Training and the bottom line Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

In-house training is a necessity at all good companies. But hiring professional educators to supplement that internal training is often what separates the better companies from the best companies.

“With the proper training, employees are more focused,” says Amy Lane, executive director of Regional Corporate and Community Services for Kent State University. “They spend more time working on the right activities and exhibit higher skills. Projects are efficient and effective. And there’s better morale.”

Smart Business talked with Lane and Kelli Baxter, director of the Office of Corporate and Community Services at Kent State University Stark Campus, about external training issues.

What types of employee/talent development do employers seek?

Lane: Employers feel that technical training can be offered internally, so they are seeking the softer skills from external training providers — human relations skills — to help employees relate interpersonally, solve problems efficiently and manage projects better. Chief executive officers and other executives ask for topics such as problem-solving, leadership and supervisory skills, project management, Lean and Six Sigma continual improvement methods, and more sophisticated sales topics.

Baxter: Additionally, negotiations training — which is not usually part of the internal training and is not necessarily considered supervisory/management-level training — is important for all salespeople, managers and supervisors.

Lane: Top-level managers say that they need to improve their managers’ coaching accountability and interpersonal communications. Their companies are growing, and they are spending a disproportionate amount of time on interpersonal issues between employees.

How does an organization assure that its external training meets its objectives?

Baxter: By using a holistic approach and making sure that the external training company serves as a partner to the organization. The training partner should ask good questions in a consultative way and tailor the sessions based on the answers — whether it be training, consulting or one-on-one coaching. The trainer might ask about corporate values, strategic plans, internal communications or management of resources in order to help you think through what else could be impacting the challenge you’re facing. The plan should help you meet those objectives.

Lane: In addition, training should be tied in with the corporate performance-management system. A follow-up performance evaluation session between the manager and each individual employee should be mandatory. The manager needs to discuss how employees are going to apply what they learned on the job, if they understand what they learned, whether the training had impact and how the manager can help support that training in the future.

Is this technically ‘training’ or ‘education’?

Lane: It is a hybrid. An effort should be made to provide both knowledge and skill-based training. The participants should be able to acquire knowledge about the topic so they can think critically and, thus, have more options in their decision-making. But there should also be a lot of skill-based training that includes group activities, practical exercises, brainstorming and role-playing. Adult learners don’t want to be lectured at or sit for eight hours; they need to be engaged. The training needs to be participatory, action-oriented and practical — not just theory-based.

In addition to training, what other services can external trainers provide?

Lane: For executives, strategic planning, helping with goal-setting, investing in employees and figuring out how to tie it all in with a corporate strategic objective is very important. The process might include organization development work, including strategic planning facilitation, setting goals and objectives, continual improvement and executive consulting. This helps set standards, goals and objectives. It shows how to best invest in employees so they understand expectations.

Are these types of programs standard — at least in their approach?

Baxter: Training facilitators should know about adult learning theory and practices, including the utilization of models, theories and world-renowned experts. But what drives content should not be standard. It should be tailored to your company’s individual needs.

Lane: Facilitators must have the ability to deliver a program that serves the client’s needs, and an outline should be developed from that. Look for long-term relationships and training institutions that really believe in the region’s economic vitality.

What other factors go into selecting a training partner?

Lane: Testimonials are important. The best way for you to understand the effectiveness of external training is to hear from your peers about the significant bottom-line impact that they have derived from external training.

Baxter: Some educators/trainers, like Kent State, have public programs that one or two people from a company can attend. Tools like learning outcomes action plans can get participants thinking about what they can incorporate when they get back to work and what resources they need from their managers. Look for these kinds of tools that will help to transition learning from the training room to the workplace.

AMY LANE is executive director of Regional Corporate and Community Services for Kent State University. Reach her at (330) 672-5828 or alane@kent.edu.

KELLI BAXTER is director of the Office of Corporate and Community Services at Kent State University Stark Campus in North Canton. Reach her at (330) 244-3505 or kbaxter@kent.edu. Pertinent Kent State University Web sites: www.kent.edu/Your TrainingPartner and www.YourCorporateU.com.