A Difficult Question?

While I do not expect most CEOs to know off the top of their heads what they spend annually on the training function, I do expect them to have a rough idea of how much is budgeted.  In most instances when I have asked that question though, I find that the CEO rattles off a ballpark figure these days without blinking.

Ten years ago the CEO would have had to look it up to even give a ballpark amount, but today they are very focused on dollars being spent and training is no different from most department in the organization, or is it?

You see part two of my question is always along the line of “how much of that budget is returned on the investment?”  In other words, if you spend $500,000 a year on the total training function of salary, benefits, facilities, systems and materials, how many dollars are saved or earned as a result of that money being spent on training?

What I usually get is a lot of stammering, and not even the willingness to guess how much is returned on the investment.  So while this economy is driving the CEO to be conscious of spending, it has not yet filtered down to training as a department that should return on the investment.

My position is simple in this area.  Whatever is spent on training should somehow be tracked in improved sales, retained customers and employees, reduced recruiting costs, and reducing liability claims for starters.  If you are not getting your money back on training, then training is not doing a good job, or demonstrating their value.

When training is unhealthy, lacking competencies and has no accountability, it is only by luck that they produce a return on investment.  The sad truth is that an unhealthy training function will not get better on its own.  It needs a transfusion of new talent, leadership or a consultant to treat the illness.

Although the first part of my question to a CEO is relatively easy these days, I am finding that part two is rather difficult for them to answer.  Yet I try to impress on them that just because it is difficult to answer doesn’t mean they should avoid finding the answer.  Money spent these days on any function, needs to return a value, or it needs to be eliminated from the expense column.

Proposing Solutions

I honestly wish that before people get the title of Training Manager they would have to pass a written test, and one that includes writing a basic training proposal with identified solutions.  Too many training managers are sent out looking for a training solution and barely know why or what it needs to accomplish, let alone are capable of pitching it for the necessary approvals.

One of the most common “treatments” that come out of a Training Physical is having the training manager learn the process of both a training needs analysis and proposal writing.

A training needs analysis should always answer the basic question of “what needs to be happening after we are done with the training?”  We need to identify current behaviors and how improving skills would yield better productivity, service or whatever needs to happen that is not happening now.

Part of a training needs analysis is making sure there really is a skill building need.  Too often we apply training as a performance solution, when in fact there is no skill deficiency.

Once we know where we are headed, and a training solution has been identified, we need to build a bridge on paper and in a verbal presentation.  In the business world we call this a proposal.  Yet, I run into a lot of training managers that cannot write a proposal and mostly because they are unable to articulate the story verbally.

When training managers are unable to produce these proposals, the vendors bidding for the sale write them and feed the manager the words.  Not only does it present a slight conflict of interest, but if they didn’t do it for the manager they would never sell anything.

In my book, I labor on why it is vital that training managers do this work themselves, so they are presenting to their leadership an unbiased opinion and one that meets the needs of the organization not the training vendor.

So if you don’t know how to do a training needs analysis and/or write a training solutions proposal, please do yourself and company a favor and find someone who does and learn how!

Redistribution of Skills

It is probably important to clarify my position before reading any further as a very conservative person.  So when a dear friend was trying to convince me of the virtues of redistribution of wealth this past week, the poor guy was wasting a lot of energy.  In an attempt to understand the need to “share the wealth” I pointed out a recent video I had seen on the virtues of redistribution of grades in college.

The student making the video was trying to link the concept of earning money and sharing it with those that don’t with earning grades and sharing their GPA with those that had a lower GPA.  The reactions of the 4.0 students were funny to say the least, but the whole idea of sharing a GPA with someone who didn’t work as hard as they did seemed odd and unethical.

Since then I’ve been playing around with the redistribution concept, and how it might work in the training development world.  Oddly, this conservative thinks he has stumbled upon an area in which redistribution might make sense.  I call it Redistribution of Skills!

Too many companies have skipped the skill development of the rank and file and mid-level managers, with the excuse that they have enough people on staff that have these skills.  With the Baby-Boomer generation starting to retire, companies are being left with less and less “skilled people” on staff.  It would seem that if they had been sharing the skill development process with all employees they would not have a shortage of skills now quickly retiring out the door.

So although I’m not a fan of redistribution of wealth, or grades, I do think that corporate American should consider a redistribution of skills, knowledge and opportunities to learn.  How on earth do we expect to continue to exist if we don’t provide employees with the skills needed to do their job today and into tomorrow?

Keeping It Simple

I received an unsolicited book review on The Training Physical this past week from a Director of Training who had purchased, and bless her heart actually read my book!  She was upset that the book seemed too basic and that I should have raised the bar.

To understand her comment, you must first understand that she is a dynamic training leader.  She runs a tight ship and frankly, the book was not written with her brand of training in mind.  If you think of the 80/20 rule where 80% of training departments are struggling and 20% are running on all cylinders, she is actually in the top 10%.   Once she understood my audience, she went off in another direction.

“How can so many training departments be running at this level of productivity and efficiency?”

I wish I had an answer for her.  I wish I understood why so many training departments:

  • Have trainers who can’t facilitate
  • Have instructional designers that forget adult learning principles
  • Have outdated or missing technology assistance
  • Only train minimum skill levels
  • Skip Management and Leadership Development
  • Overpay for training services they obtain
  • Lack any kind of strategy and/or training plan

If there is a single reason for so many companies allowing a low-level of productivity and efficiency, it is a lack of accountability.  Neither the training manager or the senior management team holds the training function accountable for these areas, let alone a return on the investment.

So I told her I wrote a book that would be easy and quick to read.  If I could get more training managers to read it, and maybe some non-training executives, maybe we can increase the awareness factor of the basic functions and purpose for training. 

By keeping it simple, my plan is to create focus.  Let’s keep all the attention on getting the training department into a healthy state.  Once the vitals are in order, than you can tax the department to raise the bar.

Once my book reviewer realized that she lives above the bar in her operation only because she has a solid foundation (the basics) in place did she finally concede that although a sorry state of affairs, my mission of addressing the 80% group is actually a nobel goal.