Author Profile Picture

Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


Read more from Heather Townsend

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

How to get bang for your firm’s investment in L&D?


In about a month's time I will be speaking at the CIPD HRD conference on innovation in coaching. As part of my prep for this session, I started to think about how develop your firm's talent on a shoestring budget. Here is the results of my musing:

When you ask someone in your firm how to help their direct reports gain a new skill, how many of you would expect to hear:

"workshop, training course, or coaching?"

When I started my career in L&D, the default option was always 'training course'. These days the default option for managers tends to be 'training course' or 'coaching' I don't think that e-learning is yet a default option. (What do you think?)

I think it is fair to say that most firm's L&D budget hasn't recovered yet since the hefty cuts inflicted at the beginning of the recession. (If your budget has, can we talk?) This means it's not always possible to send someone on a course or call in the executive coach. 

Does a training course or workshop 'fix' someone?

Let’s look at the perennial favourite - how about sending someone on a course to fix them?

According to research by Robert Brinkerhoff, a professor at Western Michigan University and expert in evaluation and training effectiveness:

  • Less than 15% of attendees on a training course will implement their learning
  • More than 70% will try to implement it but give up because it becomes too hard
  • More than 15% of learners will do nothing as a result of attending a training course.

So, we have a situation where we have over 85% of our attendees not making sustainable changes as a result of attending the workshop. Even more worryingly, retired professional ice hockey player and coach, Brent Peterson, found that 85% of the investment of a training course is based around what happens in the classroom, while only 10% is about preparation and a mere 5% about follow-up. Which means we, as an industry, are predominantly betting the kitchen sink that we can fix someone by sending them on a workshop - when it look like we can’t - and need to do more than this to help them make sustainable behavioural change and effect the knowledge transfer.

Brinkerhoff’s research ties in what researchers Bersin & Associates discovered, 70% of an individual’s learning takes place on the job AFTER the training has finished, while a mere 10% actually happens in the classroom.

The low effectiveness of workshops, is often down to a couple of reasons:

  1. needing to wait until a place on a workshop becomes available - may then not be needed as much (and alternative ways of developing the skill has been found)
  2. wrong person sent on workshop in first place - either low priority, bums on seat mentality
  3. lack of real support post the workshop to help them embed the skills they have learnt
  4. relies on line mgr being closely involved in the individual’s development, rather than abdicating responsibility for the individual’s development by sending them on a workshop.

Is coaching the answer?

Looking at these stats, it starts to make sense to invest in coaching for your firm. You can use coaching to support your fee earners 'on-the-job', as well as providing them with timely coaching conversations post a workshop.

The problem with providing coaching is the use of external coaches can run into thousands of pounds for a half day or day of a coaches time. (Particularly if they base their hourly coaching rate on their client’s annual salary) Therefore, if external coaches are not a realistic scalable options, how about using your supervisors and people managers to coach their staff?

However, with potentially 5 years of under-investing in developing your managers - you may not have the skills in your people managers to properly coach your staff.

What is the answer?

Getting real value for money from your spend on learning and development is not a quick fix, a case of writing a business case for a proposed workshop, or something which throwing money at will solve.

You will need to change your firm's mindset from automatically reaching out for the course or external coach's telephone number. The mindset needs to be moved from one of abdication - i.e. let someone else 'fix' them. into one where your people managers take responsibilities for their people's development. This is best done through investing in blended learning programmes, supported by an internal coaching culture and ‘just-in-time’ learning resources.

What's your thoughts on how to get bang from your very limited training budget buck?

One Response

  1. An interesting article and we

    An interesting article and we have these exact challenges.  We are progressing with multiple levels of just in time learning via short videos, e-lessons like iTunes U and curriculum collections.  This is being supported with developing managers in coaching skills etc.

    As much as all the evidence above demonstrates that the traditional workshop isn't the panacea where is the actual value based evidence that the other approaches make a difference?


Author Profile Picture
Heather Townsend


Read more from Heather Townsend

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!