Training & Development Programs: Why You Need Them & How To Build Your Own

I know what you’re thinking: “Another article on professional development? I’ve read like, 15 this past week!”

If this is you, I have a few things to say:

  1. Kudos to you for investing time in your own development
  2. Have you considered reading anything else? … Or like, going for a walk?
  3. Don’t worry, we’re not going down that same route.

Not to say professional development isn’t important. It’s extremely valuable for staff and organizations to allocate time and invest resources into the betterment of themselves. My issue with professional development is they’re often short-lived; they last a day at a conference or are a short workshop series that don’t go past a month. In many cases, professional development opportunities are offered simply for the sake of professional development, and fail to address the root cause of their existence, namely the improvement of skills for those involved to be more effective in what they do.

A training & development program instead seeks to utilize the goals of professional development and unify them with effective skill learning, integrates feedback loops to ensure consistent progress over time. This sets timelines to gauge that progress, offer periods of time for intense work, and slower periods of time for reflection.

I utilized my first official program during my time coordinating the social media for my alma mater’s recruitment office: one I researched, designed, proposed, and implemented with my team of nine social media staff. The impacts? The highest performing posts that our social media ever saw, a massive uptick of followers across our main platforms, and my team developing integral skills within such a short time frame and with only little extra resources (along with the many other benefits: including our followers excitement when they met any of our team in person, a better awareness of the roles across campus, and more).

The great thing about this program I used is that it was self-made and I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on it. At most, I used a couple books and some intuitive thinking to address a need in our department. The concept of this program is one that can be applied to any role whether a student organization, a not-for-profit, a political office, or a local business. You don’t need to fork up thousands of dollars for one, and you don’t need to sign up for pre-existing fellowships (although that may be part of the program you make, depending on your priorities). A training & development program is one that anyone can create and benefit from, catered to your individual needs.

So, let’s jump into the basics of creating your own Training & Development Program!

Step #1: Determine The Goals

The first step in creating a Training & Development Program is to determine the purpose. Obviously the overarching goal is to develop the skills & competencies of those going through this program. It may help you to spend some time in a more contextual mindset, looking for specific things you may want to see accomplished during the duration of this program you’re creating. For example: do you want to see a marked improvement of graphic design skills? An increase in the amount of doors knocked during a campaign, or an increase in the quality of those interactions?

I’m a big proponent of mixing in behaviour with these goals. You tread a fine line when you’re trying to shape the behaviour of people. However, if you can strike a balance between concrete changes while maintaining flexibility & respect of person, you can develop skills at a much faster pace. The important part is ensuring you’re on the same page with your team in terms of how each individual learns best.

So when you’re creating this program, first determine what you plan to accomplish with it. Once you know that, you can create a system that ensures these goals are being attended to over the long-run.

This is a side-point, but is extremely important: make sure you’re developing transferable skills, especially in a dynamic where you’re working with people who want to further their careers (I’m coming from a university standpoint, working with undergraduates). It’s integral that you keep in mind they have their own journey and life to live. Developing unique skills is great, but you’re not helping them if they can’t expand their horizons outside of the confines of your office. It’s important you help them, so they can help you. This means, you need to align your program to their personal priorities so they can develop themselves while meeting your requirements.

Example: When I started developing this program for my team of nine student staff, my goals were the following: teaching the Snapchat/Instagram team skills to perform better on the camera (as much of their job was talking to the camera), creating more visually appealing photos for my Instagram team (as the Instagram feed was quickly becoming our “battleground” where we’d win over prospective students), teach them about structuring campaigns by aligning our efforts with the overall recruitment cycle, and fix communication challenges from previous years so the team felt on the same page and appreciated. Included in this was some of their own priorities that we aligned with: teaching them the fundamentals behind digital & social media strategy (one wants to work in Public Health, so learning about digital & social media to educate the public was important to her), or learning more about the “behind the scenes” of the University of Guelph (giving them opportunities to meet faculty and gain access to typically restricted areas through their role).

You’ll notice these goals are fairly scattered and fragmented. That’s fine — in fact I’d encourage a bit more complexity in your goals. The next step is meant to unify these goals into a streamlined process so multiple goals are met in a more direct way.

SMART Goals fit well here, as they can fit nicely into a program that has a set timeframe, is being measured, and is within the context of the situation at hand.

Step #2: Set The Structure

Following up on our goal setting, this step is meant to kill two (or 20) birds with one stone. The structure of the program needs to be simple and flexible, as inevitably there will be setbacks and unexpected events that shift the landscape you’re operating in. A flexible structure will allow you to progress, adjust when things aren’t working, and change things on the fly if need be.

Structure can take any form you’d like, the important part is ensuring you have a strong base, a feedback loop during the program, and an end to review on the past performance. When we worked on this program, we built our structure off the team’s class schedule. Our school is semestered, so our blocks were the following:

  1. Before Classes (July & August)
  2. 1st Semester (September to December)
  3. 2nd Semester (January to April)
  4. After Classes (May onward)

Here’s how we broke it down!

Before classes:

  • planning, research, and forming of the training & development program.
  • This period of time is for the staff to determine priorities, goals, skills for the team to develop, etc.
  • Drafting of resources, processes for the team to communicate with us, expectations, etc. in a document so they can reference important information easy.

So, the structure went as follows:

Semester 1:

  • Introductory meeting: set the context of the role, determine skills to develop
  • Throughout the semester: establishing best practices for feedback & coaching with each team member, weekly feedback on development of skills, introducing new initiatives such as our social media campaign where we taught them how to encourage our viewers to register for an Event Day, etc.
  • End of semester: 1-on-1 meetings, thank you’s, recap of the semester & discussions on departmental improvement

Semester 2:

  • Welcome-back meeting: set the context of the coming semester, determine new skills to develop
  • Throughout the semester: more in-depth feedback on more complex skills, aligning posting with dates & deadlines so they can learn how to integrate their role into a larger digital strategy, etc.
  • End of semester: one-on-one’s, thank you’s, and questionnaires where they can give more in-depth answers on areas the department can improve and how we can shape the role for the next cycle. Additionally, sharing with them their accomplishments so they can see what they contributed to and the unique skills they developed and can share with future employers

After Classes:

  • Reflection: read feedback questionnaires, organize comments thematically and research possible solutions to any issues that arose during the transition out, or ways to improve the role for the upcoming cycle.

This seems like a very simple list, but in reality it was much more comprehensive. Each semester was much more in-depth, I checked in with each team member individually on a weekly basis, and gave specific feedback. It wasn’t long before their skill development began showing, as their posts started improving drastically and our data reflected the improvements.

The ingredients for an effective structure are as follows:

  • The Beginning (where you set context, ensure they have what they need, know how to approach a few scenarios, and share what the year will look like)
  • The Middle (where you’ll be working more “in the trenches” with your team, offering group & individual feedback + coaching to gradually develop over time, and aligning the team’s tasks with overall strategies & the bigger picture)
  • The End (where you’ll settle down, regroup, reflect, and review. This is where you’ll share accomplishments, give them a chance to give you more in-depth feedback for you, and adjust course for the future).

A key point in this structure is the sharing of skills you want them to develop and how you and your team will do so, while encouraging open communication between your team and you. This will allow your team to progress and develop at a much faster pace.

So look at your organizations calendar, start putting together some dates & timelines, determine what you want to accomplish and how, and work within that to create a structure that your training & development program will exist in.

A Content Calendar can be a great way to start with your program structure, as you can align the process with your tasks to develop skills while completing what’s needed. Populate that calendar!

Step #3: Adjust Course As You Sail

Inevitably during the course of the program you’ve made, priorities will shift and you will need to adjust. That is alright. All great plans and strategies have an aspect of “winging it” to them, of figuring out the details later. While it helps to plan as much as you can before you implement the program, you will need to keep an open mind and your finger on the pulse to tweak the process.

This is more of a thought process than a specific task, as every program is going to be different and influenced by a number of factors (the people involved, the context of the program, its own goals, the goals of the team, black swans/unexpected events, etc.)

Ultimately, what you will need to do is include in your schedule/structure a way of maintaining some investment in the process. For example, you may include a monthly check-in with your team to get feedback, or to participate in some of the tasks to get a feel of what the team experiences (during the social media ambassador training program at my old job, I was in charge of doing a Snapchat/IG story once a week, and posting on IG once a week as well). However you approach it, remember that your flexibility and adaptability are paramount in this. When you’re building something from the ground up, you’ll inevitably have to adapt as you go. That’s no marker of failure. iIn fact, the ability to change is integral in your ability to succeed, I’d argue that it’s a requirement of the successful.

While I was taking photos for Instagram, I realized that it became increasingly annoying to have to run around and take a new photo during my already hectic schedule. Then I realized that was what my team had to deal with regularly. As such, I included creating a photo bank into our communications, encouraging them to block off some time to go and take a large amount of photos for them to save. That way, if they got super busy, they could pull from their photo bank instead.

So, adjust course as you sail. Always make sure you keep your finger on the pulse, and that you know what your team is feeling, what you’re feeling, and if things need to change to better adhere to everyone and everything involved.

Please don’t sink your ship while you’re steering it.

Step #4: Review, Reflect, Readjust

This step builds on the previous one, and is integral to your overall program. While the previous step focuses on small tweaks throughout the program, this is a specific step that takes place at the end (although you can set up your program to support it throughout its duration by ensuring open communication and writing down anything you hear or notice). Establish a “draw-down” period as the program ends to gather as much information and feedback about it as you can, and take some time to reflect over the program in its entirety. You can break this step down into three mini-steps:

Review:

Collect as much feedback, data, and information as you can about the program. This is where you compile questionnaires, performance data, positive and negative comments about the program, opinions, etc. During this step, compile it all into a report of sorts or summaries of what you’re looking at.

Reflect:

Spend some time mulling over the information you’ve compiled and think back on the program, finding ways to connect what you have to what was happening throughout the program. Some guiding questions for this step: was there an area we could’ve performed better? Why was this an issue? What made this staff member perform so well in this specific scenario, but they struggled during another similar scenario? Did our methods accomplish what we set out to do? Were the goals we set reasonable? Ultimately, what you need to do is deeply reflect on the program in its entirety, and get an understanding of the whole picture. Once you do that, you can move on to the final step, which is…

Readjust:

Now that you have all the information in one place, and have spent an ample amount of time reflecting on the program, you can determine what’s next: whether you need to make your goals more lofty (because they were reached very quickly), you need to spend more time working on yourself (you struggled to connect with your team), you need to add an extra step (like having a set timeframe you share information with the team), you need to remove a step (taking out a meeting that wasn’t as valuable), and so on. Maybe you need to go back to the drawing board and redo it all. That’s alright. Now you know what did and didn’t work, and what you can improve on in the future.

So, at the end of your program, make sure you have a period of time where you’re collecting as much feedback as you can, compiling it all together with data, and giving yourself some time to make sense of it all. Then make the necessary changes for the next cycle, and BAM! You’re on your way.

This should be you, except maybe less numbers (unless that’s your thing).

To conclude…

So, these are my recommendations for creating a Training & Development Program. From the establishing of goals for yourself, the organization, and your team, to creating the structure and ensuring you’re keeping up to date with it and improve it as you go, these steps will be beneficial to you while you create your own to bring out the best in your team, accelerate their learning, and amplify your impact.

Programs like these are integral to the accomplishments of organizations, especially those that don’t have the resources to hire the “cream of the crop” or massive and costly management firms. Creating your own program will give you the opportunity to create something designed for your unique scenario, one that you have ownership over, at a much lower cost. It gives you, your team, and your organization ample opportunity to create something new, which is in-of-itself a valuable endeavour.

So, go knock em’ out of the park.

Carpe diem, kids.

Resources:

  • The Talent Code & The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport
  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Mastery by Robert Greene
  • Getting From College To Career by Lindsey Pollack
  • Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun
  • Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

Poli Sci grad, Comms Strategist, great at remembering names and terrible at pronouncing them. I write on political psych, practical philosophy, and random stuff

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