Are You Wasting Limited Training Dollars On Programs That Just Don’t Work? 
© Billie Bowe, CICMC& ICMCI

I often say that when it’s time for a company to start shaving costs one of the first line items on the budget that quickly gets reduced or cut all together is the training budget. This leaves many human resources professionals with a dilemma, how to spend the limited training dollars they have, on programs that actually have a long lasting impact on the performance of the business?

The irony is that cutting training budgets at a time when business performance needs to be improved to increase profits is actually the time when training should be top priority. The very persons that are expected to drive sales through increased productivity are the very ones who need to be well trained in their respective disciplines. How else are they supposed to execute efficiently in downtimes. It is understandable however, why training would be stripped to the bare minimum. 

Firstly, often other revenue generating business units subsidize the human resources training budget. The operations department of a company, for example, is an internal customer of HR. Most HR divisions are nonrevenue generating. I say most, because some companies have found creative ways, through HR, to generate revenue therefore allowing a portion of HR’s budget to be self-funding. Traditionally this is not the case as HR depends on the amount of money allocated to them for training, which is dictated by the training needs of the business.

Secondly, if HR is unable to present a compelling business case to their business partners as to why training is essential especially in a negative economy, then there is no wonder training gets put on the back burner. It becomes extremely important for HR to strategically use their training funds on programs that actually impact the bottom line in a real, tangible and measurable way. This is precisely why HR professionals need to understand the operational side of the business. 

When I first entered the world of human resources I quickly realized how ineffective my role would be if I did not understand the internal customer from a business perspective. It was clear that just sitting in my office and designing training programs in a vacuum would not make any real impact on business performance. It’s like shooting in the dark at a target that is important to hit but you can’t see it. 

If HR is to truly be of added value to their business partners, then they must know the business! This may seem obvious, yet there are human resources departments functioning in isolation. They are far removed from their internal customer needs hence they propose training programs that essentially are just band aids or what I like to call a shot in the arm, feel good approaches to training that quickly wears off once the employees leaves the classroom. Even worse, some may resort to just picking training programs just for the sake of it. They have a training budget so in order not to lose it, they use it, but on what, ineffective training programs? HR would be better served not only understanding the business of their internal customers, but also conducting a training needs analysis. 

In order to understand the business, one way is to actually attend your internal customers’ leadership or departmental meetings. Attending and observing is not enough, HR should actively listen to the challenges being expressed and begin delving deeper by asking not only the managers and supervisors to explain their business challenges, but also the line staff. 

Conducting a training needs analysis involves the above but goes a bit deeper. At Benchmark Consulting, we understand that one of the key elements of any training program is the needs analysis. Identifying the training needs of our clients involves the following:

  • The objectives of the organization
  • Gaps between what employees currently know and what they need to learn
  • Training that is required 
  • Training that would be nice to have
  • When training may not be needed 
  • When training is not the right approach
  • The benefits and negative aspects of providing training
  • The type of training that is appropriate
  • The best approaches to deliver effective training
  • A method for collecting feedback and evaluating the program

Other indicators that help in assessing and developing appropriate training needs include:

  • Examination of company records (productivity, quality, safety, sales, etc.) to identify problem areas
  • Observation of employees as they work
  • Asking employees to describe their jobs, and find out what training needs they’ve identified for themselves
  • Review of training programs used by other organizations
  • Review of applicable regulatory training requirements

For businesses that are thinking about cutting training and allocating those funds to other areas, consider this. According to the American Society of Training Development (ASTD) in their industry report published in 2008, it indicated that US organizations spent $134.9 billion on training and development in 2007. Why is this something worth considering? In 2007 heading into 2008, the now legendary financial crisis experienced in United States almost brought down the world’s financial system. Even today, world economies are still feeling the effects of what is now known as the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In a nutshell, highly committed organizations are investing in their people. Training and development rests with HR. Stop wasting time and money on off the shelf, “feel good” training programs that are not measurable or sustainable. Advocate for training that improves business performance and heightens employee engagement. Now that’s money well spent.