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The Five W's and How of Training

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 09/08/2015

effective training
Effective training can lead to knowledgeable, motivated employees and satisfied and loyal clients. When developing training for your business, it is essential to create a needs analysis by asking the five w's (who, what, where, when, why) and how to successfully reach an audience.

Table of Contents

An oft quoted adage states 'give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.' The meaning is simple, but profound: merely giving is a short term solution, where the recipient becomes dependent on the giver. Teaching, on the other hand, allows a person to gain a skill set and become self-reliant in the long term. In the workplace, effective training can lead to knowledgeable, motivated employees and satisfied and loyal clients. When developing training for your business, it is essential to complete a needs analysis by asking the five w's (who, what, where, when, why) and learning how to successfully reach your audience.


The all-encompassing question behind a needs-analysis is the 'why,' also known as 'WIIFM' or 'what's in it for me?' It is vital that the trainee understands the benefits of the new offering, whether it be convenience, saving time and money, improved efficiency and productivity, or an intrinsic value. The reason for, and benefits of, the training must be acknowledged in order to gain the trainee's attention and interest.

Who and What

When a company implements a new product or service, they must train their employees to sell and support the product and train their clients on its features and functionality. Training should be tailored to the specific needs of its audience. For example, training to operations personnel may focus on implementation and basic support, while IT training may concentrate on software specifications and troubleshooting. Client training will vary based on the complexity of the product, the client's requests, and their comfort level. Take time to define the audience and what they need to know to make the training relevant.

Where, When, and How

There are many ways to deliver training and the answers to 'who' and 'what' will help dictate which method is the most appropriate. Face to face training is ideal for groups situated in an immediate area, with access to a location conducive to learning. This method allows the trainer to get visual cues and instant feedback from their audience, and encourages interaction between participants. Webinars are beneficial for a high volume of participants who are located across multiple locations. They're convenient because participants can log in from a laptop or a mobile device while on the go. Face to face training and webinars are ideal for answering questions and clarifying information throughout the session. However, these methods can be difficult to organize given each participant's schedule or coverage needed for other tasks.

Alternate methods include training manuals, videos, job aids, or click-through demonstrations. These are appropriate when an employee or client wants to reference something on their own or needs assistance outside of standard business hours. The trainee can go through the material at their own pace and research information specific to their concern. Offering a variety of methods allows trainees to receive information when they need it and in a way best suited to their preferred learning style.

Successful training leads to knowledge, self-sufficiency, loyalty, and retention. After completing your training, a participant should have a better understanding of the product or service, know how it benefits them, and feel confident in how to use it. Thoughtful consideration and emphasis on training shows participants they are well supported and a top priority. Conducting a needs-analysis will help define why a training will take place, who needs to be trained, what they need to know, and where, when, and how the training will be offered. Answering the five w's and how helps a company tailor training to the participants' needs.

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Emily Garwood is a field trainer at Paychex and currently works on a national team supporting companywide training initiatives.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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