee productivity and efficiency and gives you a competitive edge. It can also be a key differentiator in attracting job seekers and retaining your current employees.
Although training and development is generally considered a single program or initiative, the two terms actually have different meanings that complement each other in nurturing a well-rounded, competent, and adaptable workforce.
Process of teaching employees specific skills or knowledge
Fosters an employee’s overall growth, both professionally and personally
Short-term, goal-oriented, and focuses on enhancing an individual’s ability to execute specific tasks
Long-term approach focused on building competencies and preparing employees for future challenges and responsibilities
Examples include on-the-job training, workshops, seminars, and online courses
Examples include leadership programs, mentorship, and continuing education
Types of Training & Development
There are many different types of training and development programs that may be right for your business. Each will be based on the specific needs of your industry and organization.
Some traditional programs include:
- Orientation: Most companies have some level of introductory training for new employees, which introduces them to the company culture and their job duties. It is also the time for getting them access to needed systems and tools and completing any outstanding paperwork. See our new employee orientation guide for more details.
- Onboarding: A step further from orientation, onboarding is a process that helps new hires understand how they fit into the bigger picture. It involves understanding workflows, meeting new team members, and getting acquainted with the tools and resources they’ll be using.
- Soft skills training: This form of training focuses on developing interpersonal skills such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. These skills are crucial for fostering a positive work environment and enhancing productivity.
- Technical skills training: This type of training equips employees with specific skills required for their job. A software engineer might need training in a particular coding language or a customer service representative might need to learn how to use a customer relationship management (CRM) system.
- Compliance training: Compliance training ensures employees and managers understand the laws, regulations, and company policies that apply to their job and the company. This could include anti-harassment or data protection training.
- Safety training: Particularly relevant for industries like manufacturing or construction, safety training educates employees about potential hazards in the workplace and how to avoid them. Often this type of training ensures OSHA compliance. See our guide to workplace safety for more information.
- Leadership training: This form of training is designed to equip individuals with the skills needed to lead teams effectively. It might cover topics like decision making, conflict resolution, and strategic planning.
- Sales/customer service training: Sales training focuses on teaching employees how to interact with customers, handle complaints, and close sales effectively.
- Product training: This training provides detailed information about the product or service the company offers. It’s essential for roles that involve selling or supporting products.
Learn how to best deliver different types of training with our learning management systems article.
Essential Elements of a Training & Development Program
Strong training and development programs should include:
Your leadership team needs to align its strategic planning and budgeting priorities with the training and development plan to achieve long-term sustainability. Simply put, you will never achieve a continuous learning environment within your company culture if leadership is not in full and active support of your training and development program.
A needs assessment is a systematic process for determining and addressing organizational needs or skills “gaps” within the company. Ultimately a part of performance management, needs assessment comes into play as it attempts to measure the discrepancy between current performance and desired performance. The result of this review may lead to the identification of a single or multiple areas that need correction, improvements, or, in some cases, creation.
One of the best ways to assess needed training for your company is to ask your employees–listening is an essential part of employee management. Your employees will have ideas on what they, as well as the company, need most. Ensure that everyone knows that their feedback is essential to making the right fit happen. Additionally, be certain that results from your employee survey reflect in the training and development program.
Benchmarking, in layman’s terms, is knowing what others in the industry are doing, why they are doing it, and how well it is working for them. This step may take a bit of effort, but it’s crucial when constructing a training program that is adequately built for the future.
One way to achieve this is through a SWOT analysis. This type of analysis examines:
Knowing what your industry demands, by way of regulatory compliance, trend analysis, gaps in the market, and what your competition is doing well (or not well) are absolutely essential to building your own internal program.
The single best way to maintain a mindset of constant improvement within your team is to create a culture of continuous learning throughout your organization. The best way to do this is to:
- Reward question-asking and continuous learning. Incentives for this can be anything—from a paycheck bonus to a simple public acknowledgment.
- Give continuous feedback. This is different from the annual performance evaluation. Continuous feedback means that leaders give ongoing feedback and encouragement for employees to learn new things, take responsible risks, and remember their core goals.
- Lead by example. If you are not leading by example (e.g., attending webinars, learning from other team members, asking questions, and actively engaging with colleagues), then you should not place the burden of doing so on your employees.
- Hire team members that understand these principles. Hire employees that understand and can explain what a continuous learning culture means to them. This will keep your program alive over the long term.
Measuring the results of your training and development program and making improvements or course corrections when needed, is essential. There are a variety of factors that can affect a program’s performance, such as the type of training that is provided, how well it is delivered, and the composition of the workforce.
To measure the results of company training and development, it is important to have a system in place that accurately tracks employee engagement. Some key areas to measure are:
- How well employees understand the material that was covered in the training.
- How often the material needs to be refreshed or updated.
- If there is an increase in employee productivity as a result of the training.
- If there were any adverse effects on morale or team cohesion as a result of the training.
If you notice happier and more engaged employees, increased productivity, and lowering attrition rates over time, then these are already signs of the success of your training and development program.
What Does Training & Development Look Like for Your Small Business?
The success of your training and development program depends largely on how you structure it, the type of training you provide, and the adoption of best practices. Whether you’re filling a skills gap with new training or you’re working to ensure employment law compliance, there are tools available to help support your goals.
Check out our top recommendations for employee training software.
Creating Your Program
Your training and development program can be on a small or large scale, depending on your specific needs. It starts with figuring out your business values, and then coming up with steps to teach that to your employees.
Typically, each of these “steps” comes in the form of a particular “training” module—short-term programs that work on one particular facet or skill at a time. Taken alone, these will help bridge immediate efficiency discrepancies that your business needs to cover.
A series of these “steps” grouped together to reach an end goal is what you’d call “development.” These typically fulfill long-term goals, ultimately uplifting your company and employees alike. Through properly planned development programs, you are able to increase the caliber of your workforce while also pushing your employees through tailored skills tracks that will make them proficient in their current roles and more qualified for future ones.
Training and development programs may include online courses, instructor-led classes, workshops, simulations, coaching and mentorship programs, and other training methods.
Let’s take a look at some examples of what training and development programs might look like at your small business, with consideration for the six essential elements we mention above.
The first training and development program we’ll look at is designed for a small marketing firm that’s having trouble finding applicants with AI text generation experience. The aim of the program is to upskill existing employees in AI text generation.
- Understand the fundamentals of AI and Machine Learning
- Acquire skills in AI text generation tools, like GPT-3
- Learn to integrate AI text generation into current marketing strategies
- Introduction to AI and Machine Learning: This module covers the basics of AI and Machine Learning, their types, applications, and relevance in marketing.
- Understanding AI Text Generation: This focuses on the principles of AI text generation, its benefits, and potential applications in content creation, social media posts, and email campaigns.
- Hands-on Training with AI Text Generation Tools: Employees will learn how to use AI text generation tools effectively, interpret the output, and fine-tune results.
- Integration of AI Text Generation in Marketing Strategies: This module guides employees on integrating AI text generation into their day-to-day tasks, and creating innovative marketing campaigns.
Here’s what this might look like across the organization:
- Leadership Team Alignment: This step ensures that the leaders of the marketing firm understand and support the training initiative. Their buy-in is crucial as it influences the adoption rate among employees. The leadership team will be briefed on the benefits of AI text generation, like increased productivity, content diversity, and cost-effectiveness.
- Needs Assessment: A comprehensive needs assessment will be carried out to identify the knowledge gap in AI text generation among employees. The assessment will help customize the training content to address specific needs and improve its effectiveness.
- Employee Surveys: Surveys will be conducted pre- and post-training to gauge employees’ understanding of AI text generation, their comfort level with the tool, and areas that need more focus. These insights will help refine the training program continuously.
- Benchmarking: The firm will benchmark its training program against best practices in the industry. This ensures they are leveraging the most effective strategies and tools for training in AI text generation.
- Company Culture Integration: The training program will emphasize the firm’s commitment to innovation and continuous learning. It will show how mastering AI text generation aligns with the company’s culture and values.
- Results Measurement: The success of the training program will be measured by evaluating employees’ performance on the final project, their ability to integrate AI text generation into their tasks, and the overall impact on the firm’s marketing outcomes.
The second program aims at aligning the leadership team of a small business on the importance of training and development programs and integrating KPIs into team and individual goals.
- Understand the significance of continuous learning and development
- Learn to identify key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to their roles
- Develop strategies to incorporate KPIs into individual and team objectives
- The Importance of Continuous Learning and Development: This module emphasizes the value of continuous learning for business growth, employee satisfaction, and retention.
- Identifying Relevant KPIs: Leaders will learn how to identify and set relevant KPIs that align with the company’s objectives.
- Integrating KPIs into Team and Individual Goals: This module focuses on how to incorporate these KPIs into daily operations, team goals, and individual targets.
- Monitoring and Evaluating KPIs: Leaders will learn how to monitor KPIs, evaluate performance, and provide constructive feedback to their teams.
Here’s what this might look like across the organization:
- Leadership Team Alignment: Here, alignment plays a dual role. First, leadership must understand and support the importance of KPI-focused development programs. Second, they must align on the specific KPIs that will drive their teams.
- Needs Assessment: A needs assessment will identify areas where leaders need support or training in understanding, setting, and utilizing KPIs effectively.
- Employee Surveys: Surveys will gather feedback from employees about their understanding of KPIs, their perception of its integration in their work, and areas they feel need improvement. This feedback will help refine the training program and ensure that it addresses real needs.
- Benchmarking: Benchmarking against industry leaders and competitors will ensure that the KPIs set are relevant, ambitious, and achievable. It will also provide insights into effective strategies for KPI integration and monitoring.
- Company Culture Integration: The program will reinforce the company’s culture of performance-based growth and continuous improvement. Leaders will learn to communicate how KPIs reflect the company’s values and mission.
- Results Measurement: The effectiveness of the program will be measured by tracking the successful integration of KPIs in daily operations, improvements in team performance, and achievement of set KPIs.
The third program is a creatively designed training for a small retail business focusing on enhancing customer service skills of the frontline staff.
- Understand the principles of exceptional customer service
- Develop effective communication and problem-solving skills
- Learn to handle challenging situations and difficult customers
- Principles of Great Customer Service: This module covers the key principles of delivering outstanding customer service, including empathy, attentiveness, and patience.
- Effective Communication and Problem-solving: Participants will learn how to communicate effectively with customers, understand their needs, and solve their issues efficiently.
- Handling Difficult Customers and Situations: This module focuses on dealing with challenging scenarios and difficult customers, maintaining professionalism, and ensuring customer satisfaction.
- Role-play and Simulation Exercises: Participants will engage in role-play scenarios and simulations, which offer hands-on experience and help them apply what they’ve learned.
Here’s what this might look like across the organization:
- Leadership Team Alignment: Leaders must understand and support the customer service training initiative. They play a crucial role in setting service standards and inspiring employees to deliver excellent customer service.
- Needs Assessment: A thorough needs assessment will identify areas where frontline staff need training or improvement in customer service skills.
- Employee Surveys: Surveys will be used to understand employees’ perceptions of their own customer service skills, identify common challenges they face, and gather suggestions. This feedback will make the training more relevant and effective.
- Benchmarking: The business will benchmark its customer service standards and training program against top performers in the retail industry. This ensures the adoption of proven strategies and high service standards.
- Company Culture Integration: The training will stress the company’s culture of putting customers first. It will show how delivering exceptional service aligns with the company’s values and contributes to its success.
- Results Measurement: The success of the training program will be measured by improvements in customer satisfaction scores, reductions in customer complaints, and positive reviews and feedback from customers.
Importance of Training & Development for Business Owners
Companies must invest in training and development programs to remain competitive in the workforce. Training can help employees learn new skills (more than half of companies are dealing with a skills gap in 2022, according to TalentLMS), develop new knowledge, and improve their productivity.
Enhancing employee expertise and spurring growth are of course strong reasons to focus on training and development, but they aren’t the only ones. Increased and continued employee engagement is another. A whopping 92% of employees say that well-structured training programs boost their engagement.
Training and development programs can assist in the following areas:
- It increases productivity and overall job performance and establishes benchmarks for future training initiatives.
- It helps retain top talent.
- It fortifies an ongoing skills development program for employees.
- It further builds and cultivates team dynamics.
- It can remove bottlenecks in operations across the organization.
- It can lead the way to creating new and improved job roles and make for a streamlined work process.
- It decreases safety-related accidents through training and informed awareness.
- It helps test new methodologies for increasing productivity, as well as the preparedness for moving into niche areas.
Did You Know?
According to LinkedIn, 93% of organizations are concerned with employee retention and the No. 1 way they’re taking action is to invest more in company training and development programs.
Legal Aspects of Training & Development
While training and development programs are not required by law for all employers, there are some regulations for certain industries (usually around safety and compliance issues) that affect how employers handle training and development. Regardless, if you require your employees to have or maintain certain skill sets, certifications, or licenses, then you should have a program wherein your HR department assists employees in maintaining timely recertification and finds or conducts updated training courses.
If any training or ongoing education courses (seminars, webinars) are required for the position the employee occupies, then you may be required to cover the associated costs of the training, certifications, etc. Ensure that your company policies are clear about this detail. Further, employment contracts, union agreements, and any relevant state laws should also be referred to.
From new software programs to new safety procedures, employees need to be up to date on the latest trends to be successful in their jobs. Training can provide employees with the knowledge they need to succeed in their roles, as well as make them more efficient and effective workers.
Creating and maintaining a robust training and development program requires ongoing cultivation. The key is to take it one step at a time—do not overwhelm your team and focus on what truly matters to your people and operations—and build from there. Highly trained employees lead to increased productivity, improved satisfaction, and higher employee retention rates over time.