Get a Better ROI on Your Training Dollars

Training is effective when it is part of a larger system of growth and improvement

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Each year, companies waste time and money on training that doesn’t deliver what the people who paid for it thought it would. Consequently, many of those remorseful purchasers determine that training has little value to their employees, the instructors don’t know what they’re doing, the program designers are out of touch with reality, or a combination of all three.

If only the root causes of training failures were as simple as those. Even with willing learners, you can still encounter a host of problems that will keep you from realizing strong returns on your training investment. If your training isn’t delivering what you think it should, you may be suffering from one of three major problems that plague businesses big and small.

Problem No. 1: Training isn’t part of a larger learning ecosystem

Just because people participate in a workshop, it doesn’t mean they will change their behavior back on the job. In fact, even if they demonstrate an ability and willingness to do whatever is being taught while in class, all may be lost once participants exit the classroom.

Why does this happen? Good workshops usually fail to deliver because they are treated as a training solution instead of a component of one. In other words, more training isn’t the answer in itself; rather, it should be part of a larger ecosystem.

Solution

Creating a strong learning ecosystem is an ongoing and often complex endeavor. It takes time to build a holistic structure that supports continuous development. That said, start small. For example, ask yourself:

  • Prior to training, do you explain to people why they will attend the course and how they are expected to use what’s learned after the session?
  • Do you explain how the training ties into the bigger picture?
  • Are there check-in opportunities after training to ensure participants are implementing new behaviors?

If you answer “no” to any of those questions, do what you need to do to shift those answers to “yes.”

Next, think about the incentives you can put in place to encourage behavior changes, the barriers you need to remove to encourage success, and the corrective action you will take if what’s happening in the classroom isn’t replicated on the job.

Once you start thinking holistically and view training workshops as a component of learning versus learning in its entirety, you will have taken the first step in getting the most out of your training dollars.

Problem No. 2: Continuous learning isn’t part of the culture, and training isn’t treated as a priority

You have great content and a skilled facilitator in place, but half the people attending don’t actively participate because training isn’t a priority to them.

When training occupies a position of “nice to have” and not “need to have,” getting the most from it becomes problematic. This most often happens when people are in survival mode instead of on a growth trajectory. In other words, they are scrambling to get through the work instead of thinking mindfully about the work they’re completing and how they’re completing it.

In practical terms, if people are always putting out fires and don’t regularly ask themselves how they can improve, why should they care about learning new skills?

Solution

Shifting from a reactive culture to one that is deliberate about its activities takes months or even years. However, it’s not difficult to make big strides over time when you begin by asking the right questions up, down and across an organization.

Start the improvement conversation at multiple levels and at different times. Frequently ask questions after challenging jobs, meetings, trainings and so forth (e.g., What have we learned? What do we need to do better next time? What do we wish we’d known earlier?). In the rare instances when a project goes perfectly, remember there are still questions to ask: How can we replicate what we just did? Why did that work well? Is there any reason this approach won’t work again in the future? And so on.

When questioning becomes the norm, the solutions offered via training should have stronger importance and value. For example, if turnover is an issue, you want to know why and may ask several questions: Are we hiring the wrong people? Are we expecting too much? Is there something better for the same money somewhere else? Do our managers not manage well? Do we need to provide people with better tools?

To get larger returns from training, use questioning to drive improvement. The answers will help people connect the dots and understand why training is a priority and not just something they do because you tell them to show up in a classroom.

Problem No. 3: Few annual development plans exist

The world doesn’t stagnate, and your employees shouldn’t either. If they’re doing their work the same way they were five years ago and nobody is encouraging or demanding change, why should they care about training or think you care about them?

Solution

Every employee should have a development plan and some learning and growth goals that connect to the big picture and enhance their skills.

“I want to improve X skill to drive Y result, and Z is how I plan to grow,” is a quick and easy format to follow when setting development goals, and three to five goals is a good number for most people.

Better still, if you can tie those goals to performance reviews, you’ll be amazed at the interest people develop in improvement, training and implementing new skills.

As with the other two solutions, start small.

Act now

Whether you suffer from one, two or all three of the problems described, take action now. When thoughtful goals and development plans are put in place throughout a company, people are conditioned to ask the right questions and drive toward improvement. And when a strong learning ecosystem supports growth, it is almost impossible not to realize a stronger return on your training dollars.

About the Author

Kate Zabriskie is president of Business Training Works, a Maryland-based talent development firm. Reach her at www.businesstrainingworks.com.



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