Customized training Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Are your employees up to speed on the latest business trends? Do they have a thorough understanding of their specific job functions? Do they speak a common language? If not, custom training may be the answer.

Customized training enables organizations to reinforce and develop a skill set or specific areas of knowledge. It also enhances morale and encourages teamwork.

“Training can be customized in many ways, providing a strong degree of flexibility based on a company’s specific needs,” says John Fowler, director of New Initiatives, Executive Education, School of Management, University of Texas at Dallas. “A mid-size firm might want to educate a work team on supply chain management. A large corporation might want leadership training geared toward rising stars or that reinforces leadership at the management level or within a department.”

Smart Business asked Fowler how companies can determine whether customized training is right for them.

How can customized training strengthen an organization?

When a company provides its own training programs, it strengthens its educational culture, creating an environment where employees truly want to do a better job. Custom programs enable a company to create collective learning environments focused specifically on areas that will benefit the organization. The company will have more control over the content because it can take information from a very general sense and make it very specific.

What type of balance should there be between classroom and online training?

It depends on the company’s needs and structure. Classroom training provides a great opportunity for team-based interactive learning. For example, a class might focus on business principles in the morning, and then in the afternoon, the participants work in problem-solving teams to reinforce the principles they learned earlier. In-person training, however, can be expensive if you have multiple locations. Online training can provide a cost-effective solution — it’s a good option for large organizations with multiple branches and/or those operating in different time zones. Indeed, hybrid training also makes sense in certain situations, as does the incorporation of the emerging virtual classroom. Numerous corporations have already set up virtual classrooms at Second Life, for example.

Please provide a few examples of customized programs.

A management development client, United Supermarkets, employs store directors with varying levels of formal education, but they all have one thing in common: they understand the supermarket industry. United Supermarkets wanted to get all the directors to speak the same business language and show them how their jobs relate to the big picture. Approximately 75 employees participated in a custom-designed, eight-session course held once a month over eight months. The course imparted basic business principles related to the supermarket industry, but also covered areas such as marketing, customer support, supply chain networks and finance.

Another example is a hybrid program that a bank is developing in order to build relationships with its small business banking customers. Customers are invited to attend classroom courses where they learn how to use online courses designed to educate them on numerous areas of small business management. The content is tied to programs and products the bank offers to help these customers succeed.

How can a company measure the success of a customized training program?

Measuring success begins by assessing the performance of the individual. How has the individual manager or executive changed since he or she took the course? Is he applying the lessons? Is the company providing opportunities to reinforce what was learned? Has the execution and implementation of new or existing programs improved after the training took place. How smooth was the implementation? How is the team working together as a group? Keep in mind that while some training impacts revenue or results in reduced costs, training programs can produce intangible benefits that impact the organization. Is there a general sense that the people have a better understanding of how their performance impacts the organization?

How can a company best evaluate a custom program provider?

What are the skills you’re looking to develop? If they are soft skills, a seminar company may be the better option. If it’s a particular management skill or area of corporate specialty, university training is the best answer. When selecting a university, look at the strength of the university in the topic area. Can it provide a comprehensive solution — one that might require components such as marketing, finance or accounting in addition to the primary subject matter?

JOHN FOWLER is director of New Initiatives, Executive Education, School of Management, University of Texas at Dallas. Reach him at (972) 883-4697 or jfowler@utdallas.edu.