Merriam-Webster defines the term strategy as a careful plan or
method; a clever stratagem; the art of devising or employing plans
or stratagems toward a goal. To make training more strategic within
government agencies, it must be part of a larger plan or method
that helps organizations achieve a specific goal. Goals are
established by the agencys strategic and performance plans and are
further elaborated in the workforce plan, as well as various
Linking Training to Strategic and Performance
Strategic plans include goals supported by objectives, which
specify what needs to be done to achieve the goal and should be
stated in measurable terms. The agency training staff needs to
analyze objectives in the strategic plan to identify skills and
behaviors required to achieve them. A good way to do this is to
construct a training impact map, a tool developed by Robert
Brinkerhoff and Anne Apking. Figure 1 provides an example of a
training impact map used for training customer service
representatives in a shared services center.
The first step in constructing the map is to identify the
organizational units and specific jobs that contribute to achieving
the strategic goal and the business objectives that support it.
These measurable objectives should also appear in the agency
performance plan. The example in Figure 1 looks at a single
jobcustomer service representativeand is somewhat simplified. Other
jobs, such as billing clerks and customer service center
supervisors, could also be included in the map.
The next step is to analyze jobs to understand the knowledge and
skills required to perform specific task-related duties. If
competencies have been developed, they can be used to determine
specific job behaviors that underlie success indicators. When done
properly, competencies are defined in terms of observable,
measurable behaviors. Job success indicators may already exist as
performance targets in organizational or individual performance
plans. If not, they can be derived from measurable objectives that
contribute to goal accomplishment.
The training impact map is an effective tool for the training staff
to evaluate the relevance of existing training programs and to
develop new programs. In addition, the map is useful in helping
senior managers understand the link between training and achieving
goals and objectives in the strategic plan. The training impact map
also is a first-rate instrument for explaining to trainees and
their managers how new skills and behaviors will help improve
performance on the job.
Linking Training to Workforce Planning
Aligning training with the agencys workforce planning process also
helps ensure that learning efforts will be strategic. The workforce
plan should establish the agencys strategy for ensuring that it has
the right number of people with the proper skills to accomplish its
In addition, the workforce plan should answer three key questions
regarding employee skills: 1| What are the agencys current skill
gaps and how can it close them? 2| What new skills will the agency
need to assure mission accomplishment in the future? 3| Which
leadership and technical positions are vital to mission
accomplishment, and what training and development efforts are
required to build a pipeline of qualified successors?
Current Skill Gaps
Current skill gaps can be addressed by hiring new staff with the
necessary skills, contracting out work, or equipping current staff
with skills through training and development. If the latter option
is chosen, the agency should provide individual development
planning processes in addition to the relevant training and
Many learning initiatives can take place outside the classroom and
offline in the form of developmental activities. These might
include stretch assignments, job rotations, shadowing assignments,
and mentoring by senior staff. A useful tool for long-term
developmental needs is a career development map, which shows the
job experiences, knowledge, and skills required to attain higher
levels of proficiency in areas with gaps.
Future Skill Needs
Agencies can address future skill needs by using the same options
as for current gaps: hiring new workers, using contract staff, or
developing employees skills in house. An important reason for
performing workforce planning is to identify future skill needs
with sufficient lead time to allow agencies to develop skills
internally. It also allows time for careful planning of a
multisector workforce strategythe right mix of federal employees,
contractors, volunteers, and others.
A formal succession planning program is critical to ensure the
future success of the organization. The succession plan should be
built using workforce plan data that identifies the agencys key
positions in both technical and management areas. Workforce
planning projections will determine how large the replacement
pipeline must be and how much time is available to train and
develop pools of qualified successors. The HR staff is then
responsible for setting up robust programs to train and develop
agency employees and managers to fill key positions.
Identifying Strategic Performance Gaps
A performance gap is simply the difference between the expected and
current performance. A gap can be considered strategic if it has an
impact on achieving an agencys strategic goal. The worksheet in
Figure 2, adapted from The Performance Consultants Fieldbook,
offers an example of how to identify strategic performance gaps in
meeting customer satisfaction needs in a shared services center.
The data provided in Figure 2 shows a gap in performance expressed
in customer satisfaction ratings and the number of complaints
received each month. With that data in hand, the agencys next step
is to determine the cause of these gaps. Data can be collected and
analyzed from a variety of sources, including the customer
satisfaction survey, the administrative complaints process, focus
groups, and interviews. Focus groups and interviews may also
include customers and employees.
Causes behind human performance gaps fall into three broad
categories: environmental, motivational, and knowledge or skill
deficits. In the vast majority of casesas much as 90 percent,
according to some estimatesinadequate employee performance is due
to environmental or motivational issues.
Training is a relatively expensive solution and can only address
inadequate knowledge or skills. Therefore, it is worthwhile to
carefully analyze the performance and consider all possible causes
of the gap that exists. Table 1, excerpted from the U.S. Office of
Personnel Managements (OPM) A Guide to Strategically Planning
Training and Measuring Results, outlines a deductive approach to
this sort of analysis. It says that training should be considered
only if other possible causes of poor performance can be ruled out
Evolving from Training to Learning
Making training more strategic ultimately requires an understanding
of the radical shift in the role of training in the workplace in
the past decade. Due to the fast pace of change in todays
workplace, the advent of new technologies, and the growing
complexity of problems facing government agencies, the ability to
learn quickly has become a survival skill. Ready-made solutions to
problems are becoming rare due to their complexity and novelty.
More than ever, effective solutions require close collaboration
across silos and organizational boundaries. The ability to be
collaborative, innovative, and agile has never been more critical.
These competencies should figure prominently in hiring, promotion,
and selection for leadership development programs.
The training function will never become strategic until agency
leaders start managing it strategically. This requires a shift from
funding programs and courses to funding learning initiatives that
results in improved performance. Staff responsible for training
should be held accountable for equipping employees with skills and
behaviors that contribute to achieving agency goals and objectives.
Leaders must be willing to discard comfortable but outdated
measures, such as number of employees trained or hours of training
provided, and replace them with strategic outcome measures.
Onboarding and training for new hires, for example, is best
measured by time to competencynot by how many people attended the
courses. Replace end-of-course smile sheets with an evaluation of
how many trainees used their new knowledge or skill to improve
their performance or the performance of their projects. A course on
managing project budgets, for example, is not useful unless it
contributes to improving employees ability to manage their budgets
according to plan.
Training has become somewhat of a misnomer. The classroom will
continue to have its place, but much of learning will take place
outside the classroom, and the most effective learning will result
from the richness of face-to-face interaction with others. This new
reality is already in evidence in many government agencies. If the
rapid pace of technology creates challenges, it also provides
partial solutions in the learning arena.
The workplace now includes significant numbers of Generation X and
Generation Y employees who have grown up with technology as part of
their personal life and integral to the way they learn. They expect
this technologyinstant messaging, online chats, blogs, podcasts,
wikis, and continuous connectivity to the Internetto be available
to them at work. Employees want the ability to connect with
colleagues and subject matter experts to get quick answers to
questions, try out new ideas, or just get feedback on a draft work
product. Training programs should make extensive use of Web 2.0
technologies, especially in conjunction with face-to-face training
in the classroom.
Shaping a Learning Culture
A final consideration is the role that senior managers can play in
shaping a workplace culture that fosters and values learning. There
are many ways to embed the learning imperative into supervisory
training, leadership development, and daily management practices.
Projects should be required to start with reviewing lessons learned
from similar past projects, and they should end with their own
Learning and development can be a standing agenda item for
executive staff meetings, with required updates on progress.
Developing others should be a core competency that managers are
required to master, and their support for employee development
should be part of their performance appraisal.
A recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp)
revealed top-level support to be the single most important
ingredient in the talent management programs of high-performing
organizations. More agencies need to adopt the leaders as teachers
model whereby executives spend time in classrooms and auditoriums
sharing their stories and experiences with employees.
The Hewitt Associates Top Companies for Leaders 2009 survey
revealed that 96 percent have programs that get leaders into the
classroom and 92 percent assess leaders performance based in part
on how well they develop others. Bottom line: Leaders should take
every opportunity to emphasize the importance of learning and