The ins and outs of training

External trainers bring experience, change; internal ones familiar with culture
By John Wright
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/08/2011

In a challenging economy where companies need to produce more with less, the real value of training and development emerges: An engaged, loyal and committed employee is like money in the bank. Business leaders are recognizing sustainable growth — in any business — depends on cultivating and sustaining employee engagement.

In addition to the economy, the shifting dynamics of the workplace have created multiple challenges for organizations, especially when it comes to finding the appropriate and “best fit” solution to maintain a forward-thinking, sustainable, growing workforce and business.

There is a strong relationship between engagement and high-performance outcomes such as customer loyalty, profitability, productivity, turnover, safety incidents, shrinkage, absenteeism and quality defects, according to Gallup’s 2009 study The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes. The study was a meta-analysis of 199 studies, involving 152 organizations in 26 countries.

Increasingly, companies are recognizing employee engagement is not automatic but earned from every employee through a trusting and supportive relationship with one’s leader — a relationship nurtured through a visible and championed investment in organizational professional development.

Training and development are key pieces to this puzzle, with the onus falling on HR to fix the problem, often internally with limited resources. An articulated employee planning and skill development path is integral to sustained growth. Customized, interactive programs and development solutions will prepare participants for real-world situations.

But how do you get there? Do you create an internal team to manage the program or do you outsource by hiring an external trainer?

The case for external training

No two organizations are alike and different workplaces require different solutions, some long-term, some not. A collaborative approach is best suited when organizations have training and development needs.

Employers should ask themselves: What is the focus of the company’s vision and inspiration? How do employees regard the organization itself? Do they appreciate the leadership or the culture? Is there self-awareness?

These are tough questions that need to be asked and it’s often easier to get an objective, outside perspective to find out what’s actually going on. Often, the introduction of a third-party viewpoint helps employers avoid organizational politics, especially in sensitive situations where confidentiality is an issue and training needs are at a management or senior level.

Externally sourced trainers should come from management positions, with personal experience “in the trenches” gleaned from world-class organizations. This real-world experience affords an intimate understanding of the issues and challenges facing organizations every day, as well as the ability to train and relate to situations and realities managers and leaders are facing.

The ability to share “war wounds” is key to bringing credibility to the classroom — something that may not be possible when training is handled internally.

Sourcing external trainers can be a smart move for organizations looking to shake up the status quo — not only are the tools, program materials and facilitators already in place, they can be scaled up or down, depending on need, and can be implemented quickly and efficiently. And the investment cost is determined before the first session begins.

External trainers can also ask the tough questions needed to move a business forward, without threatening individuals or relationships inside the company. They can make an assessment, put together a proposal and roll out a customized program while clients can carry on with the business of the day — it’s a neat package.

The case for internal training

While bringing in an outside team can provide fresh perspectives on organizational problem-solving, there is no doubt internal training can be beneficial in certain cases.

External trainers, despite their expertise, may not always be the best fit — particularly those that require a multi-faceted approach. If organizations have multiple objectives, or if there are systemic or structural issues, it’s unlikely external facilitation can help.

It also depends on how many individuals need to be trained, as volume pre-determines whether it’s feasible to build an in-house training program. There are certainly instances where organizations take this route.

Hiring from within is often convenient, as trainers are familiar to staff and understand the nuances of company culture. Unlike external trainers, who go through a necessary but costly learning curve to ramp up on company culture, work structure and ethos, internal teams can jump in with both feet and implement informal learning through web-based or self-study solutions.

There’s also a strong case for informal learning, which is something that is becoming more common. This is often closely tied to a company’s culture, so it makes sense that staff directly design and implement those types of programs.

Peer-to-peer learning, reverse mentoring, shadowing and stretch assignments are all situations where an organization’s own resources might be best deployed.

Employee engagement: Closing the loop

With many factors to consider, it’s never an easy job to determine which training and development strategy is the best for a particular situation. Organizations need to determine the best solutions to evolve and grow, whether that means putting together an internal team or looking to an external source for training and development needs.

But recognizing there is a need for structured professional development is the first step towards successful employee engagement.

John Wright is president and managing director of the Canadian Management Centre (CMC) in Toronto. He can be reached at (416) 847-6066 or jwright@cmctraining.org. For more information, please visit www.cmctraining.org.

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