Corporate training positions your company for future growth Featured

10:07am 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.

“All employees,

in order to be successful in the new workplace, will have to have the ability

to adapt and to learn,” says Paula Yoder, director of the Tandy Center for

Executive Leadership at the Neeley School of Business at TCU, referencing a

recent paper by Sandy Dutkowsky, “Trends in Training and Development — The New

Economy, Training in U.S. Companies, Who Does the Training in Corporations?”

“This is part of

a developmental organization. Those who have ‘learned to learn’ will become

most valuable in the new economy. The role of education and training is

becoming more important in the American workplace. Employees are recognizing

the need to improve and broaden their skills to remain employable.”

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.

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

staff.

“We cannot forget about our internal subject matter experts,”

Yoder says. “Companies that leverage the expertise of those internal leaders,

even if those leaders need polishing or extended training, are truly honoring

their resources.”

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.

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.

“It is

imperative that leaders ask their employees about the benefits and outcomes of

training,” Yoder says. “There is no excuse for a company to not know the return

on investment for training. Even at the most basic level of understanding

without using any assessment tools, you can at least ask, ‘What did you get out

of it? How did it impact what you do on a daily basis? How does this impact

your effectiveness in your job?’”