Along with recruiting and retaining, training is one of the three key aspects of effective employee management. Before you sit down to work out just what your employee training program should involve, it is helpful to run an employee SWOT analysis for training needs and by looking at the business's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Get a Team Together

First, assemble your team to create the SWOT analysis for training and development. This may be a cross-functional team of managers from different areas of the company, all of whom have some stake in developing a great employee training program.

The team might include employees who have been through the training, successful team members who know where opportunities lie or the company's training experts. Or the SWOT team might be a smaller group, maybe even just one person, who is intimately familiar with both the employees and the company's training needs. A larger team is generally better (without getting too big), as more ideas will be brought to the table.

Before beginning the SWOT analysis for training needs, it is important that every team member understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. All team members should be familiar with not only the SWOT process, but also the specific desired result of the process and the overall employee training initiative. Give everyone background, and begin.

Assess the Strengths

Most SWOT groups find it simplest to begin with strengths. These are the strengths of your current employee base, the things that, although they could always be improved, your employees currently do very well. If your employees are all outgoing and friendly, that is a strength. If they consistently submit required reports on time, that is a strength.

Strengths are items that probably do not need to be given a high priority for training in your new employee development program, beyond what is already being done to train those skills. Make a comprehensive list of the strengths of your employees, and make sure all team members agree that these are indeed strengths.

Find the Weaknesses

After strengths, the logical place to move is weaknesses. These are the areas with the most need for improvement in your employees, probably the areas that made your company decide to examine the employee training and development process in the first place. If a customer service team is unable to entice canceling customers to stay with your business, that is a weakness. If an operations manager can not read a profit and loss report, that is a weakness.

Weaknesses are items that your team will eventually want to place as high priorities in the employee training process. Again, create a comprehensive list of employee weaknesses, and be frank.

Find the Opportunities

In SWOT analyses, where strengths and weaknesses of training programs are generally internal, opportunities and threats are found by looking outside the group. Although strengths and weaknesses are what you have seen in the past and are seeing now, opportunities and threats are what you are starting to see now but will see more of in the future.

An opportunity for a sales team, for instance, might be a new product, feature or price point coming that reps will be able to sell (which, in this case, would obviously provide an employee training opportunity). An opportunity for an accounting division could be new tax software or new online filing availability, which would again create a training opportunity.

Assess the Threats

Finally, a realistic and thorough examination of external threats should be considered to finish the SWOT analysis. Threats are those programs, qualities or events approaching your employees that could hamper the effectiveness or efficiency of the business.

That new tax software that was an opportunity for more efficient accounting could also be a threat, for instance; after all, if the accountants do not adequately understand how to use it, it could slow them down. A competitor offering a new, lower price point can create a threat for sales employees, as they could lose sales if they are not adequately trained to sell against that lower price.

Use SWOT Analysis for Training Needs

After you have the SWOT completely assembled and your team agrees on it, the hardest part begins: You have to use the document you created to realign and rebuild your training program. The SWOT looks great on paper, but it is worthless if it is not used properly to align employee training with the company's most pressing needs.

Strengths are areas to be reinforced but not trained as a priority, while weaknesses can be used to generate your most important training topics. Although the strengths and weaknesses show what training your employees do and do not need now, opportunities and threats should indicate what training should be implemented to keep your business in a proactive, rather than a reactive, role.

Be aware that it is very easy, especially in group settings, to overemphasize strengths and underemphasize weaknesses. The importance of frank discussion, of a realistic assessment of employee traits and attitudes, cannot be stressed enough.