Improve Employee Training with a Design-Thinking Framework

Dharshan Chandran Instructional Design
Improve Employee Training with a Design-Thinking Framework

Technology has changed the landscape of professional learning and development. Learning management systems (LMS) and digital adoption platforms (DAPs) empower employees to access course materials when, where, and how they want. For CLOs, that means rethinking traditional employee training programs to ensure course completion and learner engagement.

Instead of forcing employees to learn via an established training regimen, start with the employees, and work backward. According to LinkedIn, 94% of employees view effective training as a reason to stay at a company, and the best way to know what will be effective is to ask. Talk to your team, review user statistics from previous professional development programs, and use that information to create courses based on people’s needs and preferences.

Design thinking, a user-focused problem-solving framework, offers a simple, five-step method for CLOs to create effective and engaging employee training programs.

1. Talk to Employees About Past Training Experiences

The first stage of the design-thinking framework is to empathize. In traditional training methods, the presentations or materials are created based on the content that needs to be taught. But with design-thinking, you start by finding out as much as you can about the learner and their concerns.

For employee training, that means talking to your employees. Find out what they like and dislike about current training methods, and ask them what is (or isn’t) working. Send out surveys, and hold roundtables to encourage discussion. This data-collecting stage is crucial for finding a solution that will improve your training processes.

Don’t make assumptions about what you think your employees need or what you think worked well in the past. At this step, focus on finding out what employees think about current professional development processes.

Talk to Employees About Past Training Experiences

In addition to getting direct input from employees, review information from the results of previous training programs. Consider the completion and engagement rates of different types of training. After these sessions, how often did managers have to follow up with employees?

For example, say you taught employees to use a new piece of technology. After they finished training, how many support tickets did they file regarding that tech, and what were the employee end-user adoption rates?

Studies and multi-company surveys are also good resources. The results won’t be specific to your organization, but they will give you an idea of what is working well at other companies. LinkedIn surveyed thousands of employees, managers, and learning and development (L&D) professionals for the 2020 Workplace Learning Report. They found that 57% of L&D professionals were focusing more on e-learning. This kind of insight can help guide you as you begin to define your problem and brainstorm solutions.

2. Write People-Centric Problem Statements

Use the data you collected in Step 1 to create one or more people-centric problem statements, detailing the issues with your current professional development programs.

Let’s say your interviews and surveys show that employees prefer independent learning. Your completion and engagement rates from previous trainings are lowest in large group sessions. A relevant problem statement based on this data should start with the user/learners: Employees need a way to independently complete training programs at their own pace.

Don’t focus the problem statements on business-performance metrics. If you see from the data that employee end-user adoption of new technology is a problem, you would not create a statement saying, “We need to increase end-user adoption by 30%.” Instead, you might say, “Employees need to be trained on new tech more effectively so they increase everyday use.” Keeping your problem statements user-centric will help ensure that the solutions are genuinely addressing employee concerns.

3. Hold Brainstorming Sessions with Managers

The next step in the design-thinking process is ideation. Tackle your problem statements one by one, voicing any possible solutions as you go. That way, you can more easily keep track of which ideas go with which statements.

For this step, bring in your managers and team leaders. They know your employees and likely have firsthand experience with both sides of the training process. Getting their input adds a perspective that you simply can’t produce on your own.

Hold Brainstorming Sessions with Managers

Encourage your managers to engage in a freewheeling discussion. There are no bad solutions at this stage—you want to hear as many ideas as possible from different points of view. Use different ideation techniques to encourage creative problem-solving. As CLO, add to the discussion with your knowledge of available elearning tools and techniques.

4. Test Solutions with Small Teams

Now that you have so many ideas to work with, it’s time to narrow them down. In design thinking, Step 4 is called the prototype stage. It’s where you start to implement changes and make adjustments to your training programs based on the data, problems, and solutions you’ve come up with so far.

First, choose your preferred solution for each problem statement. This will be the solution that best addresses employee concerns while still fulfilling company requirements, such as budget, location, or number of users. Just as in the ideation stage, it’s useful to get input from team leaders as to what they think will be the most effective.

The solution may involve the development and creation of new educational materials. If you find that the best way to solve your problem is to adopt an LMS, your team will need to design courses and content. Similarly, if you determine that a DAP is the best way to encourage self-paced learning of new tech, you will need to create walkthroughs and self-help materials to populate the platform.

Next, test the solution with a small group. The team involved in developing new materials and processes might try it out themselves, or you could select a small group of other employees or managers to test it. After each test, collect feedback from participants to see if you need to make any adjustments.

5. Expand Your Test Group

After testing within the team, start implementing the training solution more widely. If you already have training sessions scheduled, replace or update the current training program with your new solution. If not, talk to your managers, and see what professional development their employees need that would work as a broader testing ground.

Observe the implementation of the new process or technology from start to finish. In this step, you’ll collect much of the same kind of data you gathered in Step 1, but this time it will come from your updated training process. Check course completion rates. Look at end-user adoption rates and the numbers and types of employee support tickets following the training. Compare these findings to what you observed in the first step. Ask for employee feedback to see what is and isn’t working.

The design-thinking framework isn’t strictly linear. Depending on what happens during the testing in Steps 4 and 5, you may need to go back to brainstorming and come up with new solutions.

design-thinking process

Throughout the process, you’ll revisit the data and make sure that any solutions address the problems you uncovered based on employee input. But if you keep testing and making adjustments, you’ll find the training processes and techniques that work best for your team.

Supplement Design-Thinking with Employee Feedback

The central emphasis of the design-thinking framework is on the user—or the learner/employee, in the case of professional development. The best way to keep your training solution employee-centric is to collect feedback at every step. Find out what is and isn’t working in your current training programs, and have employees and managers submit ideas for how to improve the learning process.

Once you’ve implemented a solution, keep asking for feedback so you can adjust your courses as needed to maximize learner engagement and completion rates. If you use a DAP, for example, you can send surveys in-app to see where employees are having trouble. You could also have managers meet with employees one-on-one or in small groups to discuss what they think of the new training.

Dharshan Chandran

Dharshan Chandran

Product Marketing Manager at Whatfix
Dharshan, with 8+ years of corporate experience, has helped take early-stage enterprise SaaS products to market in various industries. His current focus is on the HR tech space and how evolving technology is helping enterprises digitize their workspace and drive employee engagement.
Dharshan Chandran
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