Training for a reason | Inquirer Business
A MANAGER’S VIEWPOINT

Training for a reason

DURING my first two weeks in one company, I was asked to sign almost every day a lot of congratulatory letters to batches of employees who just took the Dale Carnegie Course. Finally, I called up my Training and Development Manager and asked, “Why are we having so many taking this course?” He answered sheepishly, “The course gives employees self-confidence, better communication skills and improves their interpersonal relations and right now about half of our 620 employees have already undertaken the course.”  I tried to hide my shock about the many being sent for training but managed to ask, “Did you conduct a training needs analysis on this? How did you validate the effectiveness of this course?” The answer was negative.

I immediately stopped sending employees to the Dale Carnegie course. I did the same in my previous company when supervisors and managers were continuously sent to an institution doing a bastardized version of Kepner-Tregoe. Buying the two off-the-shelve courses on a massive scale was like buying items in midnight madness sale. I didn’t mean to demean these training vendors. In fact, these are two world renowned (I mean, the real legitimate Kepner-Tregoe) training institutions that have done remarkable jobs in improving respectively the interactive and problem-solving skills of employees. But I was rather alarmed by the indiscriminate numbers of employees being sent to these training programs with neither rhyme nor reason.

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Training and Development (T&D) is a crucial activity and endeavor in any organization. It increases employee job skills and competencies, improves behavior and interpersonal relations, develops leadership skills, and enhances loyalty and motivation. It also enables employees to respond to changes in technology, methods, work processes, organization structure and competitive problems. On the other hand, Training and Development, if not done for a relevant and valid reason and not shown by observable results, is not going to be appreciated by top management. Most training heads base their success on consumptive metrics like, number of trainings done in a year, number of attendees, training hours in employee’s file, superlative assessment of the speakers or facilitators, knowledge of the subject, his/her delivery, and the ability to field questions. It is not based on profit-oriented metrics that are connected to the bottom line.

Training is traditionally treated as a cost without a return on investment. That is why when there is a budget squeeze, among the first items to be slashed is training. Training is sometimes treated like a poor cousin of HR or other functions of the company. And the irony is, when something unsavory happens, like low customer satisfaction, poor employee engagement, or snafu in billing, management points to training as the answer when the problem could be systemic or something else, not answerable by training.

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Training as an activity must reinvent its wheels. It must redefine its role beyond the development and the delivery of training programs. It must create its own value for the business. Training is not an end; it is a means to an end – having its positive impact on business results. The training heads must convert themselves into strategic business partners and convert their business partners (the operating units) into strategic learning partners. This can only be achieved when these strategic learning partners recognize the role that training professionals play in the accomplishment of key business outcomes.

To begin with, training must align itself to the organization’s strategies, vision and mission, corporate values, business plans and objectives. For example, if it is the company’s plan to increase its market share by 15% through a new product launch and intensified promotion of its existing products, the training head must proactively sit down with his/her strategic learning partner – the Marketing head – and agree on the kind of training that his Marketing representatives must undergo to achieve his/her objectives.

Training has no value unless participants apply what they learn in the training. The proof of the pudding, to use a hackneyed phrase, is not the training intervention but what happened afterwards. Did the trainees apply the skills taught? Did they change their behaviors? Unfortunately, people will not apply what they learn without reinforcement and support of their superiors. In the example given above, it is the Marketing head or his management staff, the strategic learning partner, who is the driver to support and follow up how his/her people apply what they learned.

In drawing up a program for training in coordination with one’s strategic learning partner, the head of training must specify the learning expectations, targeted outcomes, observable behaviors and drivers for this training intervention. Figure 1 below is an example of critical behaviors to be achieved and the drivers to reinforce and follow up this change of behaviors.

Kirkpatrick, in his book, Training for Results, cited four (4) levels of training:

Level 1 – to what degree participants react favorably to the learning event. (REACTION)

Level 2 – to what degree participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills and attitudes based on their participation in the learning event. (LEARNING)

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Level 3 – to what degree participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job (BEHAVIOR)

Level 4 – to what degree targeted outcomes occur, as a result of the learning events and subsequent reinforcement (RESULTS)

Sadly, most trainers, end at Level 1 only or at the very least, up to Level 2. They rest on their laurels by the number of participants, their superlative comments and reactions on the food, ambiance of the venue, the quality of the lecturer or facilitator,  their assurance that they have learned a lot, and the happy faces of their superiors, in most cases the HR heads. These are consumptive, not business metrics. Well, they should be aware that they are not trainers offering public seminars. They are corporate trainers engaged not only in delivering training programs but effectively imparting knowledge, skills, and competencies, changing behaviors and helping in achieving tangible bottom line results.

One last piece of advice to corporate trainers: Don’t wait for managers to ask you for help through training. Actively seek them out and ask, “How can I help you achieve your goals?” Be an expert on the business side, know their language, operations, structure, and identify the key players. Finally, convince them that training is an investment, not a cost – and there’s a return on investment. Show that your training has direct and significant contribution to the business results. With that right mindset, your training activity has achieved value and reason. You have arrived as a Strategic Business Partner.

(Noli is the Chairman of Change Management International, Inc. He is the Vice President of Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), member of the Tripartite Industrial Peace Council and Tripartite Executive Committee; and Commissioner of Tripartite Voluntary Arbitration Advisory Council (TVAAC) of NCMB, DOLE, representing the employer sector. He is the Author of “Human Resource Management – From the Practitioner’s Point of View” and co-author of the book “Personnel Management in the 21st Century”. He was the PMAP President from 1989-1990.)

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