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Learning and Development: A Strategic Function


The Learning and Development (L&D) function in today’s business world is emerging as an integral part of an organisation’s strategy. A greater number of businesses are recognizing the need to invest in building the capabilities of its people. L&D is a key function that requires the same rigour and attention as any other strand of corporate strategy. Well managed L&D interventions can ensure that people have the right skills at the right time to meet and exceed business needs.

L&D initiatives are generally structured as per the standard training cycle illustrated in the figure below. Various models and variations of the training cycle are used within organisations depending on the corporate intentions and business needs such as the ‘ADDIE’ model and the ‘SAT’ model but the underlying principles remain the same.


Organisations are becoming increasingly aware of the principles and processes that govern the training cycle, however, the challenge lies within the application of such programmes in the day to day work environment.

We will examine each stage of the training cycle individually to understand the key considerations for an integrated and holistic approach, and identify ways to address the challenges within the L&D domain. In the coming months, we will explore the four (4) stages of the training cycle from a strategic planning perspective through our monthly newsletters starting with “Needs Assessment and Analysis”.

Stage 1: Needs Assessment and Analysis

Training Needs Assessment (TNA) is the first stage of the training cycle. An accurate analysis of training needs plays a pivotal role in planning for and investing in tailored L&D interventions. The dilemma with a TNA is that it is based on the organisation’s perception of what its people need rather than undertaking a due diligence exercise (TNA) to identify the knowledge and skills gap that exists, limiting the efficiency and effectiveness of its people. The following guidelines summarise the key considerations that should be taken into account when carrying out a TNA exercise:

  • What output does the business expect from its employees?
  • Does the business strategy require specific standards of performance from its employees?
  • What type of behaviours, knowledge (technical or of a commercial nature) and competencies are employees expected to demonstrate in their professional roles?
  • At which proficiency level are the employees expected to perform?
  • What are the expected outcomes?
  • Is there a requirement to obtain a professional certification or accreditation?
  • When are the employees expected to attain the required level of knowledge, skill and competency?

The strategic role of the L&D function demands that a structured process is put in place and communicated to all the managers and employees. Line managers and leadership teams are responsible for ensuring that they provide input and feedback on the individual development needs of employees, which can also be captured through annual performance reviews.

It is important that the medium used for carrying out a TNA is selected carefully keeping in mind ease of use, collation, consolidation, retrieval and analysis of data. Use of systems is recommended where companies have an HRMS or an alternative automated system in place; however, a simple spreadsheet can be equally useful for this purpose. Once information is collected, reviewed and analysed, planning for L&D initiatives can be activated keeping in mind the following:

  • Who needs to be trained and on what topic?
  • The target groups, levels & number
  • Specialization & certification
  • How will training be delivered?
  • What types of training interventions can be used? e.g. outsourced, in-house, OJT (on the job training), online, seminars / webinars and / or blended learning options
  • Available working days
  • Expectations of outcomes
  • Methods to measure & evaluate
  • Cost & budget

Consolidation and analysis of the information listed above can result in the successful articulation of the training calendar detailing the types of trainings, programmes, dates and locations.

The result of incorporating a structured TNA process is the development of a training plan with interventions that are specific to the individual’s development needs and organizational requirements. Systematic planning of the TNA process provides clarity and transparency in identifying who needs to be trained and on which subject, enabling organizations to calculate the associated costs and the return on their investment.