Employee Motivation

Employee development with a focus: how to align training with business goals

18 min read

Employee development initiatives are most beneficial for everyone when they ladder up to company goals. Learn how to make sure your employee training is aligned with the vision of the company.

As a team lead, you know that investing in your employees’ growth is crucial to the success of your business.

And you’re not alone. 

According to a recent Training Industry report, companies worldwide spent over $370 billion on employee development in 2019. That’s nearly $100 billion more than was spent on training in 2010.

companies worldwide spent over $370 billion on employee development in 2019
Source. Note: The decrease in spending from 2019 to 2020 can be attributed to COVID-19

Clearly, organizations around the globe have made employee development one of their top priorities.

Unfortunately, this increase in spending hasn’t necessarily led to better outcomes. As Harvard Business Review explains:

  • 70% of employees say they lack the advanced skills needed to do their job effectively
  • Only 12% of employees are able to apply new learnings within their actual duties
  • 75% of employees say training sessions don’t have any measurable impact on their abilities

It’s not enough to just throw money at your training initiatives. Rather, you need to approach these initiatives strategically—keeping your business goals top-of-mind at all times.

In this article, we’ll look at how to do just that by exploring:

How does effective training impact employees?

Before we dive into a discussion on aligning employee training and development with your business goals, let’s discuss the ways effective training experiences will impact your employees.

Employee training provides opportunities to grow

The fact of the matter is, most of today’s workforce simply want more opportunities to learn and grow.

As LinkedIn’s 2021 Learning Report shows, 83% of Gen-Z want to learn how to do their job better. What’s more, 76% acknowledge that ongoing learning is the key to a successful career.

83% of gen-z want to learn how to do their job better. 76% of gen-z believe that ongoing learning is the key to a successful career.

These numbers make it clear that most employees are looking for ways to improve their performance and deliver more value to the team. They believe this success will help grow their career over time.  

Effective training gives employees a sense of purpose and belonging

Investing in your employees proves your dedication to their growth—and instills a sense of purpose and belonging within your team members.

In a literal sense, your employees will gain a better understanding of their role within your organization. When it’s clear how an employee’s efforts impact the entire team’s performance, they’ll understand how to maximize their efforts for the good of the company.

The outcome?

A potential 56% increase in job performance over time, according to Harvard Business Review.

Employee development increases employee engagement and loyalty

According to a 2018 report from Work Institute, nearly one-third of individuals who’ve recently left a job cite a lack of training opportunities as a main reason for leaving.

Basically, if your training opportunities aren’t up to snuff (or are non-existent), you’re at risk of losing your best and most driven employees. And even if you keep them around, they probably won’t be all that engaged.

On a more positive note, providing these opportunities will lead to higher employee engagement and retention rates. In terms of engagement, 70% of employees say better training would help them stay focused on their duties. Plus, companies rated highly on employee training efforts saw 53% lower attrition than their competitors.

The benefits of aligning employee development with business goals

It’s clear training is a valuable part of the employee experience. But, training isn’t only beneficial to your team’s growth— it’s also essential to your company’s growth. After all, the more skilled, engaged and dedicated your employees are, the better off your business will be.

That being said, spending more money on training doesn’t directly correlate to employee or company growth.

The reality is, companies need to be intentional when it comes to learning and development programs. Throwing free courses around, piles of books and endless subscription services will do little for your business if they’re not aligned with employee and business goals.

By keeping your business goals top-of-mind when developing your training programs, you’ll be able to:

  • Deliver training opportunities that are relevant to your employees, and that allow them to grow in ways that truly impact their job performance
  • Take a more strategic approach to how you invest in your training initiatives
  • Have a clear idea of where your money’s going—and of what you’ll be getting in return for your investment

How to align employee development with your business goals

Now that we understand the importance of aligning your employee development initiatives with your business goals, let’s talk about how to make it happen.

In this section we’ll walk through the 8 steps you can take to align your employee training with business goals:

1. Define your business goals

Defining your business goals from the beginning sets the foundation for your training objectives. 

It will allow you to be more strategic in your investment in training initiatives. With your business goals in focus, you’ll have a better understanding of what you’ll get in return for your efforts. For example, if you’re focused on improving employee engagement, it would make sense to put your managers through a management training program.

With clear business goals, you’ll also be able to develop key performance indicators (KPIs), which will help you gauge the effectiveness of your training. This more granular understanding is necessary to improve your training efforts in the future.

Once you’ve set your business goals, you can start focusing on putting together the training initiatives needed to reach them.

If you’re not sure where to start with goals, check out this goal-setting framework guide.

2. Assess your team’s current performance and skills gap

At this point, you have a better understanding of org-wide objectives. Map out your team’s goals to company objectives and identify current knowledge or skill gaps. You can do the latter by conducting a Training Needs Assessment.

According to the US Office of Personnel Management, the goal of Training Needs Assessment is “to identify performance requirements and the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by an agency’s workforce to achieve the requirements.”

Training needs assessment

As the USOPM explains, there are three types of assessments to conduct:

  • Organizational assessments: Evaluate the overall strengths and weaknesses of the team or cohort in focus. Think about what your team as a whole should know or be able to do to reach your goals.
  • Occupational assessments: Identify gaps in on-the-ground performance, and what will be required to bridge these gaps as your team strives toward your business goals.
  • Individual assessments: Focus on specific members of the team in question—look at the role they play within the group. This’ll help you provide relevant, unique training to individual team members to support team progress towards a common goal.

The first step of this process is to identify the cause of your team’s less-than-stellar performance. Getting to the root cause of the issue will keep your attention focused on making meaningful improvements to your team’s knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Note: Making assumptions about where the problem lies may lead to minor improvements, but the underlying issue will still be present. In turn, there will always be something holding your employees back from their true potential.

Once you’ve identified this root cause, you’ll need to identify what your team must know, understand, or improve to reach your business goals. 

For example, if your business goal is to close more high-value deals, your sales team might need more training in delivering relevant and personalized upsell offers. Or, your marketing team might need help bringing in higher-value leads.

Identifying knowledge and/or skills gaps will require assessing your team members in a structured and standardized manner. Whether you assess them via written test, observation, one-on-one meetings, surveys—or a combination of these and other methods—you need to have a crystal clear understanding of where improvements can be made in order to get the most out of your training initiatives.

We’ll come back to all this in step 4 when we start setting more specific training goals for your employees.

3. Identify who’s involved and how

Once you know what you hope to accomplish, you need to identify the teams and employees involved—and determine the role each of them play in your training initiatives moving forward.

Depending on your goals, there are a number of possibilities here. 

In some cases, you’ll be focusing on a specific department within your organization. In others, you might be training a specific cohort or subset of employees. Or, you might be bringing multiple teams together to improve their collaborative efforts.

This all depends on the type of training you’re looking to organize at the moment.

At any rate, identifying who’s involved—and getting all stakeholders to buy into the training initiative—is critical to future progress.

All involved members must also understand how they’re involved in the training process. 

Here, you’ll think about:

  • Who’s being trained
  • Who’s doing the training
  • Who can help support both trainers and trainees throughout the process

Now’s also the time to start thinking of the dynamics of your training initiatives. Will direct instruction may be most efficient? Or will a more interactive approach be necessary? Will the training be synchronous or asynchronous? It all depends on what’s being taught, and what the intended outcomes are.

The idea is to get all involved parties on the same page, and help them understand what to expect as your training sessions get underway.

4. Set your training goals

Now, your focus should be on setting concrete goals for the upcoming training initiative. 

Following the SMART framework is essential here, as it allows you to gauge the impact your training sessions have on your team members.

hypercontext SMART Goals

Instead of focusing on your big picture business goals like you did in step 1, now you’ll be setting more specific goals related to your employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Overall, you’ll want to define:

  • What your learners will know, or know how to do, upon successful completion of the training
  • How your learners will show that they’ve gained said knowledge or abilities
  • How you’ll measure their growth over time

OKRs (objectives and key results) are a great way to do this.

professional development goal- build cross functional knowledge
Source: Hypercontext goal library
professional development goal example- improve feedback skills
Source: Hypercontext goal library
professional development goal example- be more effective with time management
Source: Hypercontext goals library

Note the focus on self-assessment and/or self-monitoring throughout the learning process. Giving your employees the opportunity to take accountability for their growth (and their performance, overall) will make them much more likely to reach their intended goals.

Be sure to tie these learner-specific goals to your overarching business goals, too. 

Remember: The entire point of training your employees in a certain area is to see better business results. If your employees’ growth in said area won’t impact your bottom line, you’ll probably want to focus your training efforts elsewhere.

5. Invest in the right employee training

By now, you’ll know:

  • Who needs to be trained
  • Who will do the teaching
  • What needs to be learned
  • How to best instil the learner with the necessary knowledge or skills
  • How to gauge the learner’s growth over time

Now, it’s time to actually put the training sessions together. 

Of course, your approach here will depend on your unique circumstances. Overall, though, you’ll have two key decisions to make at this point.

  1. In-house vs. outsourcing: You need to decide if you’re going to create everything in-house, or if relying on a third-party to deliver the training is the better option. This, again, goes back to thinking of your training efforts as a business investment — and understanding the impact each path will have on your bottom line.
  2. Training format: You’ll also need to determine the optimal format for your training sessions. With your business goals and learning outcomes in mind, think about the best way to transfer the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to your learners. As mentioned above, it may be through direct instruction, guided demonstrations, using an online course platform, communities of practice—or a combination of these and other methods.

No matter how you’ll be presenting your training, there are a few best practices to follow at all times.

For one, make it engaging, building interaction into your training sessions whenever possible. Even when presenting the learning material through direct instruction, your employees should have the opportunity to use what they’ve learned in some way throughout their training.

You also want to allow for self-paced, self-guided learning throughout the experience. Some ways to do this include:

  • Providing instructional content on demand
  • Presenting learning material non-sequentially whenever possible
  • Offering guided self-assessments

Finally, provide opportunities for your learners to engage with one another. Bringing your employees together to share what they’ve learned not only reinforces this learning, but enhances it, as well.

6. Communicate your expectations

Before you get your training initiative underway, you need to make your expectations clear to all involved parties.

This way, you’ll get everyone on the same page from the start of the initiative — and pave a path to success for all to follow.

First, provide an overview for the training to be completed. Here, you’ll discuss:

  • The purpose of the training
  • The reason the training is necessary
  • Who will be involved, and the roles they’ll play throughout the training

Next, communicate to all stakeholders the sought-after outcomes for the training, focusing on both performance and business goals. 

While your business goals will be the same for all involved parties, it’s important to create individual performance goals for each of your learners. This will allow each employee to focus on their knowledge and abilities—and enable them to get the absolute most out of their learning experiences.

Keep in mind: It’s not enough to talk about your goals once. Keep coming back to them throughout training by keeping them at the top of your meeting agendas. That way, they’ll stay top-of-mind.

Finally, explain how your employees will benefit from successful completion of the training. 

Be sure to point out:

  • How the training will better equip them to do their job
  • What opportunities will open up for them as they grow
  • How their growth will benefit their team’s performance and the performance of the company as a whole

More than just getting everyone on the same page functionally, proper communication will keep everyone aligned in terms of their mindset and outlook. This, in turn, will keep everyone motivated throughout the training initiative as they work toward a common goal.

7. Document learnings

As the training gets underway, it’s important to give your employees multiple opportunities to document what they learn throughout the experience.

In some cases, this process should be rather informal—and a bit more personal. Throughout the training initiative, your employees should keep a running record of what they’ve learned, how they’ve grown, and what they need to focus on moving forward.

Your learning community should also come together throughout the training initiative to document their growth as a whole. This should happen fairly regularly — either at specific time intervals or upon reaching certain milestones. Of course, learners can also come together on-the-fly to discuss and document their growth.

This is where knowledge management comes in.

With a strategic approach to knowledge management, your team of learners will work to document your new knowledge in a way that’s easily accessible and digestible for others within your organization.

Helpjuice knowledge management

Of course, the best way to present certain knowledge and information depends on the nature of the knowledge in question. While explicit knowledge can often be explained through text, communicating tacit knowledge often requires the use of video and other types of observable content.

Here’s what this could look like:

Documenting this new knowledge serves three key purposes:

  • It solidifies the learner’s understanding of the topic at hand
  • It helps them focus on areas where their knowledge and skills might be lacking
  • It creates an asset which other team members can learn from as needed

With this knowledge at the ready at all times, your employees will be able to follow the best practices needed to achieve their goals. This, in turn, will bring you ever closer to attaining the goals you’ve set for your business.

8. Assess growth and make improvements over time

Finally, it’s crucial that you assess the effectiveness of your training sessions as time goes on.

This should happen both throughout the experience, and as you begin to wrap up your training initiative.

As we’ve mentioned, your learners should conduct self-assessments as they go through their training. This will give them a better idea of what they know, what they’ve learned, and where their knowledge and abilities need to be enhanced.

You should also check in with your learners over time to gauge their progress. Whether just facilitating self-assessment or providing this assessment to your team members, it’s important to keep tabs on their growth throughout their training. One-on-ones are a great opportunity to do this. While people tend to lean towards work conversations in their one-on-ones, it’s also an important time to talk about growth and development.

Using Hypercontext, you can keep your goals at the top of your one-on-one meetings so you can continue to track progress each week.

As time goes on, and your employees begin implementing their new knowledge and abilities into their daily operations, you’ll then shift your focus onto your business goals.

Here’s where you’ll determine:

  • Whether your employees have learned what they needed to learn to improve their performance
  • How these improvements have led to improved business performance
  • How your training efforts can be enhanced to lead to better outcomes in the future

It’s more than just “whether or not” your efforts led to growth for your business. 

(If your training initiative was even the least bit effective, it will likely have some positive impact on your business.)

But:

Our goal from the start has been to maximize the returns you get from your training-related investments.

By staying focused on your business goals, you’ll be better able to gauge the true impact of your training initiatives. From there, you can make laser-focused improvements to your training sessions and learning materials — knowing with certainty that these improvements will lead to better things for your business.

Maximize employee development by staying aligned over time

Employee development is all but necessary to reach your business goals.

But, it’s only effective when implemented with these goals in mind. Really, your business goals should always be top-of-mind when putting together a new training initiative.

🎯 Learn more about how Hypercontext can help you keep your business goals top-of-mind at all times.

Emil Hajric, CEO and Founder of Helpjuice

Emil Hajric is the Founder and CEO of Helpjuice – a powerful knowledge management software company. Emil is an organizational learning expert & author of “Knowledge Management: A Theoretical and Practical Guide for Knowledge Management in Your Organization.”