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 recession.
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.
“Training is always important but even more so in times like
this,” says Pat Galagan, executive editor, ASTD. “This is when you really have
to come out of the gate running. It’s a big mistake to cut your training budget
when times are tough because it leaves you unprepared for better times.”
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.
“Typically, businesses start by looking at their goals and
their objectives for a period of time, usually the coming year,” Galagan says.
“Some companies will do what’s called a skills audit to see if they have the
skills to support the direction. Then if they don’t, they will try to train to
fill any gaps that they find.
“It’s a very comprehensive process of looking at the skills
that employees have in key areas and matching that against the skills you feel
And even 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. Leadership development,
project management and team building are all increasingly important because of
the changing demographics and economy and because general communication and
technology skills are as important now as always.
“Some of the things that we’re finding demand for and that
make sense are strategy and leadership programs, especially managing in
turbulent times, managing through transition,” says Barbara Kahn, dean of the
School of Business Administration, University of Miami. “There’s also a lot of
emphasis on innovation. How companies can try to innovate to stay competitive
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.
“That’s an average, not a recommendation,” Galagan says. “In
that pool of companies, some are large, some are small, some are government,
some are private.”
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
“Some of the trends that we’ve seen are that companies have
been opting for more customized programs rather than sending employees to open
programs, which are more generic,” Kahn says. “When budgets are tight, you see
an emphasis on more customized programs that are tailored to the specific needs
of the company.”
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.
“It’s really important as you go into these programs that
you set specific goals at the beginning of the program and then monitor it say
every three months, every six months,” Kahn says. “Make sure things are still
on target and whether there’s a need to go back and reinforce certain points.”
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.
“One of the things that’s very, very important for a company
to achieve in a competitive world is make sure they have a strong employee base
that’s constantly changing with the changing times,” Kahn says. “You want to
have ways for employees to develop their skills and move up.
“If you don’t invest in continuous learning and continuous
innovation, obviously employees are going to stagnate.”