Employee training—whether it's intensive technical boot camps or a one-day on-site program about soft skills—has wildly varying perceptions at different organizations. In some companies, training is perceived as a painful requirement, especially at those companies where there's a mandatory quota for training that ends up being filled by boring online classes at the last possible moment. In others, training is a rare treat, reserved for top performers or those on the boss' good side. For many, it might be somewhere in-between.
The common themes shared amongst most companies is not enough training dollars or time for employees to get away and improve their skills.
SEE: IT training policy (Tech Pro Research)
Training certainly isn't cheap, especially when you're flying employees across the country, or purchasing a package of complex classes delivered to your location and wondering who will support the business when half of the team is in class. Furthermore, training often gets short shrift with employees attending an expensive class at a remote location and spending more time on calls and answering email than absorbing the content of the class.
Increase the value of employee training
Here are a few ideas to increase the value of employee training:
1. Shift from a compliance or award mindset to a developmental mindset
It's intuitively obvious that training has a huge potential for developing employees' skills, yet it's rarely given much thought during employee evaluations or goal setting. Furthermore, when training is a mandatory activity or a special gift, there's little thought put into how it might further an employee's career goals.
Transition how you use training from a mandatory activity or perk to a key element of each employee's development, one that you'll review with them and hold them accountable for completing and incorporating into their work. This takes more time for both you and the employee, but will significantly increase the perceived and realized value of training.
2. Request a report
When sending one or two employees to training, particularly specialized off-site training, make it a requirement of their attendance to provide a report to the team on what they learned, how it will be incorporated into their work, and one or two key items or themes that the rest of the team can also leverage, whether it's a new technical skill or a soft skill. This will not only spread the benefit of training beyond those who attended but also force attendees to focus a bit more diligently on the content, due to the knowledge that they'll be expected to concisely and effectively share with their leadership and peers.
SEE: Quick glossary: Corporate budgeting (Tech Pro Research)
3. Build a business case versus burning budget
One of the worst ways to convey the value of training, that's unfortunately all too common, is as a line item in the budget that needs to be spent or it will be lost. Perhaps you are guilty of nearing the end of a budgetary cycle with the majority of your training budget unused. In order to preserve that budget, you might send employees off to training in Underwater Basket Weaving, or an esoteric technical class completely unrelated to anything your company uses. There are few better ways to convey to your employees that training is a complete and utter boondoggle to be devoutly ignored or used as a means to a paid vacation in a nice part of the world.
Without creating an overly onerous approval process, ask employees to develop a simple business case for the training they'd like to take at the beginning of each budgetary cycle. How will it help them perform more effectively? How will it benefit the organization? How can they use that training to help their peers?
4. Provide the time
After having used some or all of the above techniques to get an employee to a training class, make sure they'll actually have the time to realize the full value of their attendance. Most of us attended a training class where someone spends 90% of the class in the hallway on conference calls or is furiously responding to work emails and completely missing the content being shared. Perhaps some of us have even had the unfortunate circumstance of being in that position. While there are certainly true emergencies that might require someone to shift their attention away from training, those are far rarer than you'd suspect by observing a typical class.
As a leader, set the expectation that employees in class are being paid to learn and master the material, and are not only expected to make that their primary focus when they're in class, but that you'll admonish them if you find them attending unnecessary conference calls, lingering on instant messaging, or sending barrages of emails that could otherwise wait. This expectation starts at the top, so avoid being the primary offender.
Training is an expensive proposition, not only the direct costs associated with it, ranging from the class itself to the associated travel expenses, but you also lose productive time from attendees. Don't further compound these costs by positioning your employees so that they don't even get the value of the content being presented, for which you've already paid dearly.
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Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.