When training budgets are well-funded, it’s easy to take a casual approach to justifying the spending of training dollars. But very few HR professionals have that kind of luxury these days — many are scrambling to ensure budgets will cover essential training.
Justifying training expenditure is often a challenge. In some cases, it’s legislatively mandated and in others there’s a very clear need to train on a company-specific process, product or piece of equipment.
To avoid that sick feeling that comes from spending company resources — hard dollars and employee time — on training that doesn’t make any difference back on the job, there’s a lot that can be done, before and after the training, to ensure an organization gets its money’s worth and employees build and use new skills.
Before the training
Before the training happens, ask a few basic questions: Is training the right response? Are we trying to build a skill or knowledge base employees don’t currently have? Training can have a short-term, motivational effect but that’s not likely the objective. If an employer is trying to address a behavioural issue with training, it most certainly won’t see any lasting results.
If an employer is trying to address a performance issue, it should ensure a lack of skill or knowledge is actually the problem. Perhaps there is a barrier to performing, such as a greater workload. Training won’t address the underlying issues of this kind of performance issue.
A manager’s approach before training has an enormous impact on how a trainee views this process. Have the manager and trainee talk to each other. Avoid the hostile “What, you’re going to be away for three days?” approach or the apathetic “OK, if you think that’ll do you any good, then go ahead.” The results will improve exponentially if:
• a manager shows the employee the training is important
• the two agree on desired outcomes of the training
• the two agree on some sort of followup to evaluate the results.
Make the training immediate. This isn’t always possible but if the training is close in time to when the skills are needed, there’s a much greater chance it will stick. This applies not only to technical training such as software and equipment but to soft skills such as performance management, delegation and team-building. Participants will have a chance to practise early on and quickly realize the importance of what they’ve learned.
During the training
Get out of the way. The most useful thing an organization can do for a trainee is to stay out of his way. This means no interruptions during the actual training delivery and giving him leeway to not respond immediately to emails and voice mails. (Facilitators often ask participants to turn off all their technology at the beginning of sessions and only check for messages during breaks.)
After the training
Training is just the beginning. Once the session is completed, participants and their managers also need to have a clear understanding of the following:
What was learned: Have a discussion about the course content. This can take 15 minutes, doesn’t have to be a repeat of the program and reinforces the information for the participant while at the same time informing the manager.
How the training can quickly be used: Hopefully some thought has already gone into this. The training was in response to a perceived need so now’s the time to address it.
The success of the skill development: This demands the support and participation of the manager and reinforces the importance of the training to the participant. Be careful to use a supportive approach. These are new skills for a trainee — his manager shouldn’t expect excellence right away.
Ongoing support for improvement
Managers should use a performance review to keep focus on the development of new skills by ensuring they are documented as objectives and, hopefully, as achievements. Managers often despair at having nothing constructive to use in reviews — they should include training needs, initiatives and results.
Trainees should take advantage of the connections they have gained or use a coach. A wonderful source of ongoing support that is often ignored is the “alumni” of the training group. Training facilitators can provide good information as to how well a group has created a team dynamic. Foster that group and let them continue to learn from each other in a “safe” environment, even if they’re from a variety of organizations.
Set up online groups or informal monthly action plan discussions with each other, without management monitoring. Consider having a professional coach involved to keep the focus on objectives and continue to drive progress. Most facilitators will tell you participants learn as much from each other as they do the material. Why lose this valuable resource?
Training costs too much, in time, effort and money, not to squeeze all the value out of it. The most important way to ensure a return on investment is to have managers realize they’re an integral part of successful training, even when it’s done externally.
Marybeth Ashbourne is a senior consultant at Bridgepoint in Toronto, which offers a wide range of HR consulting, outsourcing and training services. For more information, visit www.Bridgepoint.ca or call (416) 860-9170.