A forward-thinking training and development plan—one that includes setting concrete, measurable goals for employees—can get the most out of a solid human capital strategy. But as I’ve learned after 20 years in this business, it shouldn’t be created on a whim. Follow these tried-and-true techniques to develop a plan that will benefit both your company and your employees.

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Before you set objectives for your employees, it’s essential to align any and all development plans with your company’s needs.

First, examine the long- and short-term objectives that are driving your business. Then identify the skills, knowledge, and competencies necessary to support those objectives. Your goals might include things like increasing employee performance, product quality, or customer satisfaction. Or they could be related to continued growth.

Say, for example, your goal is to grow your business by 10% next year, but to hit that target you’ll need additional leaders. What skills will these leaders need to have? Can these skills be found among any of your current employees who could be promoted into these roles? If not, create a plan to bridge the gap between current employee skill sets and needed skill sets. This may mean providing a path for employees to learn new information or to develop new behaviors that can save you time and money on recruiting, onboarding, and training outsiders.

Your management and human resources teams should consider exactly how changes in employee behavior or skill sets will directly affect your company’s bottom line. The desired impact of your program should be crystal clear as you move forward in your planning.

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Employee loyalty goes only so far. Sure, people want a good paycheck and benefits, but they also want opportunities to learn, grow, and advance. Providing your employees with the ability to expand their skills or career path will help increase their loyalty. Meanwhile, you can advance your company’s agenda in tandem. It’s a win-win.

With the bounty of benefits involved in developing an employee training and development program, you might be eager to get started. Keep in mind, however, that good leaders involve their employees in the goal process directly. By that I mean training and development goals should be set on an individual basis, with managers and employees speaking directly to one another—in person or via webcam, not by text or email.

Face-to-face discussions will help you get a better understanding of your employees’ skill sets, career goals, and aspirations. Perhaps that accountant you had pegged for a managerial position down the road is perfectly happy being a trusted member of the rank-and-file. But you won’t know until you ask. In-person conversations will also help you uncover organizational needs that you might otherwise be unaware of. For example, you might ask employees where they see a specific need for training or what day-to-day challenges they face that could be overcome with new training or development initiatives.

Some employees may already have a good idea of their future career path, while others will look to you for guidance. A dialogue allows you to work together to determine growth opportunities.


During the performance review process, you may be tempted to write your employees’ goals for them. Avoid this at all costs! It’s crucial to make it a collaborative process. Employees will be much more motivated to meet a goal that they create vs. one they’ve been assigned. The “SMART GROW” method provides an easy-to-follow formula that everyone can use. It forces employees not only to consider what the goal is, but also how to define success, how to achieve it, and how it will play into the business as a whole.

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As you help employees set goals, make sure they’re realistic. (I find that people sometimes have very lofty ideas about what can be accomplished.) But you’ll also want to set goals that require the employee to stretch—to learn something new or be challenged. Keep in mind, though, that these goals must be attainable. When objectives are too vague or broad, it’s much more difficult to measure an employee’s progress.

Vague goals are one thing, but broad goals can fade over the course of the year. They’re weak because there’s no driving force behind them. For example, say your employee David wants to set a goal to “sell more.” This leaves a lot of room for interpretation. How is “more” defined? When and how will it be accomplished?

That’s where the idea of measurable, specific, and timely goals can shape your conversation. Using the SMART GROW method as a guide, here are some questions to consider:

  • What do we most need to accomplish this year? How will the employee contribute to that?
  • What skills does the employee need to acquire or improve to do a better job?
  • How much time is needed to achieve this goal, and what will it cost?
  • How will progress be measured?
  • How realistic is this goal?

Meanwhile, think about where each employee is in his or her career. For example, an employee who’s nearing retirement age may have very different goals from someone who’s just starting out.

When you meet to discuss the coming year’s goals, make sure they’re written in a way that allows you to accomplish what’s really needed. For example, say David proposes that his goal will be to “increase my sales by 20% over the previous year.” This is a SMART goal that’s specific, measurable, and time-bound, and you both agree it’s attainable and aligns with the company’s goals.

To also push David to GROW, however, you want him to sell more consistently throughout the year, not just chase one big sale that will enable him to reach that 20% bump. Therefore, the goal should be reworded so that David is motivated to improve his selling skills through more training or mentoring. This addresses the need for consistency and creates a way forward. It also leaves little to the imagination and clearly communicates what David should accomplish.

In the case of long-term goals, you’ll have to work with each employee to create multilayered results that reward incremental progress. For example, say Julie wants to go for her Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree while continuing to work full-time. Because multiyear goals can’t be accomplished in a single year, you’ll have to break down the overall goal year by year—perhaps in this case by setting a minimum number of credits Julie must earn each semester to meet her long-term goal.


No matter how SMART your business goals are, they’ll lose their power if you don’t evaluate their impact. In other words, employees need to see that their hard work and dedication toward progress have been noticed and are being rewarded. With SMART goals, all the details are laid out so that you and your employees are always on the same page. This way, when it comes to conducting a performance review, there are no surprises.

Monitor goals along the way by revisiting them regularly, and also assess whether or not goals are being met in the time frame outlined. When performance appraisals are spread too far apart, you’re less likely to correct problems or stimulate improvement. In fact, the review process should be ongoing—not just viewed as an annual event. When performance reviews are infrequent or rushed, it opens the door for sloppy and inconsistent documentation as well as potential mistakes.

Be positive as much as possible during these performance reviews. Always remember to recognize success publicly and, if there’s a problem, to coach the employee in private. Additionally, you want to make sure you’re encouraging the appropriate employee responses and behaviors with your coaching. Finally, and most important, you need to ensure you’re moving the company toward your vision of the future.


Developmental programs can include a combination of activities, such as on-site classes, e-learning, m-learning, gamification, conferences, and one-on-one coaching. Let’s explore the many training delivery methods you can consider as you move forward.

ON-SITE CLASSES. A group teaching environment brings employees together in one room and allows them to learn as a team. When led by a skilled facilitator, adult education classes can help strengthen relationships between participants while keeping the individual’s learning needs in balance. For example, a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) course held with your management team would allow the group to brush up on their skill sets while building good rapport with one another.

The downside: Everyone involved in the training must be away from their workstations at the same time. This can be a scheduling challenge for some companies.

Best for: Fostering a team mind-set.

E-LEARNING. With electronic learning, also called e-learning, you get convenient and flexible online training. You can either allow employees to participate at their own pace or offer live sessions with more interactivity.

Self-paced training helps accommodate many different learning styles while also providing consistency through prerecorded content. This ensures all participants get the same training. Live online sessions for groups provide the benefit of having an instructor who can answer questions in real time while still providing the convenience of remote technology. Either way, e-learning is great for teaching technical skills and conveying complex policies and procedures. It’s also ideal for company-wide compliance training or other situations where it may be hard to get everyone trained in a face-to-face setting before a deadline.

Best for: Self-motivated groups of employees who have access to a computer, staff-wide training goals, and very individualized objectives.

M-LEARNING. Mobile learning, or m-learning, delivers training to employees on their handheld devices, usually through an app. M-learning facilitates learning “on the move.” This may include learning while traveling, sitting, or walking by watching a video or listening to a prerecorded program. The best m-learning content occurs in a series of short lessons that run 3 to 10 minutes each. This caters to the on-the-go nature of the mobile format. I’ve found that employees appreciate the convenience of m-learning and tend to be motivated to complete it.

E-learning modules and m-learning often are intertwined. E-learning modules can act as the main vehicle for content, while m-learning modules function as tools for on-demand access to information, feedback, advice, support, and specific learning materials.

The downside: Employees must have a compatible mobile device to participate. With the proliferation of smartphones, however, this may be easier to accommodate than ensuring everyone has a computer to use.

Best for: Employees who travel frequently or are otherwise challenged to find consistent, uninterrupted time at their desks.

GAMIFICATION. Gamification allows you to use game mechanics to channel your employees’ competitive spirit and to get them interactively engaged in course materials. This can help employees change behaviors, learn new skills, innovate, or solve problems while having a little fun, too.

Essentially, this training method is an extension of e-learning or m-learning that adds gaming elements, such as a countdown to beat the clock or a point system. It can also be used in on-site classes to get your whole team involved in an activity at once. For example, to learn better sales skills, your employees might play a game that involves answering questions about your products and services in a trivia format. (One of the questions might be “Which of the following products did our company first sell internationally?”) This helps to reinforce new information in an engaging way, so it’s easier for employees to absorb.

Best for: Problem solving, motivating people, and promoting learning.

CONFERENCES. Conferences allow employees to attend multiple educational sessions on a variety of topics related to their field, learn about new industry trends, network with peers, and bring back useful information.

To ensure each employee got something useful out of the conference, it’s important to ask:

  • What new things did you learn?
  • What were your takeaways?
  • How will you apply what you’ve learned?

Post-conference presentations are also a good way to reinforce what employees have learned and to share new information with your team. For example, if Sarah attended a marketing conference, ask her to develop a presentation for the marketing department about the most interesting presentation she saw or new vendors she met.

Best for: Helping your employees learn, stay on top of industry trends, and network with others in similar positions.

ONE-ON-ONE COACHING AND MENTORING. While more time-consuming, coaching and mentoring are more direct and individualized ways to help develop your employees. When you’re coaching or mentoring an employee, focus on what the end result should look like rather than how you think the employee should get there. In other words, what’s the big picture? How will it affect your overall company objectives? How will it affect your employees’ roles in the long run? If you can explain these elements to your employees, all of you can get on the same page.

Consider giving your employees an example of what their end goals should look like, or set specific criteria for what their output should include. In the same conversation, discuss a project timeline and set milestones that build toward the end goal. In addition, schedule check-in meetings that allow you to get together along the way and evaluate how things are going. Talk about a deadline, and indicate how important the timing may (or may not) be to the success of the project.

As your employees work toward accomplishing the goal, let them ask questions. Give praise for what’s going right with the project, or make suggestions if they need more direction. Also ensure your employees have access to all the resources necessary to meet the goal. Are there any tools you can provide to make the process go more smoothly? Continue checking in and giving feedback until your employees have met the criteria you set.

After the agreed-upon steps have been completed, take time with your employees to look back on the project as a whole. Be sure to make time to celebrate success and reward their accomplishments. This positive reinforcement helps make the extra effort feel worth it to your employees and encourages them to keep moving forward.

Best for: Creating self-motivated employees. It will take more time than usual, but when you “teach a man to fish,” as the saying goes, the results can have a lasting impact.


You need your employees to become masters of what they’ve learned so they can translate it into better job performance. So put some creative thought into selecting which method will be best for your employees to absorb the information they’re learning. Meanwhile, stay aware of the cost of your training and development program. You don’t want to spend valuable resources only to realize the program isn’t making an impact.

As you determine which training methods are most appropriate for each employee, don’t just focus on one factor. For example, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which format will be most convenient and motivating?
  • Which one will work with the training methods we’re already using?
  • Which one provides the most impact to the desired end result?
  • Which format has the most impact for the company?
  • What is the cost to the company?

Keep in mind that it isn’t the delivery method that causes the learning but how that delivery method is used to support the learning process.


Crafting a training and development program with care will help you develop your most valuable and powerful asset—your employees. And when you take the time to properly nurture your employees, it will not only help you make your workforce more effective and knowledgeable, but it can also help improve employee satisfaction and retention. Put simply, you advance your company while energizing your workforce.

Moreover, you’ll gain a reputation as an employer of choice—one that emphasizes the importance of employee development—allowing you to attract more talent as your company continues to grow. And in an increasingly global economy, growth is what it’s all about these days.

The winners in this constantly shifting economy will be the ones that use not only their products and services but the people behind them. Putting the spotlight on your employees now will allow your organization to shine in the future.

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