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Desperately seeking training


Training may be seen as the holy grail for many organisations but get it wrong and you risk more than a dent in the bottom lline. Judith Germain reports.

There are many reasons why a company decides to train their employees although it is not always because they believe it is the best way to improve the skill base of the workforce. This is often because many companies believe that generic training can solve a whole host of performance deficiencies – this is often an expensive mistake.

For example, when assessing company performance the senior team may see the following:
  • A loss of market share
  • Reducing customers
  • Increased employee absences
  • Poor customer service
  • Bad morale and worker inefficiencies
The most common solution proposed to solve these things is employee training. On the face of it this appears to be an acceptable solution, after all if the employees were appropriately skilled they would enable the company to retain customers and innovate. Employees that receive training that they perceive they need are more motivated, have improved morale and are more likely to enjoy work, reducing their number of absences.
For companies that are profit or cash flow focused then they will radically cut training or cease it altogether. These types of company see training as either a luxury that they can no longer afford or a way to reward high performing employees. The problem that I see is that businesses in difficult times appear to decide on two things when it comes to training:
  • To reduce ‘non essential’ training
  • To increase ‘technical’ or soft skills training

Reducing ‘non essential’ training usually means that the company does not implement the learning and development plans agreed with employees at their last performance review. Often how this is communicated to employees is by a mass message that says the company needs to reduce costs and will therefore be putting ‘non essential’ training on hold. It isn’t as common as it should be that this impersonal message is followed up by a personal conversation with the employee’s manager who can put this into context for the employee.

This usually means that the employee feels undervalued by the company and is unlikely to trust the company’s future messages when they either relate to them personally (ie ‘next year we will definitely ensure that you get the training that we agreed or there is no money in the budget for a proper pay rise this year but next year we can address your performance properly’) or more generic messaging that ‘our employees are our biggest assets’.

Increasing technical training when reducing ‘employee centric’ training is often seen by the employee as another example of how poorly the company treats them. They can feel that the company is only ‘doing it for themselves’ which often means that there is reduced benefit of the employee attending as their learning isn’t maximised. When increasing soft skills training I see progressively more of a ‘sheep dip’ approach being utilised by companies. This is an expensive misstep as it often increases the costs to the business as the training is not tailored to their particular needs – but has the knock on effect of taking employees out of the business for a day or so to attend the course.

Now more than ever companies need to concentrate on the business and do the right training inventions that will work for them. Expensive gap analysis to determine training needs is often not necessary. An informed look at performance reviews, disciplinaries and grievances, customer complaints and strategic direction can be all that is necessary to determine training priorities. Competent HR practitioners can work with the Operations team to ensure that there is a good match between business need and employee fulfilment. 

Training and HR practitioners should ensure that they never buy off the shelf training for their company. One size does not fit all, especially when you factor in company culture, risk awareness and industry setting. All training should be bespoked and delivered by credible trainers that who not only know their subject manner well, but are able to converse knowledgeable on the issues that the employees are facing. Attendees must be chosen carefully to ensure that the right people receive the right training for their needs.

Sometimes the best training intervention for particular employees will be either a coaching or mentoring solution, rather than attendance on a training course. Most companies initially believe that internal coaching or training programmes will deliver best value compared to using external providers. This only holds true in company cultures where the employers are trusted by the employees and that they have good systems in place that match the mentor/coach to mentee/coachee appropriately and where there is true learning and development. Often attendance onto a mentoring/coaching programme is by reward rather than need, which can affect the credibility of the scheme.

Where there are trust issues or competence issues with the company or mentor/coach then an external practitioner is a must. Often timely intervention in this way is more effective than attendance on a course. Where there is little trust the employee will not engage with their internal coach/mentor which means that a solution to their real issue is not found and that the company has wasted the valuable time of two employees.

In times of difficulty there is often a need to ensure that employees are skilled, competent and willing to learn to ensure that the company is one step ahead of the competition and are working within operational budgets. The best way to ensure that this takes place is to be innovative with training interventions ensuring that there is close alignment with the business objectives and training delivery.

Judith Germain is managing director and Senior Consultant of Dynamic Transitions a leadership company, which enables their clients to improve their leadership performance. Judith provides strategic mentoring for senior executives and business leaders, develops and delivers innovative leadership programmes, leadership consultancy, training, coaching and mentoring to corporate clients. For more information visit or email [email protected].

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