We English like nothing more than a bit of bad weather. It gives us something to talk about. We discuss it in the lift, in the bus queue and on the train. Bad weather is probably the only time that it’s acceptable for the English to talk to strangers!
As you may have heard, we’ve had a bit of snow. On one of the days that I was snowed in, I had the opportunity to sit and think about our industry – particularly, why is it that at the first sign of trouble, organisations cut their training budgets? Surely any form of logic would tell you that it should be the other way round. In times of trouble, we should be investing more in our people because we want them to achieve more.
I think the answer lies with us, the L&D professionals. For too long we have viewed training like chicken soup – its good for the soul and how can you argue that it won’t make you better? Unfortunately, this no longer washes with the CEO who has a million competing priorities. Often he or she is faced with making a decision between a business plan that has a clear return and a training budget where the benefits are hard to quantify. Unsurprisingly, it’s the training budget that gets squeezed.
We have to do better in this area if our organisations are to get the support that they deserve from L&D. We have to look at every programme as if we were paying for it ourselves. In this situation, would we spend the money if we could not quantify the return? We often hear that it is not always possible to determine the return from a training programme. In which case I would say don’t do the training – save the money. What about compliance training, I hear you say, we have to do this. I agree, but it’s a myth that you can’t measure the return from compliance training. The number of completions is an obvious measure but you can also measure the before and after effects in terms of, for example, the number of breaches or the calls to the help desk. By thinking about the return and measuring tangible results, we not only create financial benefits for the organisation but we help to make the training more palatable for the learners.
One project that comes to mind is some competition law training that we delivered. Initially the course was scoped to be a long programme that laid out the law. When we looked harder at the business benefits of the programme, we could not justify the costs. The subject matter expert, when confronted with this, admitted that actually learners did not need to know about competition law, only how to recognise the risks. They would then call a help line. This thinking resulted in a shorter, more effective course that actually had the desired impact. The change of heart came from looking at the training as a business proposition rather than an obvious foregone conclusion.
In my view L&D is not a support organisation, it’s a business unit and like all business units it needs to demonstrate tangible benefits – if we can’t do this, we may find that very quickly we are out in the cold.