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.
“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.
“The first thing I always emphasize is that you need to
determine your training needs,” says Lisa Ncube, assistant professor,
Department of Organizational Leadership, College of Technology, Purdue
University. “Where are you lacking in your skills? In your knowledge? Where do
you see a need? Many times, I see routine training conducted because that’s how
it has always been done. But is that what you really need? Find areas that ease
a training need. Where is the gap in performance?”
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
“Many companies do have training departments and experts
in-house,” Ncube says. “Using a lot of those experts in-house would be a way to
cut costs, rather than bringing in experts and consultants.”
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 need to know what the measures were before you start the
training,” Ncube says. “If you don’t know that, how will you know whether it has
improved and be able to monitor the changes? You cannot monitor after training.
That’s the whole point of training to improve performance.”
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.
the same basic principles that are being used over and over again,” Ncube says.
“But people still don’t get it right. That’s where a lot of companies fall into
the trap and assume that in bad times, that’s the time to get rid of training.
“It’s during difficult times that you need to
keep training going.”