Wondering if there’s a silver lining to the current economic slowdown? How about the extra time available for training employees? In good times or bad, successful companies continue to invest in their most important asset--employees. Business experts, including Stephen Covey and Dale Carnegie, tout the importance of ongoing employee training and include personal development as standard elements of their management advice systems.
Employees are rejuvenated by time away from the day-to-day routine and the new ideas that always arise during a successful learning experience. And by training employees during bad times, you're also building confidence and morale at a time when employee motivation and loyalty can be taking quite a hit. Most importantly, ongoing training is your only insurance in a constantly changing competitive landscape.
But successful training doesn't happen by accident. Maximizing your training investment requires knowing your desired outcome in advance, making sure employees are prepared for training, and not letting the learning go unapplied when your employees have left the classroom. As the organization paying for training, you also should shop around and negotiate for the best possible deals.
Defining the Need
Like most things in life, successful training hinges on knowing your objective in advance. Employee learning objectives obviously need to support corporate goals and should be SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented and on a timetable. For example, if your organization is switching from mainframe programming to a newer technology like Java, your employees’ learning objective could be to reach a level of efficiency in Java that allows him or her to be Java certified within one month after finishing training.
For training to be effective, it should occur right before the new skills will be needed in the workplace. It’s frustrating for employees not to be able to put new skills to work immediately after learning them, not to mention a poor investment for your company.
Corporate belt-tightening often targets training budgets as expendable fat. But there’s plenty of ways to squeeze more from lean training budgets, which is much better than simply eliminating training altogether. Consider these strategies:
- Enroll multiple students--If you have more than one student in a training session, vendors typically will give you a price break. If you have a small organization and don't have multiple students, explore the possibility of working with business associates with similar training needs. By pooling your learners, you could still qualify for a combined student discount.
- Consider block enrollments--Look into discounts for purchasing a block of enrollments with the same vendor at one time. These might be used during the course of a year but a cash-strapped training vendor will welcome the discounted cash payment in advance.
- Conduct the training in-house--When you only need to train six to eight employees, it may be more economical to purchase training for just your organization for a flat fee instead of the more typical “per student” fee. Vendors refer to this as “onsite” training. This is also an opportunity to think about pooling employees from other companies to share the costs.
- Look for special promotions--Most training companies offer e-newsletters that may contain specials. Sign-up for these newsletters. By having the information come to you, you won't miss opportunities or waste time continually checking the vendor’s website for discounts.
- Be flexible--With give and take, everything is negotiable. For example, you could offer to send employees to one of several training sessions during the next few months in exchange for discounts. The vendor could then put your employees in a class that is being held with open seats. In this way, you get a better price and the vendor sells its unused capacity--similar to a cyber saver program.
It’s that old Scout motto, but it applies equally as well to training as camping. Before sending employees to a training class, make sure they know and have met the prerequisites. A student who isn't familiar with required prerequisites creates a frustrating experience for himself, the instructor and the other students. To make the most of training, ask for materials in advance. Encourage employees to review the materials and note their questions before they enter the classroom. By boning up in advance, employees will be better able to participate. Active participation and note taking increases retention.
The greatest benefit of instructor-led training is the instructor. Encourage your employees to take advantage of the training expert. They should ask work-related questions before class and during breaks. Sometimes the answers from this “free consulting” more than covers the training investment.
Reinforcing learning after the training is essential for retention and practical application. Many companies require the employee to present an overview of recent training to other employees during an informal lunch session in the company conference room.
At both of my companies, we hold weekly one-hour group learning sessions. In the sales group, employees on a rotating basis present one element from a sales process workshop. Role-playing follows. This simple process accomplishes several objectives. For the “teachers,” a thorough understanding of the material is essential. In role playing, practical application is reinforced, which translates into measurable business results. (Speaking of results, be sure to verify that the employees’ SMART goals were met during training once they return to the office.)
The Bottom Line
Maximizing the learning experience requires knowing your desired outcome, being prepared and continuing to learn after training is completed.