Chapter 6, Designing Training Programs


This chapter will help you

► recognize ways to develop training programs that support organizational goals

► identify ways to implement objectives to meet these

► understand the elements involved in designing a training model

► design training programs that meet multiple clients’ needs


The previous chapters described conducting and presenting the needs assessment. Once the needs assessment has been conducted and the data have been analyzed and presented to appropriate people, the trainer is ready to design programs to address these needs. A “vocational danger” in the training profession is the temptation to do “art for art’s sake.” It is important to remember that rather than falling in love with our favorite topics or our favorite methods and techniques, we need to stick to the goals and objectives established through our needs analysis. Training programs ultimately are evaluated on the basis of how much they help organizations meet goals and objectives.

Goal Development

Goals are the long-term outcomes we hope to accomplish. Because they are long-term, they tend to be relatively vague and difficult to measure. An example of a long-term goal for a company is increased profits; other examples are greater productivity from employees, increased morale, more accuracy and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. Sometimes goals such as these can be translated into more specific terms. For example, the goal of increased profits can be translated into dollars or percentages. Goals also can be put into time frames, such as one month or one year. Customer satisfaction can be measured by customer comments and other forms of feedback and, ultimately, repeat business. Other goals, such as increased morale, are much more difficult to describe in tangible terms. Nevertheless, the management of every organization has an idea of what it means by these goals–for example, morale may be measured by how willingly employees will learn each other’s jobs, how quickly they will fill in for a coworker who is absent, or how they rate the department or firm on a survey questionnaire. Because of limitations in both time and budget, and because of the degree of competition among organizational departments for these resources, the training department must make sure that everyone in the organization sees how the training programs contribute to the organizational goals.

This may sound simpler than it really is. Largely because of time constraints and also because of organizational politics, organizational goals as top management identifies them may be difficult for the trainer to identify. For example, top management’s official, publicized goals may be to provide excellence and quality. But what does this mean in practical terms? In a sense, this is marketing issue. Just as a marketing person must know the customer’s goals before he or she can sell a product, so must the trainer know the goals of top management. Ideally, this information would reach the trainer through the hierarchy. In other words, the trainer’s boss would get information about company goals through his or her own boss, and so on. In reality, however, there are often big gaps in the formal communication system. These gaps mean that the trainer may not know the specific, day-to-day details that top management defines as excellence or quality. Because of these gaps, the trainer must have access to the informal network within the organization. The informal network is the relationships among people. Usually, these relationships do not follow the pattern of the formal chain of command as indicated by such things as organizational charts. Instead, informal relationships are based on common interest, shared experiences, friendships, and other kinds of circumstances beyond the actual work environment. While the formal chain of command indicates the way things are supposed to be, the informal system represents the way things are. Through such informal sources as the grapevine, social visits, or casual remarks made by someone in the carpool, the trainer may learn the specifics of what top management means by its long-term goals. In one firm, for example, the president’s idea of excellence was employees conforming to official standards, while in another firm the president wanted suggestions from workers at all levels. The trainer must get both formal and informal communication about top management’s goals.

Top managers are not the only ones with goals. Every department has its own goals, which should be based on organizational goals. Departmental goals tend to be a little more specific than the organizational goals. For example, the marketing department’s goals might be to save money in advertising, to find innovative ways to sell new products, or to increase the creativity of its employees. In a manufacturing firm, the goals of the assembly line might be to increase the productivity of each employee or to decrease turnover. In designing training programs, the trainer must become very familiar with the department’ s goals.

As organizations become more team oriented, and as teams become more self-directed, each team within a department also has its own specific goals. For example, a team of manufacturing specialists working on the assembly line may hire its own coworkers. The objective of team members may be to improve the own interviewing skills or to establish uniform criteria with which to select the best applicants. Sometimes, teams consist of employees from two or more departments. A goal of such a team may be, for example, establishing an organization-wide mentoring program for high-potential employees. The trainer must be clear about the goals of different teams within and among departments.

In addition, individual employees have their own goals and the trainer must learn what these goals are. Just as department or team goals sometimes may differ from – and even conflict with – organizational goals, employee goals may differ from department or team goals. An employee may want shorter hours or more interesting work, while the department manager may want longer shifts and more routine steps, and the team wants more training for job rotation. Some employees may be interested in career opportunities, while others may simply want to “put in their time.” The trainer must coordinate employee goals with team, department, and organizational goals.

The training department itself, and teams within the department, also have their own goals. Usually, the director of training reports to a vice-president, either of personnel or human resource development, or of a related area. Presumably, the vice-president is active in the organizational goal-setting at the top level. Through this formal channel – and through the informal channels discussed earlier – the training department is aware of organizational goals. This department, however, really is a liaison, both between top management and all other departments and among individual departments and teams. The training department also has its own teams, and must do liaison work among these teams as well. This liaison, or linking, role exists because training is the department that knows the most about everyone else’s needs. In addition to addressing top management goals, the training department needs to mesh the goals of each department and team within the firm.

Once the training department is familiar with organizational goals from the top and throughout the company, priorities need to be reestablished. Budgetary and time constraints make it impossible to do everything. Instead, only a certain number of goals will be accomplished at any given time. Needs that are identified through the assessment process help indicate which goals are most important. Sometimes, the training department makes these decisions. Often, however, training must check with top management to get input about priorities. For example, suppose the employees needed training both in using new equipment and in dealing with customers, but time and money allowed for only one kind of training in the next six months. The trainer probably would check with management before choosing which program to schedule first.

By using the needs assessment data as a way of determining which goals need to be met, the trainer is better able to establish priorities. As an example, suppose that one of the company goals is to improve customer reaction to the firm and its products. Suppose that on the level of the marketing department, the goal is to improve customer relations over the telephone. Without knowing anything about needs, it might appear appropriate for the training department to design a course in telephone courtesy. However, what if the needs assessment indicated problems in the areas of time management, bookkeeping, motivation, and writing skills? Would a telephone courtesy program be appropriate under these circumstances? Of course, it would not. Suppose, however, that the needs assessment showed weaknesses in the areas of written communication, verbal communication, complaints about telephone clerks, or ways for the clerks to deal with their own anger. In this case, a telephone courtesy program would indeed be appropriate. Based on the other issues brought up in the needs assessment. such a program might include such topics as how to deal with one’s own anger and with a customer’s anger. The needs assessment, then, helps the trainer identify the order in which large goals are to be addressed.

No matter how well the trainer determines what appear to be appropriate goals for a training program, he or she will not be very successful without getting input from appropriate people within the firm. It is important to remember that the training department provides a service for the entire organization. In this sense, people throughout the firm are “clients” of the training department. Just as a store owner would not tell a customer what style of clothes to wear, the trainer cannot dictate what kinds of programs employees need. Instead, the trainer needs to cooperate with the clients, win their support, learn their perceptions of what issues must be addressed, identify what goals the client wants to accomplish, and coordinate all this information with company goals and the needs assessment. Sometimes, the trainer has to sell a need to employees, if top management perceives a need but the employees do not. For example, management may think that employees need to improve

their letter-writing skills, but employees think the problem is that company policy is too strict about customers’ returning merchandise. The trainer is the link between management and employees, and must sell what management perceives as a need and what employees perceive as the problem. Another consideration is that many employees may resist the idea of suggesting to the trainer what goals to meet. “That’s your job,” they may say. All the trainer can do is provide the opportunity for input when it comes to developing goals.

Another consideration is that goals will later serve as ways to measure the effectiveness of a training program. As stated previously, because goals often are long-term and difficult to measure, they need to be translated into more specific measures that are observable; these measures are called objectives.

Objectives Development

Objectives cannot be set until goals are clearly defined. Once goals are defined, developed, and agreed upon, the trainer is ready to set specific, measurable objectives. Objectives are the specific steps to be taken to accomplish a goal. Suppose, for example, that the goal is to increase employee productivity on the assembly line. First, the goal has to be put in more specific terms. “Increased productivity” might mean that instead of producing ten tools per hour, an employee would produce thirteen. Before objectives can be set, the trainer must determine what would be required before employees could produce a greater number of tools. If assembly line equipment had to be replaced, for example, this would not call for a training program at all. If, however, lower productivity was due to such causes as workers’ unfamiliarity with assembly methods, lack of skill in using equipment, problems in understanding instructions, or other trainable deficiencies, then appropriate steps could be taken in a training program. Once the problems are identified, the trainer still needs to find out specifics before he or she can set objectives. In our example, the trainer may learn that increased productivity requires workers to improve their skills on some of the equipment and to be trained in following instructions more carefully. The trainer would now be ready to set specific objectives. They might be:

I. Test employees’ skills at machine X.

II. Test employees’ abilities to follow various kinds of instructions.

III. Identify appropriate steps for operating machine X.

IV. Identify problem areas in terms of employees’ abilities to follow instructions.

V. Teach employees specific ways to run machine X.

VI. Teach employees how to follow instructions more effectively.

With these six objectives in mind, the trainer has a clear idea of what materials to include, what testing procedures to use, and what content to teach. The trainer knows, for example, that the subject of following instructions probably will be more cognitive — that is, informational and requiring understanding — while the topic of running machine X also might require hands-on experience.

Given this example, you can see that the trainer still has research to do even after the needs assessment has been done. The task of setting objectives is even more difficult for such goals as increasing employee morale. One reason this is more difficult is that in the case of employee morale, it is not only employees who have to learn something. It may be, for example, that employee morale is low because of things that management is doing or not doing. If this were the case, managers, as well as employees, would need training. Objectives for the managers might include:

How to interpret employee behavior.

How to give and take feedback.

How to motivate employees.

The objectives for employees might include:

How to communicate with your boss.

How to deal with coworkers.

How to make constructive suggestions at work.

How to deal with personality conflicts.

Notice, however, that if the real cause of low morale was low pay, these objectives would not address the issue at all. The trainer’s job is to make sure that the real issues are identified. The trainer then has to make sure that the objectives are appropriate reaching the goal – that is, to solving the problems or filling the real need. Obviously, the trainer must have a great deal of credibility with both management and employees in order to help both groups identify the real issues. Individuals often do not like to find out that they are “wrong” about what they think the problem is. However, the trainer must stick to issues–that is, the symptoms–rather than become enmeshed in who is “right.” Perhaps one of the hardest things about the trainer’s job is identifying the real problem. As an example, let’s look at a situation in a firm for which one of the authors consulted. The production department and marketing department had many conflicts, and each thought the other was at fault. Production blamed marketing for “selling products we don’t have the capacity to make,” and marketing blamed production for “preventing us from selling to eager customers.” When the consultant pursued the symptoms in depth, she recognized that the real problem had little to do with the two departments. Instead, top management was unclear about its priorities, and the confusion was indirectly passed down to the individual departments. The solution in this case was not training for the departments, but goal-clarifying sessions for top management. An experienced trainer can help everyone find the actual problems and needs within an organization.

As with goal development, it is important to include others in setting objectives. Because the trainees and the departments are your clients, you have to make sure they agree about objectives in order to make your programs effective. In addition to getting valid input about what your clients want, the process of including them in setting objectives helps make ·them more receptive to the programs you design and deliver. People feel committed to ideas and programs about which they have some say. The trainer accomplishes at least two things by getting input: first, people appreciate becoming involved and will be more willing to cooperate; second, employees’ input often adds dimensions the trainer may otherwise miss. Once goals and specific objectives are developed, the trainer is ready to select training models.

Training Models

A training model is a specific set of methods for teaching. Because the teaching we are dealing with here involves adults learning about something at work, several issues must be considered before the trainer can choose the most effective model.

Trainees’ Abilities

While the needs assessment gives the trainer a relatively clear picture of what department needs are, actual training programs must deal with individuals. Different employees, even in the same department, have different levels of skill, interest, experience, and ability. To make a training program effective, you must first find out how much each employee already knows, how motivated he or she is to learn more, and what exactly he or she needs to learn. Suppose, for example, your needs

assessment made clear that the secretaries at Company X needed training in using word processors. It would be unrealistic for you simply to design a program on the basis of state-of-the-art technology and present this program to the entire secretarial staff. Several of the secretaries may already know how to use word processors. Of those who do not know, some may learn very quickly while others learn more slowly. Still another group may resist the whole idea of word processors — a not-uncommon event. Your job would be to identify the needs of the individual secretaries and adapt the program accordingly.

How do you find out how much skill, information, ability, or motivation an individual employee has? Such things as physical skills may be measured by physical tests. For example, if you want to find out how well an ironworker can tie rebar steel, provide the employee with the necessary materials and see how good a job is done in how much time. To find how much an employee knows about something, you may use various kinds of questionnaires. For example, if you wanted to ask the ironworker how well he or she understood tying rebar, you could ask questions that called for written or spoken answers. Recognize, however, that a big difference exists between the employee’s understanding about how to do a job and the employee’s ability to do the job.

To learn about an employee’s motivation – that is, about his or her interests in learning more about the job – no foolproof method really exists. Often, past performance is a clue as to how an employee will behave in the future. However, because people continually grow and change, it would be unfair to assume that because of things they failed to do at one time, employees were not motivated. Various psychometric tests exist to measure such things as motivation, but these must be viewed with caution because motivation is such a difficult thing to measure. In one company, for example, employees in the sales department appeared to be unmotivated until a new trainer came to the firm. The trainer used her new position as a chance to ask lots of questions, and she discovered that the salespersons felt discouraged by the fact that they never received feedback about how their weekly sales compared to those of other firms. Once the manager learned about this problem, he was able to motivate the employees by providing needed information. What really matters to trainers is that employees care enough to try to learn something from the program. The trainer can contribute a great deal to the enthusiasm of the trainees. This enthusiasm can come from the setting, the teaching style, and other issues discussed below.

The Training Setting

What can a trainer do to help make participants eager to learn? While the particulars will vary with each group and each topic, certain things need to be considered. The first is that as adult learners, employees need hands-on experience as well as information. This experiential approach is relatively easy when you are teaching a physical skill. If an employee is learning how to run a forklift, for example you could easily schedule time for the employee to practice with an experienced operator.

If you are teaching such things as selling skills, interpersonal skills, or how to do performance appraisals, however, you need to use your imagination to create realistic experiences for the trainee. One successful method of doing this is using role plays. In a role-play, the trainee first learns the specific behaviors or skills that constitute what is to be learned. After having learned about these skills — that is, learning how they should be performed — the trainee will act out the part of the salesperson or the manager and practice performing these skills. For example, suppose trainees learned about giving performance appraisals. The first step probably would be to inform trainees about how to do appraisals: EEO requirements, effective ways to give feedback, and other cognitive knowledge. The role-play step would allow trainees to practice what they learned and actually to experience talking to someone about his or her job performance. The experience makes the cognitive information more meaningful. In addition, the practice allows the trainee to improve at the skill. Another trainee or the trainer would play the role of customer or employee.

At the end of the  role play, the trainee would receive feedback in various forms. The trainer would point out the ways in which the trainee’s performance was effective and ways in which the trainee could improve. Notice the positive focus of the feedback: instead of criticism, the trainee receives suggestions for doing better. For example, in many companies, employees receive criticism when they make mistakes. The manager may say such things as “These numbers were incorrect,” “The report was late,” or other negative comments. A more positive and effective way to correct errors is to identify what is done well, and then show the employee how the performance can be even better. The trainer can set the example by using such phrases as “Most of this report is well done. To be more accurate, however, these numbers will have to be changed,” or “I appreciate getting the report from you. It would have been more useful, however, if I had received it last Wednesday.” Another source of feedback may be other trainees within the group. Trainees learn from watching each other as well as from watching the trainer. They also learn how to give feedback to and get feedback from their peers. Another powerful source of feedback is videotape. When trainees see and hear themselves perform, they have a chance to experience themselves the way others do. Trainers often sit with the trainees to watch the video­tapes and to highlight certain aspects of the trainees’ behavior. Through both the practice itself and the various forms of feedback, trainees learn a great deal from experience when it supplements what they have learned about the subject.

Comfort Level

Another consideration is how to determine when trainees feel comfortable enough to perform, automatically, what they have learned. When a trainee is able to perform a skill well without having to think about it too much, he or she may be said to have reached a “comfort level” with that skill. You can easily see the advantages to a company when employees have reached their comfort levels in a variety of skills. For example, consider a salesclerk in a department store. While learning about the job, the clerk will have many questions, first about company procedure and then about the technicalities of running the computerized cash register. The clerk’s learning process costs the company in terms of time. Once the clerk reaches a comfort level with the new job duties, his or her performance will be less costly in terms of time or errors.

Time Frame

Trainers must determine the time frame in which to structure training sessions. For example, courses may be presented in all­ day sessions, half-day sessions, two-hour blocks, week-long sessions, or anything else that seems appropriate. There is no general policy about time frame. There are, however. several things to consider. First, information is more easily learned if it is presented in relatively short rather than long blocks of time. At the same time, however, a certain amount of continuous practice is necessary before a trainee can learn a new skill. The trainer must decide what the proper balance is, depending on what is being taught and who is learning. If managers are learning about new ways to motivate employees, a one- or two-day session might be appropriate for them, if this time frame would allow for discussions. exercises, and other activities. Because they have some experience, managers in this case would be learning specific tools rather than an entirely new area of information. Suppose, however, that the trainees were new construction workers. They would have a great deal to learn in terms of both information and skills. This would require an extended learning period. On-the-job training might be supplemented by short intensive sessions focusing on specific skills. The trainer’s job is to use time frames that match the needs and the situation.

Teaching Styles

Trainers have a variety of styles from which to choose. One of the standbys is the lecture method, so common in college, in which the trainer conveys information to trainees while they take notes. This method is useful in very large groups and in situations where the information is not tied to specific behaviors; for example, a large group of employees may benefit from a lecture about changes in insurance benefits at work. They need the information, and they do not need to practice anything related to it.

For on-the-job skills, however, lectures are ineffective. As discussed in the chapter about adult learners, lectures do not work well with adults. In addition, lectures alone do not give trainees a chance to practice or experience what they have learned. Trainers should limit lectures as much as possible.

Role-plays. As discussed previously, role-plays give trainees a chance to practice what they have learned and to get feedback about their performance. Employees often are self-conscious about the role-plays, at least when they get started. Often, the trainer may want to pick trainees who are outgoing and willing to be the first ones.

Assessment centers. In these experiences, the trainer creates a simulated situation where the trainees act as they would at work. For management training, the assessment center event might include a stack of phone messages, and the trainee would set priorities in terms of what he or she does about each message at that moment. The purposes are to give trainees real-life experience and to allow them to get feedback about their decisions and actions.

What is important about teaching styles is that trainers must use whatever methods work with each group. Some trainees want to be told what to do, while others like to have input during training sessions, and still others like to interact with other trainees as well as with the trainer. Training is most effective when the methods fit the group.

Application to the Job

As we said at the beginning of this chapter, training programs are evaluated according to how well they meet organizational needs and how much they help organizations reach goals. This means that all the trainers’ clients evaluate programs in terms of their own understanding of problems.

Top management will evaluate training programs by the bottom line: Do employees work more efficiently, meet company standards, and accomplish long-term goals? Are our customers more satisfied and are they buying more? Mid-level managers will measure training programs by how well their departmental goals are met: for example, do employees work better together, are they skilled at using new equipment, does their work make the manager look good? Employees themselves will measure training programs by how much they can apply to work: that is, did they learn what they needed to, do they have new skills, can they deal with co-workers and bosses more effectively?

The training department, and individual trainers, also will be evaluated according to how professionally they treat their clients. Do they respect confidentiality? Do they stick to work-related issues and avoid getting personal? Do they treat trainees with respect and enthusiasm? The training department is evaluated by how well it meets others’ needs.


The design of a training program must reflect the results of the needs assessment. Another way of saying this is that the training program and, ultimately, the training department will be evaluated according to how well they meet actual company needs.

The design must include goal development, which means that the program will help carry out one or more long-term goals of the organization. This task is difficult, because of both the vagueness of long-term goals and the number of interpretations of these goals. Identifying numerous clients and setting priorities are major responsibilities of the trainer.

Program design also includes objectives development, through which the trainer identifies the specific results that will come from a program. Each result must relate to. and must be presented as relating to, desired goals. In designing a program, the trainer establishes a training model of specific methods of teaching. The training model considers trainees abilities, an appropriate setting, a comfort level, a time frame, and teaching styles. The trainer must always remember that management’s evaluation of programs will be based on how applicable the results are to the job. and what the effect is on customer satisfaction and the bottom line.


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Communication Training and Development by William Arnold and Lynne McClure is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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