PATHWAYS — Volume 9, Number 4 – October, 1997

Focus: Anticipating Organizational Needs

In most organizations today, demands for change are real and typically ripple down through the organizational structure.

Whether the staff development function is called Human Resources, Education and Training, or some other title, its duties are no longer limited to developing and delivering training. Increasingly, staff development is being called upon to help anticipate needs based on corporate strategic planning. They are then expected to help senior management forecast future staff competency requirements—and have qualified talent in place when needed.

For many staff development groups, this proactive role is new, challenging, and perhaps somewhat intimidating. To act proactively rather than reactively, staff development professionals require a new, non-traditional skill and knowledge set. It includes:

In his article, Van Wright offers some suggestions for upgrading staff development professionals.

John Wills, CEO



Upgrading the Staff Development Function

This section is addressed to those of you who face the need to move your organization's staff development function from a narrow training focus to a broad-based performance support role. To make it all happen, you need to put in place a strategy for getting there. We would like to suggest a four-phased approach:

Let’s look at each of these phases in turn.

Phase 1 – Identify the Organization’s Strategic Direction.

During this phase, your first step is to identify changes in the organization’s needs.

Answers to these questions will help you anticipate new services that may be expected of your function.

Before proceeding to Phase 2, you also need to obtain executive-level commitment for funding and resources. Unless one or more executive champions buy into your new vision, it is risky, if not futile to proceed.

Phase 2– Assess Employee Development Needs

During Phase 2 you analyze how the business changes you identified in Phase 1 will alter employee skill and knowledge requirements. You will probably want to use some version of the classic needs assessment model:

At Home Savings, for example, (see the sidebar on page xx), the organization planned to move from a single-product-line-and-service focus to a sales-and-service focus by adding the capacity to offer consumer loans and business banking services. Since few employees had this range of experience, the need for sales skill and technical knowledge development was evident.

Once you have identified new training and development requirements for the organization’s employees, you will also need to perform a similar assessment of your own staff development function. (These two assessments can often occur in parallel.)

Phase 3 – Select Appropriate Development Options.

Both for the organization as a whole and for your own staff, you basically have four options:

  1. Outsource some or all of the staff development functions.
  2. Instead of using your own resources to meet all the new employee development requirements, you may decide to turnkey some requirements to a qualified, outside resource. Outsourcing may include training development, delivery, or both.

  3. Replace some or all people with more qualified individuals.
  4. Trying to do this across the board is risky because of the impact on employee morale.

  5. Retrain the people you have.
  6. This option is often the first option considered, whether for budgetary or personnel policy reasons. Keep in mind that retraining does not have to be done totally from within. In addition to company-sponsored courses, you can also use existing programs offered by local academic institutions and outside vendors. Some will adapt their programs to fit your organization’s needs. You might also consider professional trade shows and conferences, free software seminars, and the like.

  7. As demand for services grow, add resources with new skills.
  8. For example, HealthNet (see the sidebar on page xx), not only retrained their existing staff; they also added individuals with needed new skills as requirements increased.

  9. Partner with outside specialists for a limited period.

It is also possible to enter into joint-venture relationships with experienced vendors and consultants to help develop your staff resources. This arrangement is similar to outsourcing with experts to conduct a course. However, instead of just conducting a "one-shot" session, the vendor/consultant conducts a series of teaching and coaching sessions over an agreed period of time. Between sessions, your staff apply what has been learned to actual organizational needs. The vendor/consultant remains available through the term of the contract for phone and/or face-to-face consulting and tutoring.

Phase 4 – Execute your Plan and Monitor Results.

Once you have evaluated and selected the right mix from the options described in Phase 3, it is time to get started. Some things will work just as you anticipated, but there are also likely to be some surprises along the way. As with any project, it is necessary to monitor progress, fine-tune as needed and, if necessary, make mid-course corrections.

Concluding Comments

For your staff development function to meet the changing requirements of your organization, you need to continuously plan and provide for staff growth.

Van O. Wright, Ph.D., Manager, Product Quality Control


The staff development function must anticipate, understand, and satisfy the changing knowledge and skills requirements of the organization.




The Business Change

In 1995 HealthNet, a California-based managed care firm, merged with Foundation Health Systems (FHS) headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Through a series of mergers, FHS has grown from a staff of fewer than 4000 to over 16000. Howard Lewis, Associate Vice President, Performance, Development and Support Systems, was brought on board to facilitate the employee performance development required to ensure the success of the mergers.

The Response

Howard soon became convinced the staff development group had to move from a narrow training focus to a consultative, performance-based approach. He introduced the following four-phase formula:

  1. Leverage existing strengths: Howard decided it would be better for staff morale to leverage the strengths of existing staff rather than recruit and replace. Class trainers were assigned to support those functional areas (clients) whose technical specialties they had previously been teaching. Now they were also charged with helping clients identify new staff development requirements, collaborate to identify acceptable solutions, then work together to implement those solutions.
  2. Pour on staff development: To convert trainers to staff development consultants, Howard had to help the staff identify its own critical skill/knowledge gaps, then select among many development options. Options used included outside consultants, support for college study, and in-house training.
  3. Recruit carefully: As positions became available, HealthNet selected people with strengths the existing team lacked, such as project management and experience developing alternative delivery approaches.
  4. Draw upon both internal and external resources: HealthNet moved from classroom training as the "only solution" for providing performance improvement. Many solutions now involve internal managers and subject matter experts in their implementation.

HealthNet also uses outside consultants to help the performance development staff analyze their needs, evaluate potential development alternatives, and implement solutions.



Home Savings of America

The Business Change

Between 1995 and 1997, Home Savings expanded into consumer lending, acquired 61 branches of another California bank, added business banking, and introduced a new business banking information system. As Cynthia (Cindy) S. Miller, Vice President and Director of Training and Development says, "Home Savings changed more in the past two years than in the previous 100 plus." To support those changes, bank employees had to move from a service focus alone to one of service plus sales.

The Response

To develop sales skills, Home Savings contracted with an outside vendor to provide sales training for the development staff; that training was supplemented with actual field sales experience. When some of the existing development staff rotated to other jobs, they were replaced with people having both financial sales experience and training skills.

To develop and install a consumer lending curriculum, Home Savings acquired a new development staff member who had both training and consumer loan field experience.

To support training for business banking applications, they partnered with outside specialists.

And, to provide on-going staff development and leverage their talents, Home Savings has formed what they call The Alliance – A Network of Home Savings Training and Development Professionals. To get the Alliance focused, Cindy has instituted a series of 1997 quarterly planning/development sessions:

First Quarter Issues: Who throughout Home Savings has training responsibilities, regardless of function or title? What do they do? How can we leverage their experience and network? How can we eliminate redundant effort?

Second Quarter Issues: How can technology help us? What are viable alternatives to classroom instruction? What do we know and need to know about how adults learn?

Third Quarter Issues: What is performance consulting and why do we do it? How do we measure performance results?

Planned Fourth Quarter Topic: Professional growth and leadership development



©Copyright 1997 FLI, Incorporated
FLI, Incorporated authorizes you to copy documents published on the FLI, Incorporated World Wide Web site for use within your organization only. When you copy documents, in whole or in part, you agree that any copy you make (printed or electronic) shall contain an attribution of its source and retain all copyright and other proprietary notices contained therein. All other rights reserved.

Volume 9, Number 3 - Sept 1997 | Volume 9, Number 4 - Oct 1997
Volume 10, Number 1 - Feb 1998
| Volume 10, Number 2 - May 1998

[ Home | About FLI | Services | Publications | Contact FLI | Address ]