What Leaders Need to Know: Four Differences Between “Training” and “Development”

The level of Employee Engagement in an organization continues to have a strong correlation with the overall performance of the business. Over the last few weeks, we profiled the critical elements and timing of the onboarding process as the foundation for a positive employee experience. In the month of October, we’ll turn our attention to Long-Term Development and how it contributes to increasing Employee Engagement. Join us as Strategic Partner Diane Janovsky kicks off the topic with a comparison of Training versus Development.

Companies spend a lot of time and money on recruiting the best talent possible, and one way to assure a return on that people investment is to have a formalized plan for both initial training and ongoing development. In the first days, weeks and months of employment, the focus needs to be on effective onboarding, which consists of orientation and training to learn about the organization and the basics of a new role. Once an employee is acclimated and productive, keeping the focus on ongoing growth and improvement yields benefits for the person and the organization.

Although TRAINING and DEVELOPMENT are sometimes used interchangeably, they are actually two different processes with distinct attributes and value to employees and the business.

1) Focus

The focus of TRAINING is on equipping people to perform the JOB or ROLE. It is all about ensuring the ABILITY to complete required tasks. Training applies to employees who are new to the company or to a position, as well as to existing employees who need to add or improve skills as technology and business needs change. Training exists primarily to meet organizational requirements, and as such, it is a company-centric process.

On the other hand, the focus of DEVELOPMENT is on the PERSON and their CAREER PROGRESSION. Typically, development applies to existing employees once they have reached a level of competency in their current role. It is about understanding the interests and goals of the employee and preparing them for future POSSIBILITY. Most often, that is done in the context of meeting future company needs as well, but in some cases, a person may realize that advancement opportunity lies outside the current organization. Although Human Resources and managers should provide support and resources, development is ultimately the responsibility of the individual; in that respect, it is a person-centric process.

2) Timeframe

In general, the time orientation of TRAINING is relatively short-term, meaning days, weeks or a few months. It is a much more tactical activity that is expected to yield positive results and improve performance in the here and now.

In contrast, DEVELOPMENT is most commonly referred to as “long-term development”. It is strategic in nature and oriented to solving future challenges. It is a planned investment that may not be expected to manifest results for many months or years.

3) Scope

TRAINING is usually limited in scope with very specific and tangible objectives. It either involves technical knowledge, tools and skills or familiarity with rules, policies and procedures, and it results in predictable outcomes in terms of actions or behaviors. Another way to describe it would be the addition or improvement of “hard skills”.

DEVELOPMENT encompasses a much wider scope with more philosophical or theoretical concepts. Although a development plan may include some elements of technical training, more often the subject areas are less tangible and cover “soft skills” such as building relationships, effective communication and decision-making. The intent is to provide breadth of knowledge and a foundation for growth and increased potential. Although it is usually associated with management or leadership roles, development should be part of performance discussions with all employees. It is a small investment of time and attention on the part of managers, and it reinforces the principle that people are the most important asset in a business.

4) Delivery Methods

Historically, TRAINING was provided by a trainer in classrooms at scheduled times, but technology has changed our expectations. Although in-person seminars or workshops are still an option, today training is much more commonly delivered on-line and on-demand, whether as an e-learning module or a webinar. No matter what, the content is still largely designed with groups in mind and is rarely customized to individuals.

DEVELOPMENT is a highly individualized process because it is focused on a person, not an organization or group. A development plan may call for elements of traditional training, but it also usually includes multiple approaches for more holistic learning such as coaching, mentoring, job rotations, case studies and special projects.


Training and development are both valuable processes in a company, but for different reasons. Understanding that difference enables leaders to plan and implement the appropriate initiative in order to achieve the desired results.

Effective TRAINING can improve targeted business performance outcomes such as productivity, quality, safety and customer satisfaction. However, without a clear “WIIFM” (What’s In It For Me), employees sometimes see training as a burden and a distraction from their “real job”, and it becomes something to avoid if possible.

Because DEVELOPMENT planning is focused on supporting long-term personal growth and career advancement, it creates a context for training and a higher level of buy-in and engagement by the individual. It is a win-win situation: The employee has the opportunity to become more valuable to their current (and possibly future) employer, while the business benefits from improved problem-solving, decision-making and leadership capability.

The performance of a business is only as good as the performance of its people. Because the human capability of an organization must constantly improve to keep pace with change and competitive pressure, smart leaders will make sure to plan for and invest in both TRAINING and DEVELOPMENT.

At HPISolutions, we are experts in assessing your needs and creating and delivering a full range of learning and development services.