Corporate Training: Training ROI
Article by Dr. Pratik P. SURANA
Chief mentor and Founder
Today, employee training has to be more cost effective than ever. Your tight bottom line can’t afford the luxury of huge training expenditures without a serious return on investment. Below are the most important goals to focus on achieving in order to make your training most cost effective for your organization.
START WITH AN OLD FASHIONED NEEDS ASSESSMENT
The most logical starting point of any training program is to know precisely what employees already know and what they need to know in order to perform in the most productive manner that will help the company meet its goals. There is only one way to find out this information and that is to ask it. How you ask it should be carefully planned to avoid the garbage-in-garbage-out syndrome.
The smart thing is to gather a variety of input from all stakeholders, instead of simply surveying employees and management to determine what employees want to be trained on or just imposing the training according to what management desires. To be most effective training has to be a negotiated process between all those who have a stake in the outcome. The focus should be on improving key performance deficiencies in the quickest, most cost-effective manner.
HIRE THE BEST TRAINER YOU CAN
Maybe the single most important variable relating to a training outcome is the skill of the trainer. It only makes sense to hire the best. Effective trainers have to be a master of many skills. They have to be an educator, psychologist, leader and technologist. They have to know how people learn best, they have to have a variety of delivery techniques to accommodate a variety of learning styles, they have to be up on modern technology and they have to have a strong knowledge of the training subjects.
Trainers also have to be highly intelligent, well-organized, capable of reaching all levels of trainees, extremely resourceful, energetic, humorous, full of concrete examples and able to help people transfer information from a sterile classroom to the real world. And in some difficult work environments they have to have good aim using a rubber riffle trying to hit a moving target while they are running at the same time.
FOCUS ON SPECIFIC OUTCOMES
The sole purpose of training should be to change specific attitudes, knowledge and skills in order to improve work productivity. Training is not education, planting seeds, entertainment, group counseling, something to look good on records, affective teaching, inspiring, battery charging or anything else unless those things are used effectively as tools to change behavior and improve performance.
All training should have very specific behavior goals and all training content should facilitate the achievement of those goals. It is the focusing on the other, more intangible goals that wastes most money in training budgets. If you can’t measure how it is going to contribute to the bottom line in a concrete way, don’t waste training efforts on it.
ADAPT TO REAL WORLD OBSTACLES
The best training in the world won’t have the desired impact if the training doesn’t recognize and accommodate real world obstacles. Sometimes there are obstacles that run contrary to the goals of training or make application of the training difficult. This is the type of information that should be uncovered in a good training needs assessment in order to save wasted training efforts and costs. It may be these obstacles themselves that should be the focus of the training.
Typical obstacles that should be considered are things such as the company culture and norms, employee peer group influences, and the degree of support from management. Other potential barriers are the types of organizational sanctions used and what they actually reinforce, lack of needed resources at the workplace and the real opportunities to apply the training back on the job.
There is one mistake that I have seen committed over and over again even by trainers who should know better. That is to try and do too much. There is no better rule to adopt than to present a few good ideas over and over again in a variety of formats and train employees on them well, rather than trying to teach too many things poorly. Overload is always a killer.
People are generally already too overloaded with information and reams of new training information just add to the problem of lack of mental storage space. Focus on the most critical principles of the training and look for creative ways to weave these points together in a common theme that will be simpler and more meaningful for trainees to remember. Also, always orchestrate social interaction, as this is often where the real training/learning occurs.
Any type of training today has to compete for employees’ attention and the competition for that is keener than you may want to imagine. Boring, conventional, routine materials and low-tech, low energy presentations won’t get it. The trainer has to develop clever variations of current training materials and be extremely creative, varied and animated in presenting this information in newer and more unusual ways.
Creative tricks can include using new and unusual terminology, providing humorous similes or amazing statistics, affording time to explore both denotative and connotative meanings of key concepts and showing “fish bowl” demonstrations followed by critiquing of hands-on practice. Other tricks are using a “training buddy” system to discuss and evaluate important aspects of the training at strategic points, negotiating “training contracts” at the beginning, establishing focus groups to discuss how to best apply the training back at the workplace and training by actually using the exact method you are talking about. The trainer must frequently attend other outside training to develop a creative toolbox and maintain needed enthusiasm.
EVALUATE YOUR EVALUATIONS
Probably one of the most important aspects of the training process is to get accurate and complete feedback as to how effective the training is. Unfortunately, the evaluation process frequently falls short. The problems are many including incomplete measurement, having the wrong people complete the evaluations, wrong timing, forms that aren’t user-friendly, and failure to listen to or use negative criticism to improve the quality of training.
A good training evaluation system has to include four components: (1) some sort of simple pre-test to measure where people are on objective performance criteria before the training (2) some form of informal assessment during the training to make sure things are going in the right direction (3) a formal post-test measure to see exactly what attitudes, knowledge and skills were changed as a result of the training, and (4) A 3-6 month follow-up evaluation to measure the long range impact of the training outcome on work performance, from the viewpoint of all major stakeholders.
To assure you are not wasting good money on bad training focus on a few important goals. Know for sure what employees need to know, hire a quality trainer, focus on employee performance improvement, and recognize and deal with critical obstacles. Also keep things simple, explore ways to be more creative and seek and use accurate, useful feedback to constantly improve the quality of training.