Corporate training positions your company for future growth Featured

8:00pm EDT July 5, 2010

The training was a failure. All of that time, all of thateffort, all of that money, just gone, just out the window and gone. What otherexplanation was there, after all, for drop after drop in the hard numbers froma talented sales team in the wake of a training and development session?

It could have happened at any business, but for the purposesof this story, it happened at a large technology company with headquarters inthe Midwest. The top executives, frantic for answers, called a corporate trainingfirm. “Our sales are down,” the executives said. “We need training.”

That technology company was part of a large percentage ofbusinesses that continued to invest in corporate training, education anddevelopment during the last couple of years. Thousands and thousands of othersturned away from training, unable or unwilling to spend more money during therecession.

But a panel of more than 30 industry experts and academicprofessionals agreed that it would have been far better for businesses to continueto spend on training during those tough times — to invest in their employeesand to show the extent of that investment, to improve the business and keep itup 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 likethis,” says Pat Galagan, executive editor, ASTD. “This is when you really haveto come out of the gate running. It’s a big mistake to cut your training budgetwhen times are tough because it leaves you unprepared for better times.”

Make a plan

Members of the corporate training firm arrived the next dayand talked with as many employees as possible at the technology company, fromexecutives to engineers to those slumping sales representatives and everyoneelse in between. They prodded and probed and asked questions. They were curiousabout what, exactly, had happened.

They wanted to know, before they embarked on anothertraining session, whether another training session was actually necessary.

This is what you should do when you’re in the process ofdetermining 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 newbusiness venture without a model and a solid idea of what you want toaccomplish, neither should you approach training without thoughts of what youneed to tackle.

“Typically, businesses start by looking at their goals andtheir 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 theskills to support the direction. Then if they don’t, they will try to train tofill any gaps that they find.

“It’s a very comprehensive process of looking at the skillsthat employees have in key areas and matching that against the skills you feelyou need.”

And even though those needs will vary from business tobusiness, from industry to industry, there are a number of common trainingareas on which almost all businesses should focus. Leadership development,project management and team building are all increasingly important because ofthe changing demographics and economy and because general communication andtechnology skills are as important now as always.

“It’s important for leaders to first reassess their valueproposition and be clear about corporate performance objectives and how thosemay have changed because that then informs your training strategy,” says RodNunn, vice chancellor for workforce and community development, St. LouisCommunity College. “We view training specifically as a way to close the gapsbetween the performance needs of specific jobs and the employee performancecapabilities.”

Open your wallet

Those members of the corporate training firm remained in theoffices for a couple of days. They wanted to follow every lead and turn overevery stone. They wanted to find out what had happened to the sales team afterthat apparently disastrous training and development session. And the technologycompany executives had no problem paying to keep them around. They wanted tofind out what happened, too.

Do you want to keep your top employees after the job marketopens again? Do you want all of your employees to be happy and to enjoy theirwork right now? Investing in training and education is an important part ofhelping you do just that. The average business spends about $1,060 on trainingand education per employee per year, according to research by ASTD.

There are also effective ways to spend a little less, ifyour 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 foryour employees is often less expensive than sending them to open enrollmentcourses, as are distance learning and online courses. Some businesses opt tolook within for employees who are experts in a specific area and can train therest of the staff.

“We often talk about the blended learning, but some of thebest training is provided by direct supervisors on an ongoing bas

is,” Nunnsays. “Work-based learning doesn’t have to take three hours out of our day togo over to a classroom.

“You build skills as you tackle real problems and get realresults that are used in the course of the business.”

Keep an eye on results

At last, an answer for our corporate training firm and ourtechnology company in the Midwest. That previous training session, as it turnedout, was not to blame for lower sales numbers. No, the culprit was instead thefact that the technology company executives had recently installed a drasticrestructure of the compensation program. That program encouraged the sales team to try and sell only one of theirmany products, and that is whatchanged everything.

The training had not been the problem at all.

In fact, without that recent training session, the technologybusiness might have planted itself in more trouble because of the new structureof the compensation program. The best money spent might well have been themoney spent on the training — and the worst might have been the money that wasabout to have been spent unnecessarily correcting that training.

“You can create dashboard indicators.” Nunn says. “If you’veidentified that there’s a process within your business that needs improvement,you want to make sure that training intervention is helping that processimprovement.

“Everything we do in training should impact the bottom linewith respect to productivity as measured in either revenue or sales or somespecific process we can drill down into.”

“We know that organizations that are not learningorganizations are losing ground every day,” Nunn says. “It’s just modernbusiness. Things change so fast, companies that are not investing into thelearning environment and creating a learning culture are not able to keeppace.”