The training was a failure. All of that time, all of that
effort, all of that money, just gone, just out the window and gone. What other
explanation was there, after all, for drop after drop in the hard numbers from
a talented sales team in the wake of a training and development session?
It could have happened at any business, but for the purposes
of this story, it happened at a large technology company with headquarters in
the Midwest. The top executives, frantic for answers, called a corporate
training firm. “Our sales are down,” the executives said. “We need training.”
That technology company was part of a large percentage of
businesses that continued to invest in corporate training, education and
development during the last couple of years. Thousands and thousands of others
turned away from training, unable or unwilling to spend more money during the
But a panel of more than 30 industry experts and academic
professionals agreed that it would have been far better for businesses to
continue to spend on training during those tough times to invest in their
employees and to show the extent of that investment, to improve the business
and keep it up to date, to be in a better position when the economy ultimately
turns around than to tighten the budget. The same rule applies now, too.
“Human assets are what create the competitive advantage for
an organization in this economy,” says Amy Lane, executive director, corporate
and community services, Kent State University. “It’s critical to have the
training to become innovative and compete effectively. Training is what will
make the organization most competitive and allow the employees to help meet
Make a plan
Members of the corporate training firm arrived the next day
and talked with as many employees as possible at the technology company, from
executives to engineers to those slumping sales representatives and everyone
else in between. They prodded and probed and asked questions. They were curious
about what, exactly, had happened.
They wanted to know, before they embarked on another
training session, whether another training session was actually necessary.
This is what you should do when you’re in the process of
determining whether to invest in training and development for your employees.
You should prod and probe and plan, because just as you shouldn’t approach a
new business venture without a model and a solid idea of what you want to
accomplish, neither should you approach training without thoughts of what you
need to tackle.
“The areas where companies should train employees really
depend on the company’s needs, which can be determined by conducting a needs
analysis or assessment,” says Manny Avramidis, senior vice president, global
human resources, American Management Association. “It really depends on your
situation, your industry, the business, the personnel, whether you have new
products or venues.”
And though those needs will vary from business to business,
from industry to industry, there are a number of common training areas on which
almost all businesses should focus. General communication and technology skills
are as important now as always. Leadership
development, team building and project management are also increasingly
important because of the changing demographics and economy.
“Project management seems to be taking off quite a bit,”
Avramidis says. “There are fewer and fewer traditional managers in place.
People have been asked to manage projects with numerous employees or
cross-functional teams, and they’re asked to manage without direct authority.
We’ve seen quite a bit of activity there.”
Open your wallet
Those members of the corporate training firm remained in the
offices for a couple of days. They wanted to follow every lead and turn over
every stone. They wanted to find out what had happened to the sales team after
that apparently disastrous training and development session. And the technology
company executives had no problem paying to keep them around. They wanted to
find out what happened, too.
Do you want to keep your top employees after the job market
opens again? Do you want all of your employees to be happy and to enjoy their
work right now? Investing in training and education is an important part of
helping you do just that. The average business spends about $1,060 on training
and education per employee per year, according to research by ASTD, the world’s
largest professional associated dedicated to the training and development field.
Businesses that have the most success tend to spend between 2
and 3 percent of their total payroll cost on training, education and
development. The average is in the middle, of course, right around 2.3 percent.
There are also effective ways to spend a little less, if your
revenue is still down or if you opt to not invest as much in training. Turning
toward local colleges and universities to design a custom program for your
employees is often less expensive than sending them to open enrollment courses,
as are distance learning and online courses. Some businesses opt to look within
for employees who are experts in a specific area and can train the rest of the
“A lot of organizations certainly should consider the local
universities and colleges, maybe rather than the big national training
organizations,” Lane says. “We’re cost-effective, local and can customize
programs. I think there are often opportunities to provide blended approaches
to training and development some of it may be a stand-up delivery and another
part of it may be online. And there are options for training internally.”
Keep an eye on results
At last, an answer for our corporate training firm and our
technology company in the Midwest. That previous training session, as it turned
out, was not to blame for lower sales numbers. No, the culprit was instead the
fact that the technology company executives had recently installed a drastic
restructure of the compensation program. That program encouraged the sales team to try and sell only one of their
many products, and that is what
The training had not been the problem at all.
In fact, without that recent training session, the technology
business might have planted itself in more trouble because of the new structure
of the compensation program. The best money spent might well have been the
money spent on the training and the worst might have been the money that was
about to have been spent unnecessarily correcting that training.
“You can do everything from a more formalized needs assessment,
where you conduct focus groups, talk with managers and employees, and develop a
full survey that provides a comprehensive view of the needs that would go out
to all employees, to conducting internal meetings with managers and listening
to what skills gaps they have noticed,” Lane says.
The only way to know where you are is to know where you were.
In order to receive a more relevant return on your investment, watch the
progress from the planning stages through the training itself, then during the
months, even years, beyond.
“Every organization can buy the same equipment, put in the same
systems and set up the same processes,” Lane says. “But it’s the people who
make those processes go faster and create the innovation. People compete on the
level you need.”