Are Your Training Programs a Net Expense or High ROI Investment? Part 1 of 2

When is the last time you de-constructed and then reconstructed your organization’s approach to training? If you want to optimize your training ROI, read on!

How would you answer the fundamental question: why do organizations invest in training their people?  While there are a lot of specific answers to this question, most answers point to a desire to change/improve staff behavior and/or performance. 

According to Statista, the annual cost-per employee worldwide for training exceeds $1,120.  That amount includes the costs of both internally-run programs and outsourced training. On average, the Association for Talent Development set that figure at just over $1,250 and found that each employee spent about 34 hours per year being trained. 

For far too many organizations, the investment in training can seem like burning money. But it doesn’t have to be that way! 

Effective training programs should deliver a noticeable, measurable, and meaningful return on investment.  Besides, employers need the people being trained to stick around long enough after training for the employer to get the benefit of their training.

The Employee Engagement Effect

I recently heard a CEO ask and answer a question.  She was not joking.  Her question: when does an employee we just hired start looking for his or her next job? The first day he or she reports to work. 

It seems that each new generation entering the workforce is more likely to leave an employer than the one it followed.  Gallup’s ongoing work in the area of employee engagement show that engaged employees are less likely to quit their jobs than non-engaged employees. Gallup’s research determined that continuous learning and development is a huge driver of high engagement.  Millennials and Gen Zs – the rising generations in the workforce – tend to place high value on their employer’s commitment to train them.  So expect more training and not less in the future.

The Management Effect Before the Training

Having spent much of my career training people, I can tell you that there are three different kinds of people who show up for a training session (can you guess which one(s) are not engaged?):

  • Prisoners, who were told by their boss they had no choice but to attend. Prisoners suffer through training.
  • Vacationers, who view a day of training as a day off work. They kick back and enjoy!
  • Explorers, who are there for the purpose of learning something they can apply.

When employees can see a clear connection between their current job and the upcoming training, they are much more likely to be an explorer.  Effective managers take these actions to convert prisoners and vacationers into explorers:

  • First, identify the requisite skills and knowledge necessary for employees to perform their current (and soon future) duties with excellence. If available, use a reliable instrument to assess employee skill and knowledge in order to identify the gap between what they need to know and do, and what they currently know and do. Then use training curriculum to close the gap. Offer people who scored high in pre-training assessments the option of attending training in areas they have mastered.
  • A shared learning experience is a great way to align staff and build a sense of team. This aspect should be factored into the curriculum design.
  • Communicate with each staffer why his or her participation in the training will aid his or her career development and make him or her a more valuable employee. In essence, position training as an investment made by the company in that employee’s future.  This communication is most effective when done one-on-one, and it also enables the manager to set specific learning objectives with the employee.
  • Promote the event as a benefit, not a chore. When it isn’t valued by the boss, how can he or she expect his or her staff to value it?
  • Finally, perform an attitude check. If an employee has a bad attitude about training, he or she likely has a bad attitude about other parts of the job.  Expecting training to fix an attitude problem is like a driver expecting raising the grade of gasoline to fix a broken transmission.  And why would you permit people with bad attitudes to work for you, anyway?

The Management Effect During the Training

A manager’s level of engagement should rise anytime training of his or her direct reports is happening.  What a manager makes visible and important, his or her employees will do the same.

  • Managers should participate with their staff in training programs. If managers aren’t a part of what is being taught, how can they possibly help staff members to get the most out of the training?  And what message about the value of the training does it send if the manager exempts himself/herself from participating?
  • Managers need to monitor the quality and effectiveness of what is being taught to their staff, and provide feedback to the instructor/facilitator that helps to improve the learning experience.
  • By participating, managers can also see how employees are progressing individually, taking notes on areas in which to follow-up at the end of each session.
  • Managers can also ask participants questions about what they are learning, why it is valuable, and how participants’ plan to apply what they are learning. This can be done in both group and individual settings. 

Bottom Line, Part 1

So far we’ve addressed the manager’s role before and during training programs, and specific actions effective managers take to raise the ROI on the company’s investment in training.  Part 2 will deal with the manager’s effect following the training, where the greatest ROI is gained or lost.

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