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Five ways to get more out of your training budget


Viv Cole of Viv Cole Associates poses five questions managers should ask themselves before taking a hatchet to their training budgets.

As Gordon Brown puts the finishing touches to his Budget, firms around the land are facing uncertain times. Professional firms need to invest in training their people to gain competitive advantage. Those firms that get the best value from their training budgets will be best placed when more favourable economic conditions return.

Nevertheless, a common reflex response is to slash training budgets at the first sign of trouble. Many firms run the risk that in attempting to prune dead wood, they will also kill off the green shoots.

How do you ensure that training is tailored effectively to your firm?

For professional firms, the opportunity cost of staff time in attending a training course is the single largest training-related expense. If the course is not tailored to your firm for example an “open course”), you may get no payback on topics which are irrelevant or poorly-contexted. It is important to work with the training provider to ensure that the course is properly tailored to meet the learners’ needs.

How do you ensure that training courses help your firm meet its business strategy?

If a firm gives free rein to training providers, it runs the risk that the training providers will provide what they find easy to provide, rather than what the firm actually needs. A firm will get better value from its training budget if it has a clearly articulated strategy and expectations of each grade’s role in implementing that strategy. These expectations are often documented as “competencies”. It should be straightforward to demonstrate how any training course offered links to the competencies.

How do you know that training is the right solution for developing people?

It is tempting to send someone to an open course to address a training need. However it is often more cost effective to make use of professional coaching, a planned process of on-the-job learning or e-learning. Training courses are most suitable when is a group of staff with similar learning needs, which ideally can be predicted. For example new managers may need help when they first take responsibility for managing teams. To reduce unnecessary training expenditure, firms need to make staff aware of the development options in addition to training courses.

How do you select who goes on what course?

Many firms provide training by the “sheepdip” approach - all staff of a particular grade attend a course irrespective of how much they would benefit from it. Other firms may have lapsed into the “perk” approach, where learning on the course is downgraded in favour of the reward, social and networking benefits of the course. One way to ensure that employees go on the right course at the right time is to require participants to submit a brief business case justifying why they should attend that course. Ask them to write a paragraph explaining how they expect the course will help them meet their appraisal objectives.

How do you evaluate how useful a course has been to its participants?

Most training courses provide feedback sheets at the end of the course. However research shows that this provides a poor predictor of how much participants will apply the learning. Feedback sheets provide a far more reliable indicator of how participants feel at the end of the course and how much they personally liked the trainers. The more shrewd firms follow up with participants 3-6 months after the course to assess the effect the course has had back in the workplace.

If you already had good answers to these questions, then you’re doing a better job than Gordon.


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