He stood in front of the room talking about how his company implemented training metrics that measured beyond butts in seats, whether learners liked what they sat through and time invested. “Before this year, we were really nothing but order takers.” Everyone in the room nodded in knowing agreement. This was a conference for learning and development people, specifically to discuss and share what was working in our organizations as it pertains to learning measurement. The conversations spanned beyond measurement to the larger topic of how to be part of the business strategy; how to be included and how to be taken seriously by senior leaders. It was apparent that we all shared common experiences across decades of learning and development employment.
"Training is not always the answer, but when it is, organizations need to provide the plan, accountability and leadership to ensure it executes effectively"
There is plenty of data in support of training:
• 70% of the respondents said job-related training influenced their decision to stay in a job(Association for Talent Development ATD Survey)
• Companies that offer comprehensive training programs have 218% higher income per employee (ATD)
• Companies that continue to invest in training have a 24% higher profit margin than those who don’t (ATD)
• Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202% (Dale Carnegie survey)
The conversation at the convention suggested that even though leaders believe in training, most have only a vague idea how it is constructed and what factors determine success. There are several reasons for this disconnect, but for the purpose of this article, we will look at three: planning, accountability and leading the way.
The successful training plan begins with the end in mind by explicitly outlining the expected outcome(s). Here’s an example: “Prepare a territory plan that meets quota for 2020, by December 15, 2019.” The next step is to determine and align on one template, then assess training needs for various parts of that template and timing required for execution. To generate buy-in, senior leaders explain why territory plans are a great idea. They articulate the value of the plan to the person developing, the team, and the organization then follow up with expectations and timeline. The training includes pre-learning, a face-to-face or virtual instructor-led session followed by an application session and concludes with a post-session time period for vetting the finalized territory plan with leadership.
All of these steps require time and planning - getting out ahead of an initiative instead of reacting to results that fall short of expectations. Time will get its due, whether invested upfront, or sporadically across months when numbers aren’t delivered. Investing upfront lends credibility to the program and telegraphs organizational confidence in the initiative.
Sometimes training fails even when a 360-program is built that includes before, during and after the learning session because there aren’t any parameters set around execution. Learners need to know expectations, timing and ramifications and/or incentives. Generally, people want to meet expectations, but when faced with multiple priorities, they will opt to execute the most urgent and important. The perception of importance of any initiative is magnified by the amount of accountability that is attached to it. Leadership buy-in at the team level is necessary to provide the clear expectations and guidelines required and following up to make sure steps are executed is a sure way to let people know accountability is part of the equation. Firm plans, clear communication, timelines and checkpoints provide a path to success.
Leading The Way
The best way to send a message about the seriousness of an initiative is to have senior leaders learn first and the best way to learn is to teach. There is nothing like real experience to demonstrate what is in training content, how it is set up for best learning outcomes, and what it takes to teach it successfully.
When people see leaders teaching the course, embracing the materials, talking the talk and able to demonstrate the executables, they tend to believe the content is more than just the ‘flavor of the month’. Another benefit of leaders going first is they have a better feel for the time it will take people to get up to speed allowing them to gauge the parameters and set expectations.
According to Microsoft, the average learner has about 21 hours per year or 24 minutes per week to devote to learning. We now have an attention span of about 8 seconds. Further, ATD data shows that only 12% of employees apply their learning back on the job leading to an approximate loss of $13.5MM per year per 1000 employees due to ineffective employee training (Grovo data). These are impressive numbers demonstrating there is so much to be gained or lost in providing training in the corporate setting. It makes sense to include learning and development personnel in formulating business strategy and leveraging their expertise to ensure the investment pays dividends.
When plans are laid out with the intention they need to pay out, success can be measured beyond the number of attendees and smile sheets. Training is not always the answer, but when it is, organizations need to provide the plan, accountability and leadership to ensure it executes effectively.