How To Get More Bang For Your Training Buck

Every day employers see problems in their organizations, and believing that training must be the answer, flip open a standard training catalog and sign their employees up for a class.  They alert their employees to training with a crisp, “Training will begin in two weeks,†without explaining how the training will benefit either the employees themselves or the overall business.  The trainers come and the trainers go and soon after, the complaints begin . . . “That training didn’t help my employees a bit!†. . . “That training provider is worthless!†. . . “What a waste of time and money!â€Â Â 

 If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Many employers have similar stories, but there is a key to ensuring that the training you provide your employees is as effective as possible. The key is taking the time up front to analyze the problems that need to be addressed and tailoring the training to your business’s specific needs. Most employers skip this part of the training process altogether. Too many companies fail to discuss at length with their training professionals the issues of concern but rather jump quickly through diagnosis to prescription, saying “give my employees customer service training.†Employers then expect such nebulous instructions to give the trainers the insight necessary for them to personalize the program to the company’s needs. The result is, as noted above, ineffective training, leaving employers feeling that the training investment did not measure up and they blame either the training provider or their own employees for the lack of change. Training providers certainly do differ in quality but far more determinative of the success or failure of training are the following factors: incomplete or inaccurate diagnosis of the problems, lack of corporate culture to nurture the training, and lack of follow up to determine changes wrought by training.

The first thing for an employer to do is to recognize that not all problems can be cured by training. Training is primarily effective to address skills or knowledge deficiencies. If, on the other hand, the problem is attitude or communication skills, other avenues such as one-on-one mentoring or coaching or small-group interaction may be the key. Another often-overlooked problem may be the business’s organizational culture. A strict hierarchical system, for example, generally does not foster the team interaction generally associated with high productivity and creative thinking. In that case, of course, training of the staff will do nothing to impact that culture. That issue must be dealt with by serious and in-depth conversation with the top echelon of the company.

Recognizing that training is not a panacea for all corporate ills, the employer needs to sit down and talk at some length with their training provider. Employers often make the mistake of not spending enough time in diagnosing the problem and that is why many trainings fail – because they are not addressing the true cause of concern. It is a valid investment of time for the employer to articulate clearly to the trainer the issues he or she hopes will be resolved. Then and only then can a trainer determine (1) whether training is the best route and (2) what specific type of training will work best. It is sometimes the case that through honest communication and probing questions by the trainer, the real cause of concern may reveal itself and it may be far different from the original cause diagnosed by the employer.

During the diagnosis part of this, the trainer will also recommend certain models of training and who should or should not be involved. The dynamics of learning and corporate interaction come into play here. Depending on the type of training, it may be advantageous to have supervisors present; on the other hand, for some training, their presence might preclude open and candid discussion.

Trainings differ widely, of course, but the trend is toward interactive training with concrete examples tied directly to the trainees’ specific jobs. Much time is spent in demonstrating the practical ramifications of the training and why it will help employees perform faster, better, or with less stress. The style of the presentation and the adeptness with which the instructor sets the stage by showing how it will relate to the employees is of far greater importance than whether the training is held on-site or off-site. Nevertheless, some trainers feel that it is more advantageous to conduct training away from the usual business site in that it generally decreases the number of distractions and gives the attendees the feeling of a completely different experience – a “special†day. Often, getting away from the office also fosters a freedom of expression that may be necessary in some kinds of training.

Employers often question the effectiveness of training but most do not invest the time and energy to do the follow-up evaluations that will show results. There are generally four levels of evaluation: The simplest and easiest (and the most used) is “reactionary†evaluations in which employees are basically asked “did you like the training?†The second and second most used evaluation is where employees are asked “was the training applicable to your work?†While these evaluations may tell us the feelings of the employees, they do little to track the productivity of training. Of more value is Level 3 evaluation, in which outside sources are used to estimate the extent to which a deficiency gap has been decreased. The most valuable (and unfortunately least used) evaluation is the Level 4 evaluation in which real hard numbers are compared to determine the difference the training made to the bottom line. While definitely the most valid indication of training effectiveness, the Level 4 evaluation is time-consuming because employers must analyze what performance measures would best reflect the impact of the training. This evaluation also requires valid pre-training measurements and post-training measurements using the same methods as before training. Each company is different so individualized evaluations must be drafted. This takes time and energy, but the companies that go this extra mile see great advantage in it.

Follow up of training is essential and yet many employers fail to recognize its value. Reinforcement training, meaning anything from a refresher course to one on one training, to follow-up discussion, to having an instructor available via e-mail or phone for questions, is key to ensuring that what has been learned will be used. Trainers today recognize that often during the time period immediately following training, questions arise during practical applications. Trainers, even those available by phone, are not as fast or effective as a peer who can help on the spot. Therefore, trainers often encourage companies to designate one individual as a “peer to peer†help desk. It is through the use of these peer-to-peer helpers that tremendous productivity gains occur.

By taking the time to prepare for and follow up on training, the training that occurs an be more effective and more satisfying to all involved.

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