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7 steps to develop an employee training program that sticks

July 18, 2022 - 18 min read

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What is an employee training program?

Types of employee training programs

What should an employee training program include?

How to develop an employee training program

Common pitfalls when developing an employee training program

4 ways career coaching can enhance your training program

If you want to consistently upskill your employees and create great leaders, you’ll need to learn how to develop an employee training program that drives results. 

In fact, employee training programs might be more crucial than you think — according to Deloitte, “companies that do not constantly upgrade skills and rapidly build leaders will not be able to execute their business plans.”

Plus, 92% of employees say that a well-planned training program had a favorable impact on their engagement levels. The problem? Just 25% of employees actually believe that training improved people’s performance at work — which means ineffective training courses are far too common.

So how can organizations develop an employee training program that sticks? We’re here with the step-by-step guide to effectively upskilling and educating your team. Plus, we’ll share how coaching can maximize results. Let’s dive in.

What is an employee training program? 

An employee training program is a course or learning experience developed to help team members gain new skills or improve existing ones. Usually, they are related to a person’s specific job, but programs can cover any topic that will help improve employee performance, like soft skills training. 

In the United States, the market for employee training and development tops $160 billion. That’s likely because professional development initiatives have a big influence on employee retention  — in fact, a culture of learning can lead to  30-50% higher retention rates. Development programs can also boost employee engagement and productivity.

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Types of employee training programs 

The most effective employee training program depends on what your team needs and what your business goals are. Your employees may also have multiple training needs while with your organization, whether they’re new hires or just got promoted to leadership. For every situation, there’s an option. 

Whether they’re online courses, in-person seminars, or some form of blended learning, here are the most common types of employee training programs.

1. Onboarding training

When a new employee starts at your company, they’ll need to take part in some sort of onboarding process. Onboarding training, though, goes beyond signing paperwork — it aims to instruct employees on their job’s core functions and the company culture. This training is key to helping them succeed in their new role. 

2. Compliance training

Especially common in finance and healthcare industries, this kind of training teaches employees to protect company and client information. It may also cover compliance laws and regulations. Most companies can benefit from some form of compliance training — especially since it often teaches employees how to avoid email scams and phishing.  

3. Leadership training

Also known as management training, these specialized programs teach important leadership skills like communication, delegation, and team building. This training content is key for new managers and even experienced leaders who need a refresher on management techniques. It’s also important for junior employees who want to work towards future promotions and management positions. 

4. Product training

This type of training is necessary for companies that sell a product. Whether it’s the sales team, the marketing department, or the development team, they all need to understand how the product works in order to do their jobs well. Courses can also include technical training materials for employees who need a deeper knowledge of the product. 

5. Anti-bias and diversity training

By making employees more aware of different kinds of diversity, as well as their own explicit or implicit biases, this training helps build a more positive work environment. Instructional materials aim to help employees improve their cross-cultural communication skills and contribute to creating a culture of inclusion.

man on computer designing an employee training program

What should an employee training program include?

Every employee training program is different. The best one for you will depend on your industry, your team, and your company’s needs. Ask yourself, are there any existing employee skills gaps? What do your team members actually want to learn? How could you improve productivity, engagement, and company culture with the right training methods? 

However you answer those questions, all effective training programs have a few components in common: 

  • A clear set of learning objectives, outcomes, or goals 
  • A course map with progress check-ins throughout 
  • Useful, relevant, and actionable content 
  • Opportunities for employees to implement their learnings 
  • Defined metrics that can demonstrate learning effectiveness 
  • A plan for measuring employee performance and results after the training is complete

How to develop an employee training program 

You know the components of a good learning program and why it matters, but how do you really develop an employee training program that makes an impact? We’re here with the 8 steps to doing just that: 

  1. Get buy-in from leadership and management 
  2. Build programs based on what employees need and want 
  3. Align training programs with the company’s goals and culture 
  4. Create engaging learning experiences 
  5. Boost results with coaching
  6. Create opportunities for implementation
  7. Always measure results — and improve programs over time

Now let’s dive a little deeper into each of the steps. 

1. Get buy-in from leadership and management

Before you launch an employee development program, your leadership team needs to be on board. If they don’t value learning or training, you’ll struggle to get buy-in from employees. That will lead to wasted time, money, and energy for everyone involved. 

Show management how employee training programs can directly meet the organization’s needs for more skilled employees, better leaders, and beyond. Demonstrate how money invested into these programs can have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. And if you can’t do either of these things, you may need to reevaluate the program you’re launching. 

2. Build programs based on what employees need and want 

It’s easy to get excited about a new training program, but if it’s not fulfilling specific needs or aligned with business goals, the program will flop. Before choosing or creating a program, assess your employees’ needs. What are they struggling with right now? What kind of course could have the biggest impact? 

Then, don’t just consider what they need. Ask yourself, what programs do employees want? If your team wants more chances to upskill or gain leadership experience, how can the right learning pathway help?  Answering this question will result in higher participation and engagement. 

3. Align training programs with the company’s goals

As mentioned above, if training programs aren’t aligned with the company’s overarching objectives, it will be tough to get leadership to invest. Let’s say your organization wants to increase sales by 30% next year. Think about what kind of training programs can specifically help with that goal. 

For example, you could start a sales training initiative. Senior leaders could contribute to training newer sales reps, or you could have an outside company come in and train everyone on new strategies. Either way, it’s easy to see how this kind of training program could have a direct impact on the bottom line. As a result, everyone will be more motivated to invest and participate. 

woman leading a team training program

4. Create engaging learning experiences 

We all have different learning styles. The great news is that in today’s world, employee training programs can be delivered through online learning management systems (LMS), in-person training sessions, live virtual webinars, and more. As you develop your program, consider what option will be the most engaging to your learners. 

Many employee training program materials also tend to be outdated or non-actionable. This will automatically lead to less engagement from your employees — make sure your training programs are modern, apply to real-world scenarios, and require real participation from employees. 

5. Boost results with coaching

According to Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager Report, “the sought-after talent combination that characterizes great managers only exists in about one in 10 people. Another two in 10 people have some of the five talents and can become successful managers with the right coaching and development.” But training programs rarely focus on coaching and development, even though these efforts are the ones that can ultimately lead to behavioral change.

To develop great leaders, you need to align your training programs with a clear development plan. By setting goals specific to the individual, identifying strengths and skill gaps tied to those goals, and ensuring that these efforts are all linked to your organization’s strategic direction and cultural values. Only then can your team see a measurable ROI on those training programs.

6. Create opportunities for implementation

No amount of education makes a difference if it’s not actually implemented. Managers should be aware of what their direct reports are learning. From there, they can encourage on-the-job practice and follow up with employees about what they’re learning. 

They can give their team members new projects that will allow them to try a new skill, for example. Implementation can also be encouraged through “homework,” where in order to pass the training, employees have to show that they used a new skill or strategy in the real world. 

7. Always measure results — and improve programs over time 

Most training programs involve getting some sort of pass or fail score. But you should take it a step further than that to really understand program effectiveness. Here are some ideas that go beyond a test score: 

  • Measure course completion and dropoff rates — not everyone will finish what they start, and retention rates can give insight into whether the training program is engaging or practical enough
  • Send out an employee survey asking for feedback, with questions like, “would you recommend this training to a coworker?” and “what was your main takeaway from the training?” 
  • Assess employee performance levels post-training, like number of sales, marketing campaign results, or other job-specific metrics 

As you survey employees and learn more about a program’s effectiveness, you can improve it over time. In addition, make sure that programs remain relevant in light of the business’ changing goals, industry trends, and the introduction of new technologies.

woman pointing at employee's computer as part of an employee training program

Common pitfalls when developing an employee training plan or program

Eduardo Salas, an organizational psychology professor at the University of Central Florida told The Wall Street Journal that “by the time you go back to your job [after completing a training program], you’ve lost 90% of what you’ve learned.” 

Dr. Salas warns companies that before they implement costly training programs for their teams, they need to be equipped to support the training that they offer. They also need to align training programs with a clear development plan, so that employees have a real reason to participate. 

Besides not having support in place, here are a few more common mistakes that organizations make when launching a training program: 

  • Failing to provide employees opportunities to practice their new skills 
  • Forgetting to assess employee progress after training is complete  
  • Leaving training program goals vague or failing to make any at all 
  • Lack of metrics for success of the training program 
  • Not encouraging supervisors to model and reinforce the concepts taught
  • Focusing on ‘one and done’ learnings that aren’t highly engaging, scalable, or self-directed
  • Focusing solely on concrete job-related skills, rather than personal development and soft skills like communication and stress management
  • Failing to provide training on invaluable leadership skills like empathy and resilience

These mistakes can significantly impact the overall effectiveness of learning & development programs that companies spend millions of dollars on.

4 ways career coaching can enhance your training program

While training programs can provide employees with the “what,” coaching is the “how” that can complement these learnings by giving individuals the skills they need — both psychological and social-emotional —  to put these learnings into practice in a way that will ultimately lead to day-to-day behavioral change.

Professor of Management Practice at Dartmouth Tuck Marshall Goldsmith writes, “Most requests for coaching involve behavioral change. While this process can be very meaningful and valuable for top executives, it can be even more useful for high-potential future leaders. 

“These are the people who have great careers in front of them. Increasing effectiveness in leading people can have an even greater impact if it is a 20-year process, instead of a one-year program.”

Here are four more ways that coaching can maximize the effectiveness of training programs: 

  1. Increases accountability through ongoing, regular check-ins
  2. Micro-learning is integrated into the day-to-day, on-the-job situations to enable sustained behavioral change
  3. Introduces new and exciting challenges on a regular basis to maintain engagement and keep employees motivated to improve
  4. Offers customized development plans with ongoing support to help individuals implement learnings that are relevant to their specific role within the organization

Executive-level coaching has largely been reserved for senior-level executives because to date, it’s been cost-prohibitive for most companies to extend its benefits more broadly. But the effects of this siloed access to professional development are disastrous: companies are faced with an entire group of high-potential new managers who are unprepared for the leadership roles they’re assuming.

Thankfully, technology and science have helped us make great strides in developing employee coaching programs that are scalable, evidence-based, much more affordable, and accessible than before. If you want to transform your training program, coaching could be the differentiator you need.

Your next steps 

Learning how to develop an employee training program can be exciting and complicated at the same time. But if you can learn to do it right, you’ll see amazing results in your team and organization. 

If you’re ready to take the next step and introduce a coaching program at your company, BetterUp can help.

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Published July 18, 2022

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