Targeted training brings many benefits

Posted on November 19, 2015

It is sadly common for some companies to look at the cost of training and not see the numerous benefits stemming from it. Some take a short-term view and see training purely as a cost. Others see training as an investment in the future that derives many benefits.

The direct costs of delivery can range up to Dh15,000 per day depending on the topic, quality and provider, plus venue, refreshments and accommodation. Indirect costs include the man-hours of a team tied up in training for a day or more, the cost of the risk of not having them in the workplace.

It is relatively easy to justify investing in technical training (or ‘hard’ skills): if widget production, for example, is cheaper, quicker or better quality after training, the return on investment is obvious.

The return on investing in ‘soft’ skills can be harder to quantify and to attribute clearly. Did last month’s Communication Skills course really benefit the team? If so, how and by how much? Could other factors have contributed to the improvement in performance, or is better communication solely attributable to the course?

One way of justifying investing in training is to consider the cost of not training.

What will it cost the company if newly arrived staff are not culturally adept? How many deals might the company lose if employees are not skilled at negotiating? What will it cost the company if a project falls behind schedule because teams are not communicating well? Could the company miss opportunities if staff cannot make compelling presentations?

Other factors to consider are the hidden benefits of training such as increasing staff retention, improving Emiratisation programmes and attracting and managing talent.

To justify the expense of training, evaluating its effectiveness is essential. In the 1950s, Donald Kirkpatrick (Professor Emeritus of the University of Wisconsin) developed a four-level model which is now the most popular and widely used tool for the evaluation of training and learning.

Level one(reaction) measures what the student thought and felt about the training or learning experience. Typically, this feedback is captured immediately after a course in the form of ‘happy sheets’ or verbal reaction and is quick and easy to obtain. Measurement at this level is often subjective but it does provide a gauge of the perceived practicability of the course and the potential for applying the learning.

Level two (learning) measures the resulting increase in knowledge or capability.Often this is measured by conducting tests or assessments before and after training. Interviews and observation can also be used, but clear, reliable scoring needs to be established.

Level three (behaviour) quantifies the extent of behaviour and capability improvement and implementation or action. At this level of evaluation,observation and interviews over time are needed to assess change, relevance of change and sustainability of change. 360-degree feedback is another useful method, as is self-assessment.

Level four (results) measures the effects on the business resulting from the trainee’s performance.While evaluating individual results is not particularly difficult, evaluating results across an entire organisation is rather more challenging. Key performance indicators such as volumes, timescales, number of complaints, failures and quality, which are already part of good management practice, can be used. However, it is important to identify and agree with the trainee, prior to training, the metrics to be used.

Unfortunately, many companies restrict evaluation of learning to Kirkpatrick’s levels one and two, thus failing to establish the link between training and organisational results. Training can then be seen as a frivolity – a nice escape from the office for a couple of days but without any further expectation or impact. A solution to this is to consult an HRD specialist right from the start.

When sick, we don’t self-diagnose and prescribe when we are ill. Instead, we go to a doctor and describe our symptoms and expect an honest, accurate diagnosis and an effective cure. A good HRD consultant will do exactly that.

Using a reverse form of Kirkpatrick’s model, a specialist will enable you to define the company’s business objectives; job performance needs; existing strengths and weaknesses; and individual needs. A specialist will help to identify root causes of capability gaps and to recommend an appropriate, effective solution.

Training is not always the best or only answer – if performance management issues are identified, for example, a different solution will be recommended. The more open the company is with the consultant, the better the diagnosis and more accurate the solution.

Done well, the benefits to the organisation of investing in training will be clear to even the most resistant sceptics and will seem like a bargain.

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