How to Plan for Training in the Face of Uncertainty

This has been a challenging year defined by a lack of clarity about the future. While many of us hoped that we’d be entering a post-COVID-19 world as we entered 2021, it appears that next year will remain unpredictable, at least in part. Promising vaccine trials have given reason for optimism, but in the short term, planning remains difficult.

Yet plan we must, as training budgets are requested and workforce development strategies are set at the end of the year. While things may not be back to “normal” any time soon, we can still make smart investments based on the data we have available. 

Working on instructional design projects with clients day-in and day-out gives us unique insight into how top organizations are adapting to planning and budgeting for training and other development initiatives next year. Here’s what we are seeing, and our take on what you can learn from it.

Distance Learning Remains Crucial. Don’t Ignore It.

Even after the COVID-19 virus is objectively under control, some things may never go back to the way they were. Remote work has simply been too popular or cost-effective to abandon completely, so training programs will need to be adjusted to keep skills sharp and competencies honed no matter where learners are located.

We have a variety of clients actively planning for more distance learning in the first part of 2021. By now, many companies have learned what works well and what doesn’t for distance learning, and they are embracing the elements they have found to be most effective. Some of the distance learning programs we are working on may be pivoted back into instructor-led, in-person courses once the pandemic subsides, but even if that happens, investments made in distance learning today will have been worthwhile. 

Business performance improvement

We expect that at least portions of the distance learning we are currently developing with clients will be incorporated into courses long term, creating options for more blended learning in the future. For example, the self-study elements and pre- and post-training activities being included in eLearning programs today can provide value by streamlining instructor-led sessions tomorrow. In the meantime, eLearning remains an invaluable tool for keeping remote workers informed.

Takeaway: If you are smart about how you approach your training development, you can ensure your investments will be valuable no matter what sort of training delivery circumstances dictate. Ask yourself these six questions and take appropriate action based on your answers to build a smart, sustainable plan to deliver training in a new normal. 

Timelines are Getting Tight, But That’s Alright.

Time is often of the essence for eLearning development lately. We are increasingly working on projects under rapid development timelines as clients need to get a lot done in a short period of time. We are helping them achieve their goals by shortening storyboard phases of training development where prudent. We are also using advanced tools like Articulate Rise that reduce the time it takes to get a course created while allowing us to still produce an effective product. The pressure may be on, but we work together to adjust.

Takeaway: If you know what you need to do, but you don’t feel like you can create compelling eLearning content fast enough, reach out to instructional design specialists to find out what can be done to achieve your goals. They may have access to additional resources, and they should have the experience to know how to move projects along rapidly when needed.

Hiring Will Pick Up. Be Sure You’re Ready.

Companies are preparing to hire additional employees, whether immediately or in the not-too-distant future. Our clients tell us that they want to be ready when it comes time for their organizations to grow. As a result, they are beginning to take action to improve their onboarding processes and better document essential processes within their businesses while they have a chance. 

Onboarding is just the first step in getting new employees to a point that they can provide value for the company. You also need clearly defined policies, standard operating procedures, work instructions, and job aids to help them be positioned for success. If you are fuzzy on the difference between these assets, read our quick primer here. Enhancing any process documentation can enhance worker productivity, especially if they are new.

Takeaway: Could you be using this time to help future employees get up to speed more efficiently and effectively by enhancing the training and documentation you provide to new hires? For ideas, read these three training program “must-haves” for quick time to competency—they apply no matter what industry you are in.

It’s Ultimately Performance You Want to Improve.

When you are planning for workforce development, it’s easy to focus almost entirely on transferring knowledge via training programs. However, depending on what development goals you are trying to achieve, training is not always the answer. Check out our “do you really need training?” article to learn why this is the case. 

What you really want is performance improvement among your workforce. Achieving that may require you to take a step back and analyze what sort of behavioral changes would result in lasting performance improvement. Creating those behavior changes doesn’t necessarily mean creating more training. 

We are increasingly talking to clients about what it would take to truly improve performance among their target audience groups, and we are applying a method called Performance Thinking® to improve outcomes among our own teams in the process. Learn more about what it takes to create lasting performance improvement by changing behaviors in the most effective way possible.

Takeaway: Even if you have the budget and clarity to develop effective training programs for next year, you could still fail to achieve the results you desire. Be sure you are pursuing initiatives that create lasting performance improvement, and measure work output quality, not knowledge acquisition, to be sure you succeeded. 

performance improvement

Be Ready for Anything.

There may be a lot of uncertainty making annual planning difficult this year, but if you take your cues from others based on the insights above, you will be better positioned to succeed. We will all need to demonstrate agility while facing whatever the world throws our way in 2021, but with the right approach, we can pull through. Let us know how we can help along the way.

Bonus: Looking for more end-of-year training planning advice?