Insightful leaders and organizations recognize that training is a valuable tool for personal and professional development and therefore set some sort of an annual training budget.
Most everyone I’ve ever talked to has been to both excellent training (hopefully ours!) and training that was, well, not so good. In a perfect world we could connect the best training experiences with the best application back in the workplace. This would make the equation easy – pick great training, insuring that people would apply what they have learned, and the result would be a tremendous return on the investment for those funds spent on training.
As a deliverer of training and as one who has helped hundreds of people become better trainers through train the trainer programs, I wish the equation were that easy.
Unfortunately, it isn’t. It takes more than good training to ensure a good return on the money (and time) invested.
What organizations and individual leaders need to do then is look beyond the training event alone to find ways to increase the return on investment. They need to take some responsibility themselves.
Here are 6 ways to increase your return on this investment:
Align training investments with business needs. Some organizations use training as a perk for good performers. This approach of “training as a reward” can motivate some people (especially if the training takes place in someplace desirable) but in the big picture this usually isn’t the best way to invest these dollars. Have a plan that ties the skills that are needed to be developed to the strategic plan for the group. Make sure the participant knows why the skills being learned matter to the group and the organization at large. With this context, the participant has the chance to be more focused and will treat the training as a serious business activity and not a vacation from work.
Invest in good training. Once you have decided to spend money on training, spend it on the good stuff. While this isn’t the only success factor, look at testimonials and materials to determine that the training focuses on important skills and delivers those skills in an effective way. Usually this means training in smaller groups with more interaction and practice time, and therefore higher cost. In training like many other things in life, you get what you pay for. The cost increment is typically not significant when compared to the possible improvement available from the experience.
Facilitate pre-training conversations and set expectations. As a supervisor or manager your job doesn’t end when the training is identified or scheduled, it has actually just begun. Sit down with the employee that is going to training. Have a discussion about why this training can be valuable to them and to the business. Have them think about their goals for the training. Recognize that the first few times you do this people are going to look at you like you are crazy. They may not have an answer and that is ok. Be patient and help them identify a goal or goals for their attendance and have them write it down and take it with them to the training. Then schedule a meeting for after the training event to review what they learned and how you can support them in reaching their goal(s).
Encourage partnerships. If you have more than one person attending the workshop, encourage them to partner up upon their return. A “learning partner” gives people support and some peer coaching and support when they are back at work. It helps people hold themselves accountable for doing something with what they learned. If you are sending just one individual, encourage them to “make a friend” in the training and form this partnership with that person.
Have a follow-up meeting. People should return from the training prepared for their follow-up meeting with you. Sit down and go over what they learned. If they haven’t yet come up with a specific action plan for trying and/or using what they learned, help them build this plan in the meeting. Make sure this conversation ends with a defined action plan with a timeline.
Expect (and inspect for) results. People now have a plan, and it is your job as a leader to help them hold themselves accountable for that plan. Schedule follow-up meetings, check in or do what ever you can to support and encourage them to follow through on their plan.
Notice that five of these steps require no additional monetary investment. The investment they require is time, thought and energy. These additional investments are the activities that will transform the dollars spent into real organizational improvement.
All of this is true because training is an event, but learning is a process. To maximize the return on your investment you must invest in more than the activity or event, you must invest in the learning process.