“We need to show the ROI of training.”
“Leaders don’t understand the value of training.”
In my years as a learning and development professional, I've heard phrases like these many times — attempts to, in some way, justify the hard work training professionals do each and every day. In many organizations, the value of effective training and performance support programs is not well understood. Go to any industry conference and I would guess 25 percent of the sessions revolve around ways to "show the value" or training.
Sessions like that often deal with questions like "What can we do to move forward?" But maybe that isn't exactly the right question. Maybe, instead we should be asking what's holding us back.
No company cares about great training. It sounds harsh, I know. But I firmly believe it. Even companies that value the continuous professional development of their employees don't care about great training; they care about having highly skilled employees. They care about having the service they provide exceed the service provided by their competition. Training is simply a means to that end.
Training professionals need to recognize that by being business-focused in every aspect of their work. Our work needs to provide value to all of our stakeholders, whether their investment is financial support or time via participation. We need to get away from the widget-based metrics of the past and focus on the impact and value our efforts have on critical business performance.
I recently asked a group of trainers what prevents them from doing more within their organizations, and their responses were surprising. People brought up several challenges, including not having enough budget, time, or bandwidth, and not having the authority or power to do what they needed to do. Ultimately, though, almost all the constraints mentioned were self-imposed.
Even if shackles are placed on us by circumstance or by someone else, we have the power to take them off, or to find ways to still be successful despite the constraints.
Even the language we use can hold us back. For instance, trainers often talk about learning. Learning is important, but knowing something and being able to do something aren't the same. Business leaders want to know there’s a benefit to spending resources on training, and that benefit is usually their workers' ability to DO something differently after being trained.
We need to challenge the status quo, and find ways to better support the needs of the organization, regardless of the resources we have available. If we find ourselves saying “I’d be more effective if I only had…”, then we’ve already lost. A statement like that isn’t a reason for failing; it’s an attempt at an excuse.
Unfortunately, the answers to this question haven't changed much even in the past five or 10 years. I think that people reading this blog are, by nature, probably ahead of the curve in these areas. The fact that you are reading this post and posts like it reflects your desire to expand your skill set and to continue to grow as a professional.
In order to get our profession to move forward, we need to find a way to get those who do not have the same inert drive to go outside their comfort zone to jump on the train. If every learning pro looked at themselves as part of a larger business organization and conducted themselves with that mindset, we would, over time, change the perception of the ‘norm’ for training programs. If we can do that, many of the current obstacles individuals and organizations encounter would be reduced or eliminated.
Of course, some people may read this and think “I’ve tried all of that, and still it doesn’t change”. It’s possible that you may indeed do all the things you should be doing, but the organization’s leaders and culture make it almost impossible to make the difference you would like to make. In cases like that, it may be time to consider if it’s time to go.
David Kelly is the director of training at Carver Federal Savings Bank and member of the ASTD National Advisors for Chapters. He is also the author of the blog Misadventures in Learning, where he discusses the future of the learning field and curates the backchannel of learning conferences.
Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user dno1967b.