Corporate training positions your company for future growth Featured

10:34am EDT July 6, 2010

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

you need.”

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

and survive.”

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

staff.

“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

changed everything.

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.”