Training for Value

March 18, 2009 by
Filed under: Leadership, People, Process 

It would be naive to suggest that I don’t generate a good percentage of revenue from training engagements. Unfortunately, it would also be naive to suggest that these engagements consistently provide the most value for my clients. In fact, the opposite is true in many cases. Not because the training provided is bad (as there is plenty of objective evidence to the contrary), but because most organizations bring in training for the wrong reasons.

There are many reasons why an organization might enlist someone to provide training for them. For some, there is a portion of money set aside as a training budget. This might be a pool of money to be distributed across the organization, or it might be an individual allocation, either in a set number of training days or as a total dollar figure. In some cases, training budget gets allocated as a reward for performance either to the individual or the project team.

Organizations in this category are easy to spot these days, as the budget allocated for training has quickly dried up for many of them over the past six months. Push has come to shove with the economy, with the US leading the way and the rest of us forced to follow because of our close trade relationships. Money is tight, and as revenues are not meeting expectations, something has to give. For many companies, this typically means two things: reducing the workforce and cutting the budget for training (which is seen as discretionary spending).

While there can be reasonable trimming on both counts, we are currently in a situation where many companies have taken it too far. One company has decided that there will be no further face to face training until further notice. With another company, a planned training engagement was delayed at the last minute to some undetermined point in the future. Yet another, with a significant training infrastructure, is finding that enrollment has dropped significantly in their offerings, as individual departments decide how to handle training. I would expect that some of you that follow this blog would recognize your own companies here.

Some organizations take a different approach to training. They recognize that to get value out of training, it needs to be closely tied to a strategic understanding of which areas of improvement will contribute best to the bottom line. They also know that virtually all training programs ‘out of the box’ will only be marginally relevant or applicable their specific circumstances. Finally, they recognize that the raised awareness of new techniques based on generic training is only a first step. This raised awareness will be followed closely by a discomfort as people try these new practices, and there needs to be careful attention to ensure that the changes are fostered through to the point of internalization.

This is all a tall order, and you can’t just tell companies to do all this. The people involved need to understand that training, if done right, is an investment, not a raw cost to be cut when times are tough. These companies (or groups within larger firms) are definitely in the minority, but they achieve tremendous return on this investment, and they are a heck of a lot more intellectually challenging and fun to work with.

I expect that they will do better than merely survive in the current economy.

What are your reasons to spend money on training: is it seen as a cost that you just have to endure, is it a way of rewarding the stars in your organization, or is it an investment, used strategically to improve the effectiveness of your most valuable resource? – JB

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