How to audit your training program
Hit the brakes! Press pause. There comes a time when you just need to stop and take stock of the situation. Assess what you have, what is working, what isn’t, and where the gaps are. Then you take a breath, make a plan, and get yourself restarted, secure in the knowledge that you have everything you need, things are happening in the correct order, and everything is working together for the best possible outcome.
In a tiny nutshell, that’s how you do an audit of your training program.
Your learners DO NOT need to stop taking the training assigned to them. You and your fellow training team administrators, training content creators, and training managers need to step back from the status quo and look at the past to influence the future. Your learners can continue taking their courses until you put your new plans in place.
Yes, it's a big job, but someone has to do it. Even if you hire a consultant, you will still need to be active participants in the process – your team members are the SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) for this project. Only you/your team know the history, the mystery, the hidden treasures, and the tiger traps that are part of your current training program.
As we move forward with this grand adventure, I’ll lay out the five key components your training audit should include, and I’ll cover techniques you can use to find the information you need. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to perform a training audit for your training program.
The five key components of your training program audit
1. Your learning and development strategy
This is the primary goal of your training audit, in the big picture. The audit has to consider all aspects of your training, delivery, content, and goals to enable you to build a learning and development (L&D) engine that achieves the desired results for your company's business. Simply put, “Why are you offering training, and what do you need it to do for you, your learners, and your business to produce ROI?”
Your Training Needs Analysis (TNA)
The audit needs to discover if the above strategy is being well-served by your efforts to deliver its desired outcome. Let’s break this down a bit.
Does your L&D strategy align with the goals and outcomes you want to achieve?
What is preventing your strategy from delivering the desired outcomes? Are there gaps in training materials, are you using the right tools to deliver training, and is your effort adequately resourced? How do you know what you are missing? Are you delivering training that your learners find valuable and meet their needs?
Learning Needs Analysis (LNA)
Very often, when organizations start to offer training to their teams, they take a “plug and play” approach – they build out training courses based on what someone (hopefully the right someone) thinks the learners need to know. Often, learner feedback is left out of the mix, with no opportunity to refine and improve training based on what learners need to know based on feedback and improved key performance indicators (KPIs).
As new courses are added, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the gaps – where more or different training content is needed to maximize training results to improve learner outcomes and move your KPIs forward.
Complex eLearning courses can be difficult or expensive to change on the fly, so updates are batched together and not always done promptly or thoroughly. However, an LNA is not based solely on anecdotal evidence or how learners feel about their course of study.
The auditor must pivot from this approach to evaluate the metrics and KPIs used to monitor and evaluate employee performance. They will need to understand HOW the company captures and uses learner analytics data and learner feedback. Far more complex than counting smile sheets.
The bottom-line impact of L&D
Ultimately, the auditor will evaluate how your company's various L&D plans, tactics, and actions – your TNAs and your LNAs – have produced the desired results – delivering the change your company needs for your training initiatives to deliver. What is the impact of your L&D program on your business and learners?
For example, if your goal was to reduce employee turnover, and you’ve invested in stronger onboarding, everboarding, upskilling, and knowledge retention training – has your employee churn increased, decreased, or stayed the same? Have your training program's hard and soft costs offset the cost of acquiring new talent? (See my article, “What is Onboarding,” to learn more about the sunk cost of hiring a new team member and the fiscal impact of high employee turnover.)
Your auditor will make this evaluation by tying your L&D initiatives to your employee performance and evaluating how performance improvements (more sales, fewer accidents, better client retention, for example) have benefitted the organization.
2. Reviewing your internal L&D process
It’s a fact. Your business has evolved since day one. You’ve made smart decisions, and your team has grown to meet business needs – suddenly, you’ve got departments! Teams! Cohorts! Org Charts! Maybe you pivoted a bit during the Pandemic or added/reduced product lines or services – you’ve changed. Like sharks, it's swim or die, right? (I hear the theme music from that classic shark movie in my head.) Survival of the fittest! Just keep swimming!
Has your L&D process kept up with all the changes? I mentioned previously that some forms of eLearning are often challenging or expensive to update, so I’m willing to bet a bucket of chum that you’ve got some gaps in your training content. Given how fast things have been evolving, your training processes have become one of two things. They are either a bit of a bottleneck and not so easy to administrate or a bit too ad hoc as you have attempted to respond in real-time to the ongoing changes of your business. The killer phrase for efficient processes is “just for now.” If I had a nickel… I’d invest it in looking at the following areas.
This is more important than many people realize. You want to look at your policies to ensure you have agreement and buy-in from all the levels that need to sign off. You want to look at your guidelines and workflows to ensure everyone is administratively consistent in assigning, reviewing, and measuring training. You need a consistent, documented process for reviewing, improving, or correcting your content. Finally, you want to ensure that you are following best practices – and that your SOPS (Standard Operating Procedures) documentation is current, correct, and available as a ready reference for ongoing course correction.
Money is as much a measurement of efficiency as time. Don’t be afraid to examine your processes to see if a new workflow, software tool, or additional resource might be needed. Sometimes that additional resource may mean hiring a contractor versus a new permanent employee.
You may be able to reduce steps in a process to save time – but you need to ensure that you understand in the biggest picture “why” those steps were put in place. It may be to compensate for a gap in the technology you are using or the required data output you need for reporting. Don’t kill a process/step before you know it can die with dignity and not cause a problem for your future self. (It happens. It’s happened to me.)
This is where conversations about being open to change and not feeling threatened because the work that is done by your team daily is coming under scrutiny. This is not about blame – it is an assessment. Prepare for defensiveness, and politely, reassuringly push through to deeper understanding. You want to be able to explain confidently (not emotionally justify) the continued use of your processes and uncover the potential benefits of reviewing, refining, or discontinuing every process that no longer serves its purpose in its current habitual form.
Finding ways to maximize your L&D output
There are likely more resources available to you in the greater L&D world than you realize. Are you using the right strategic partnerships (like your L&D Audit Consultant)? Have you thought about moving contracted services in-house – or outsourcing extra work to a trusted eLearning partner on an ongoing basis, making them essentially a remote office on a fractional basis for a fixed amount of time per week?
If you need additional help to manage seasonal or situational surges in your training delivery – now is the time to identify the amount of work you need to outsource, develop a high-level statement of work needed, and build this into your L&D budget.
Let’s say you’re a retailer, and you know you’ll need to bring on a few hundred additional temporary front-line employees to get through the holiday selling season. You can forecast and prepare for that surge to ensure that those hired temps get the right amount of training they need - without adding to your end-of-year stress.
Capturing your company’s internal knowledge
Here’s where the rubber meets the road, as the tire companies say. By digging into your current processes, you’ll be able to identify and document your corporate training history – lessons learned, the best and worst practices, and all the other corporate knowledge that contributes to creating the desired training outcome. Encourage your training delivery and content creation team to share the good and bad – what’s worked well and what has not achieved your goals. Create a non-judgmental atmosphere that permits people to speak freely – making sure criticism is about the produced results, not the person who implemented the policy or procedure – everyone needs to leave their ego at the door. Open-ended questions, critical listening, and respectful dialogue will reveal much about why things have worked and not worked to deliver the desired results.
3. Climbing your technology stack
As business needs change over time, so does the technology used to deliver and analyze results. Often, this evolutionary process can result in a group of non-integrated, disjointed tools and technologies that might slow down your training initiatives. The goal of any technology is to create efficiencies, provide more accuracy in analysis, and free up human capital resources to do the parts of the job that only humans can do. Your audit should examine and validate all your technologies to ensure you’re well-equipped for your training delivery journey. You’ll want to look at or consider adding:
- Communication and collaboration tools
- Course design software
- Data-gathering and analytics platforms
- Project management software
- Content management systems
- Proctoring tools or services
- Online training delivery platforms (your LMS, LXP, microlearning platform, or other technology)
4. Your training department budget
When I hear the word budget, I immediately translate that to “uncontrolled vulnerability” – because training budgets, like marketing budgets, seem to get the axe during times of economic hardship. That is why it is critical that you, as a training leader, understand and can demonstrate the value of your company’s training initiatives to the bottom line.
Two critical components of any L&D budget audit include:
- Knowing your ROI (Return on Investment) – This means understanding the relationship between the costs incurred in delivering training (i.e., software, content creation, human resources) and the measurable financial benefit that training provides (i.e., higher sales, lower customer churn, higher employee retention). This cost-benefit analysis becomes the foundation of your argument that justifies the continued investment in the L&D programs – especially in the face of budget cuts.
- Planned vs. Actuals – Assess the gap between what you planned to spend and what things cost and the measurable fiscal benefit you hoped to generate against the calculated results for those metrics. Now, you can project future budget requirements to support needed growth, find ways to save money, or discover what is needed to produce better results in the future. This analysis becomes the benchmark for the proper management of the L&D department – because it measures the ability of the department to predict and manage its growth potential.
You may need data from other departments within your organization to deliver these numbers for your audit. L&D is a division “in service” to the company and should have access to the fiscal analysis it needs to measure its performance accurately. Both overspending and underspending in L&D may potentially have an impact on all areas of the company, so the verified accuracy of all the numbers is vital to the integrity and efficacy of your audit.
5. The training you offer
The training audit process involves an end-to-end review of every piece of training content. All of it. And there may be a lot of it. Here’s a list of what this might involve, so you don’t miss anything.
- Actual course content as delivered through your learning platforms
- Performance supports and job aids – supplemental resources that may exist as links within your training content or as stand-alone resources
- Reference articles – both internal and external. An example of an external resource might be a link to the certification requirements by an agency that is the foundation of your compliance training.
- Rich media content – videos, podcasts, webinars, audio presentations, or QA sessions
- Links in various social communication streams pointing people to learning resources (Company Slack channel, Teams channels, discussion boards, emails, etc.)
- Printed reference material not yet converted to an online format
- The contents of knowledge bases, learning hubs, wikis, or other content aggregation platforms
- Training paths – learning plans, onboarding programs, self-selection criteria, prerequisites, personalized reskilling plans, upskilling options, and the unique additional certification/recertification needs of each learner, cohort and/or job role and responsibility.
- Learning technologies – the online training delivery platforms, tools and technologies, including any supports or modifications or integrations you may have added internally, in addition to the solutions that are available from third-party vendors and partners
- Learning analytics – the methods, metrics, and processes for evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of both your learning infrastructure, your learner performance, your tangible outcomes and KPI metrics. All these aspects can then be combined to evaluate the overall success of your L&D program and strategy.
What techniques should I use to find the information I need for my training program audit?
If you have hired a learning consultant, they should be able to give you a detailed action plan and list the techniques that they will use to perform their audit. If you are doing it in-house, here are some techniques to consider. Remember that every business is different, and not all techniques will be applicable.
The advantage of interviewing all your eLearning team members involved in your training program is that it allows the interviewer to dig in as deeply as needed through insightful questioning. Interviews can be structured (a prepared list of questions) or unstructured (more free-form exploratory conversations) and may be conducted in person or remotely. I recommend recording these interviews so they can be reviewed or checked for clarity as all the data comes together.
Do you have a larger team, or is your team spread out geographically? Surveys are a great way to aggregate information. Use an online survey tool like Surveymonkey.com or Typeform.com to make it easy to distribute, aggregate your results, and measure engagement. A survey can be simple or complex, with branching scenarios (where the next question displayed is based on the previous answer).
A focus group is a highly facilitated group discussion where the moderator takes a cohort of participants through a series of questions and uses critical listening skills to dig deeper into the answers. Running a focus group takes a specific skill set, and they work best when the facilitator is unbiased and does not lead the conversation, either consciously or subconsciously, towards extracting a specific result. If you have a large L&D team to debrief or you are concerned that people may not speak freely, having an outside consultant running your focus groups may make their results more valuable to you.
Your team has worked with every aspect of your training program and may have made small, undocumented “course corrections” that are not visible as part of the overall strategy. They may have opinions, suggestions, and third-party stories from learners or administrators – all of which are extremely valuable insights into the day-to-day effectiveness of your L&D program. Creating a culture of “see something, say something” benefits the entire team and reduces workaround solutions. What might be observed and considered a minor issue may not have surfaced or been identified as a systemic opportunity for improvement, vs. a personal irritation with how a report is produced by your LMS, for example.
Internal documentation and reports
I’m willing to bet that every member of your learning and development team – from instructional designers to training managers, has produced some documentation to help them navigate their specific roles and responsibilities in delivering your company’s training. Some may be public, and some may hide on their computer or be captured in a notebook. Centralizing all this individual experiential information is often highly valuable to the audit process.
Making your post-audit action plan
All this work, all this information compilation, data gathering, and strategic analysis of what you need and what you need to do to improve your desired outcomes will have been a waste of time, effort, and money UNLESS you present an actionable plan to your leadership team. That report needs to convert your documented findings into a series of tangible actions. There are two main components to this process.
Assess and identify
The segment of your report that addresses the current state of your training program should assess the problem areas that require attention and what level of remediation is needed to bring them up to your desired standards.
When you move on to discuss the future state of your training program, you will need to build out detailed action plans for the changes you want/need to make. By quantifying the amount of work needed, and an estimate of both the time needed and cost (both hard and soft costs, including person-hours), you can then move to the second phase of building your plan.
Prioritize and align
Now it’s time to pull all this information together into official and actionable next steps. From all the action plans you have created, you’ll put them into priority order – starting with the low-effort, high-impact actions that will deliver the highest return on your time and energy investment. Next, approach the medium-effort, high-impact items, but consider how the previously completed plans may influence the effort needed and the priority of every subsequent project. Above all, it is the auditor's responsibility to ensure that every action plan recommended aligns with the company’s organizational goals and training objectives.
Use your training audit to influence changes with your training program
I hope that I’ve sufficiently demonstrated how critically important a properly completed training audit is for corporate training managers that want to improve the performance of their training program. If the purpose of training is to change behavior, then your training program is an agent of change that influences the transformation of your organization.
For your C-Suite
A properly performed and analyzed training audit does two things, and both are equally important. It allows you to compare your company's performance against known industry benchmarks, which is a measurement of competitive strength. That’s for the C-Suite.
For your eLearning team
For everyone on your eLearning team, the audit will have identified areas of success and opportunities for improvement, allowing you and your team to improve the training experience for every employee. Well-trained employees perform better and change jobs less frequently than those dissatisfied with their company’s training opportunities.
Whether it is measuring reduced employee turnover, fewer workplace accidents, higher customer satisfaction ratings, higher job satisfaction from your team, or higher sales for the company, those are the L&D metrics that your team cares about. Now, you have an action plan to improve the metrics by improving your training. You have a new mission, and if your team is like mine – that mission will help your team see their value in shaping many aspects of your company’s future success.
If you’re still looking for more resources to help you understand your online training, take a tour through our introduction to online training guide to find the next topic that interests you.