Training programs require regular check ups to maintain their effectiveness.
By Jim Hopkins
A fter participating and observing competent training departments during the past 20 years, I have realized that unless the company’s training management knows their purpose and applies it appropriately, the training function can get away with a lot of underperforming before anyone catches on.
I firmly believe that for a training department to return on the investment being made in salaries, systems, equipment, facilities, and program costs, it must be able to perform the functions of each role in training. When competencies are in alignment with industry norms, training can function in the strategic role it is meant to play in the organization.
However, when a trainer is unable to facilitate a workshop or webinar well, or a designer creates a course without regard to learning objectives, or the training manager is running a completely reactive department without a training plan, then no one wins and everyone loses.
Training programs should always show a return on investment (ROI) that in a nutshell documents the level of performance prior to and after a training intervention. If a training program cannot improve performance, then it was not necessary to spend the money and time in the first place to train. I am a big supporter of measuring the impact of training, and yet I believe strongly that unless the training function is running on all cylinders, it is very difficult to ensure that a single program can achieve a return on investment.
A training function should undergo an annual audit to diagnose the current health of all personnel, processes, systems, and programs to get an overall health rating. Too often when an organization is losing money or wants to cut costs, the training department is the first to go. Although I never concur that an organization should lose the training function, I have endorsed some training departments being closed for gross ineffectiveness. The key is not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
So why do most training departments go unaudited, unchecked, or left to self-evaluation? Unless you know what to look for or evaluate, the training function remains elusive. You cannot audit something if you don’t know how it should work efficiently in the first place. Getting to know this function and its primary purpose can take time. Yet the importance of this group to the organization as a strategic partner does not allow management to spend years trying to figure out how to measure the impact.
Once you identify the health of your training function—no doubt as our doctors have when finished with our human physicals—treatment recommendations for curing some of our more vital issues will follow. The choice remains the same when it comes to taking the cure or remaining unhealthy. I have found that people have more excuses for delaying the fixing of the training department than Carter has pills. Yet the longer an organization delays curing the issues found in its training function, the longer the organization will take to improve in every area that it has humans functioning.
Training departments that establish an annual training plan—with goals and objectives that align with the business that they support—are more focused than those that do not. When these projects are then broken down into quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily tasks, the probability of getting things done rises. However, once again, I must emphasize that these plans need to be audited for not only relevance, but also effectiveness. Having the right tasks on the list is the first step, but getting them done on time is what keeps the department moving forward.
I spoke with a training manager a few months back, and the response to my prodding (over when a decision would be made on implementing a management training initiative) was priceless. She said, “I move as fast as someone is yelling at me around here to finish!” Now this is someone who takes very little pride in her work and is obviously not functioning with goals or even a project plan. She then told me that she wasn’t paid enough to work any harder than necessary. I bit my lip, but I wonder if her opinion would change if the alternative was to lose all of her salary?
I have learned that few training managers would sign up for a training audit. Just as none of us would intentionally sign up for a tax audit, training managers are not eager to sign up for an evaluation of their domain. Yet when it comes to senior management that is accountable for results in every area of their company, I see a higher degree of willingness to open up to this kind of scrutiny.
In today’s economy, organizations cannot afford to waste money in any area of their operation. The training function, if running in a healthy state, can actually become a very indispensable part of a company’s strategic plan. When the training department is unhealthy, it is almost like having a virus that is trying to defeat your success. Many of us when we were young experienced this same dilemma with tonsils that quit functioning correctly and needed to be removed so we could get healthy again.
To avoid needing to remove your training function because it is unhealthy and acting more like an operational virus, take the steps to diagnose, treat, and then cure your training department. Get healthy—and then stay healthy!
Jim Hopkins is the CEO of JK Hopkins Consulting and author of the new book The Training Physical. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.