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Gaining from Training

Gaining from Training

  • Tuesday 10 April 2018

“Half of my training budget is probably wasted.” said one business owner at the table.

“The trouble is,” he continued with a wry smile, “I’m not actually sure which half...”

Ah, yes indeed, the old jokes are undoubtedly the best.

Yet, despite the playacting, he was making a fairly serious - and in terms of overall business performance – quite a worrying point to the rest of the group; namely, that much of what he spent annually on training might, or might not, be of any real value to the business. He wasn’t too sure either way. And, deep down, he knew this was far from a laughing matter.

If you want to get the most out of the training you provide, you need to think about three important factors: the context, content and contribution of training:

 

Training shouldn't be viewed in isolation - although that is often precisely what happens in hospitality and tourism.

Broader issues such as the overall culture within the business and general attitudes held towards development are pretty important when it comes to getting the most from training.

Now, without question, culture is a fairly fuzzy concept at the best of times, but it impacts heavily on day-to-day life, and by correlation, on training. And here's some examples of how:

  • If a wider ‘developmental’ culture, where employees feel valued and respected, is lacking in the business, then any expenditure on training is essentially pointless; you don't need a degree in psychology to understand just how irrelevant training becomes for employees who are badly managed on a daily basis, or when they feel undervalued.
  • If the wider culture in the business is essentially broken, then you might as well pour the money down the drain.

How decision-makers within the business view training, their general attitudes to it, is important here too.

When discussing business development most managers are great at thinking in terms of return on investment; what's the return on this particular investment going to be is how they think. Yet, when those same people look at employee development or specifically the training issue, something suddenly changes for many of them, and the focus turns to the cost side alone.

"What’s this going to cost me?" becomes the focus. If the investment mindset is applied to training, it is surprising just how quickly things change when “what’s this going to deliver for me?” becomes the mantra.

Equally, we have all heard operational managers and supervisors use the excuse that they “don’t have time” to train their people. Again, with an investment mindset, they come to recognize that failing to train their people, amongst other things, makes them less efficient and ultimately less productive; as a result, management time is lost fixing the problems that arise from this fact. By front-loading that time in terms of training their employees, the return is improved quality and productivity.

 

It may sound beyond obvious to say that the content of training offered to employees must be tailored to their needs, whilst at the same time remaining focused on the needs of the business. Zero marks for innovative thinking there. But, laugh away, because the reality is often quite different.

For example, sending a relatively new employee and an "old-timer" on the same customer care course is of questionable value, for either the business or the employee. Yet, this kind of thing happens all the time: employees are frequently lumped together and shunted-off to training programs which may have little direct relevance to them. For sure, generic training in areas such as customer care is applicable to all employees, but even training of this type needs to be tailored to suit the varying levels of experience found in any business. There is no such thing as a "one-size-fits-all" training program in this day and age.

And this is even more applicable when it comes to personal development. Yet, here again, you often see a group of managers being sent on a "management course", the content, or indeed the level of which, may be suitable for only a handful of those in attendance. A golden rule should apply here: any employee attending any training program must always clearly understand its objectives and how that particular course fits into their wider development plan. When they see its purpose, they naturally strive to learn as much as possible and are more likely to later apply that learning for the benefit of the business.

Linked to the content issue is the quality of delivery - and the points here apply whether it is in-house provided, or delivered by external consultants. Again, it’s fairly basic stuff to say that the delivery of training has to be stimulating and engaging for employees if it’s going to have a positive impact; that's pretty basic stuff. But, how many times have you have seen employees trudge out of a training course at 5pm with death-looks on their faces, as if they had been forced to work down a coal mine for the day? Badly delivered training is a waste of time, no matter how good the content.

 

Another point to consider when seeking to get the most from training is the ability to measure the outcomes from any training provided; quantifying its impact not only helps with cost-benefit analysis, but also helps to better target future expenditures.

Unfortunately, there is still a fair degree of "ad-hocery" going on when it comes to measuring training outcomes in concrete terms. This perhaps goes some way to explaining why owners and managers are often so quick to slash the training budget when hard times hit; it’s difficult to justify expenditure for an activity where the returns are too frequently described in ‘pink and fluffy’ terms: making the case to the Accountant that training leads to increased morale, improved quality, reduced turnover and so on is hardly a winning argument from a bean-counter perspective, true as those claims may be.

In his seminal book, Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels,[1] Don Kirkpatrick has defined a four-level evaluation model which covers:

 

 

This is a very useful model for helping you to address how you can better evaluate the training you offer and there is no pretence that doing so is easy. It is not.

In truth, few companies get beyond Level 2 evaluation. The key to attaining Level 4 evaluation for training is to try to link the outcomes from specific training activities to tangible business measures such as customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, sales, cost reductions and individual performance results.

For example, a customer care training program should make a defined impact on the quality of service and this could be tracked through your customer feedback results. Management development (depending upon what’s covered, of course) should make an impact on an individual manager’s performance which should show up in their Key Performance Results, or more generally, providing management development training should lead to higher engagement levels of employees which can be tracked through the employee engagement survey.

It again sounds obvious to say that how you intend to "measure" the impact of training should be discussed and agreed before the training is actually delivered, but despite this obvious logic, it rarely happens. Instead, the issue of how to gauge the benefits gained from a training programme is often only considered after the training has been delivered. In essence, the measurement issue should be an early consideration, not an afterthought and preparation questions should roughly appear in this order:

  • What gaps/opportunities have been identified for which training could be helpful?
  • Who needs this particular training, or would benefit from it?
  • What, specifically, do we want this training to achieve/deliver? How can that be quantified? How will we measure that impact?
  • To achieve those results, what must the training cover? What content is essential?
  • How should that content be structured?...

The important point to consider here is that if you want to better measure the outcomes from training offered, then you need to discuss the issue at early stage.

For sure, seeking to get the most from training by focusing on the three factors here is a difficult journey, but a worthwhile one, when you consider that doing so is good for employees, customers, and the ultimately business. No pain, no gain as they say.

 

References:

1. Kirkpatrick, Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels, (Berrett-Koehler 2006).

2. www.kirkpatrickpartners.com.

© Dobiquity Limited (based on extracts from the book ‘The Essential Manager’ by Enda Larkin. ISBN: 978-1-908199-72-0)

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