How to create a training goal in 2 quick steps

A measurable business goal is a great way to focus your training and show how your work helps your organization — that’s why it’s the first step in action mapping.

Unfortunately, most clients don’t have a clear goal, so here’s a quick formula that can help you connect what they want with what’s good for the organization.

1. Choose your numbers

Identify a measure that the organization is already using that your project could help improve. Once you have that, decide how much you’ll improve it and by when.

Some examples:

  • “We need sales training” — Sales will increase 5% by Q3
  • “We need diversity training” — Employee retention will increase 8% by 2015
  • “We need training on conflict management” — Grievances will decrease by 10% in two years

Obviously, the best measure will depend on the organization and its current strategies.

2. Identify in general terms what people will do

Your goal from step 1 could be enough, but it can help to add a second layer and mention in general terms what your audience will do differently.

Some examples:

  • “We need sales training” — Sales will increase 5% by Q3 as all sales people use the 5-step Customer Courtship Model
  • “We need diversity training” — Employee retention will increase 8% by 2015 as all employees better manage diversity
  • “We need training on conflict management” — Grievances will decrease by 10% in two years as team leaders better manage conflict on their teams

Formula to create a measurable business goal for training

By making goals like this, we’re not promising that our project alone will be responsible for the change in numbers. However, we’re making clear that our project is directly tied to an important measure that affects the performance of the organization and we’re serious about designing a solution that works.

When you involve the client and subject matter expert in setting this goal, you also start to turn their attention away from knowledge and toward changes in behavior. This can help loosen their obsession with information and save your audience from another ineffective information dump. It also makes it easier to suggest more agile solutions than training.

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  1. Cathy, this is such a great piece and makes simple what so many of us, as trainers, find so difficult. Clarifying for a client what they need – a simple ROI measue they can get their heads round. Not to mention how SMART goals are often so difficult for managers and their people to define as part of performance managment activities.



    • Martin, thanks for your comment. I’ve seen a lot of people struggle to identify goals for training projects, and I think part of the problem is the current view of L&D’s role. A lot of us have designed or presented programs on setting SMART goals but don’t apply that to our own work — we and our organizations continue see our role as a “training factory” that simply creates training on demand, no questions asked.

      • HI

        I’m sorry – I don’t think SMART objectives should be used for learning. They were designed for project management and work well in that context, but I think learning is very different. I’ve just fininshed a blog about objectives and the way I use them This is based on my experience and what I’ve found useful – so it’s not prescriptive, just what works for me.

      • Andy, thanks for your comment. Actually, I think we agree. The goal that I’m talking about in the blog post *is* a project goal: it’s the goal that justifies the existence of the course. It’s not a learning objective.

      • Hi Cathy

        The title of the blog is ‘How to create a training goal in 2 quick steps’. But then you talk about measurable business goals. I know some of this is just semantics, but I would have business objectives as things like your: increase sales by 5%. In order to do that staff will need to X,Y and Z and these would be the learning objectives.

        As you say later ‘When you involve the client and subject matter expert in setting this goal, you also start to turn their attention away from knowledge and toward changes in behavior.’ That behavioural (sorry British – have to put the ‘u’ in) change or, ‘people do something’ is presumably as a result of learning – either skills, knowledge, attitude and/or awareness – having taken place.

        For me, one of the big issues is that people tend, as you say, to think of learning as knowledge and skills, but in many situations it’s much more about attitude. Bringing this out can help to focus on the type of training/learning which will get the result you want. I think this is where we agree.

  2. That’s so right. And increasingly, I think training can – in some organisations – simply be a ‘tickbox’ for the purchaser to have delivered ‘x’ training as a performance measure, rather than have a follow up plan to assess ROI.

    Where we can, we add into the mix that it makes a difference or, maybe even, don’t do the training work if we really cannot ensure that it does. Training and development for a trainer is very unfulfilling and a rather – in my eyes anyway – inauthentic, when we are merely fulfilling a number, rather than delivering real value.

    • tanyalau says:

      Cathy – excellent post, and one which breaks down the process of defining business objectives in simple terms. Such a critical step that’s often missed, confused with learning objectives, or just seems too hard to weave into the conversation.
      Hi Martin – great point re: follow up plan to assess ‘ROI’ – or in other words, follow up what you’re defining as the business objective. It’s critical to define business objectives up front – but equally so to follow up with the business / client 6-12 months afterwards to assess whether there was a measurable change. This could be as simple as a phone call asking the business stakeholder how things are going and checking progress against the measures you defined at the outset. Particularly if outcomes are not as expected, this can be a good starting point to explore reasons why (perhaps it wasn’t something a learning issue after all?) and/or an excellent starting point for any alternative actions (performance support or learning interventions) that might help the business achieve its goals. Moving towards becoming a true business partner rather than just ‘order taker’.

  3. Cathy,

    I love, love, love your blog. It’s EVERYTHING I need and was looking for to help me develop USABLE material! (And, I do think adding a bit of humor is great!) Keep it coming!

  4. Jyotsna Gupta says:

    Cathy, I completely agree with what Martin Haworth says. In fact, I find your blog so useful, I make it a point to visit it regularly, like once a day, to catch any new posts from you 🙂 Thnx and do keep them coming!!

  5. Cathy, I completely agree and feel like people need to know the reasons for the training. This will help the employee stay more engaged and hopefully take away more from the session. I am currently setting up SMART goals and helping a few associates through the process. This post reminded me how important it is to make sure goals are set before holding a training session.

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