According to studies by the Aberdeen Group, the Harvard Business Review, and the Human Capital Institute, successful companies achieve better business results than industry peers, because they invest in training their employees.
But there is training… and there is training that delivers powerful business results.
Too often, organizations view formal learning as a one-time event rather than a process. Many organizations invest in training employees but do not follow up on their performance over the long term. And frequently, training itself may not relate directly to what people do every day on the job. As a result, many companies do not to realize the full return on their investment in training.
Training and Business Drivers
Research shows that all organizations, regardless of the economic climate, benefit from developing their employees. Business issues that drive companies—in good times and bad—to consider implementing a formal training program include the following:
- Inability to sustainably grow revenue
- The need to increase productivity—usually with fewer people
- Higher-than-desirable employee turnover
- Less-than-effective sales and customer service operations
- Lower levels of customer satisfaction than the industry norm
- Managers who lack the necessary skills to develop their team members
These are all powerful drivers, but because training requires a significant investment of time and money, companies are understandably concerned about what they will get in return. Decision makers must be assured that the results are worth taking employees away from their jobs.
Benchmarking Performance against Peers
“The Aberdeen Group report, Sales Training: Deploying Knowledge, Process and Technology to Consistently Hit Quote, notes in ‘Best-in-Class’ companies, 77% of sales representatives, on average, are meeting their annual quota as compared to 38% of ‘Industry Average’ companies and a mere 26% of the ‘Laggards.’ The reason? ‘Best-in-Class’ companies have chosen to implement sales training programs.
‘Best-in-Class’ companies, 77% of sales representatives, on average, are meeting their annual quota as compared to 38% of ‘Industry Average’ companies and a mere 26% of the ‘Laggards.'”
Gaining Results From Training Programs
Implementing a training program does not automatically produce business success. As training expert John R. Murphy notes, training must be driven by the need to achieve “near-term business results,” rather than the somewhat loftier goal of changing company culture. As he and other training experts have commented, achieving improved results typically produces organizational change, not vice-versa.
An important first step is to determine what will boost productivity, increase revenue, or improve overall results. Are a company’s challenges related to a lack of skills or to other issues instead? For example, if an organization has made poor hiring choices, put the wrong compensation plan in place, or needs to restructure business processes, training employees in new skills will not address its problems.
This determination, or needs assessment, should be done consultative. Together, a company and a consultant can pinpoint whether skills development, restructuring, or new processes and systems will provide the best outcome. To gain optimum results, the professionals engaged in actually delivering training should not do this assessment.
If the assessment determines that the company will benefit from improved employee skills, implementing a training program is the next step.
ROI Starts with Goal-Setting and Metrics
Once a company is clear that a formal skills development program can improve business results, it is important to identify the specific competencies required and/or behaviors that must be changed. If a company needs to improve client relationships, for example, and communication is identified as a key skill, relevant competencies might include employees learning to write complete sentences or consistently applying proofreading techniques.
With competencies identified, it is important to define the metrics to be used before and upon completion of the training process. Working collaboratively, the training provider and client determine realistic measures of success which will inform both training design and program objectives.
Process, Accountability, and Flexibility
Training, as noted earlier, is a process. The mistake many organizations make is to view it as a single event.
These organizations train employees in a session or two and send them back to work, hoping that what they have learned will make them more effective.
“Training must be driven by the need to achieve ‘near-term business results’, rather than the somewhat loftier goal of changing company culture.”
John R. Murphy
There may be a brief training effect that shows up as improved performance. However, improvements rarely last long, because training typically does not include the opportunity to practice (on the job) the skills that have been learned. Another problem is that learners may be exposed to good content, but the theories or examples provided during training may be different than daily realities.
If training does not integrate the opportunity to practice what has been learned or is not aligned with the real world, it does not translate into lasting performance improvements. Business authors Pfeffer and Sutton refer to this disconnect as the “knowing-doing gap.” Consider the number of people who buy diet books and read them, but fail to shed pounds, because they do not apply the insights and techniques learned to their relationship with food.
In addition to practice and relevance—and we cannot emphasize this too strongly—managers must be involved in and held accountable for their employee’s use of skills gained through training. The Aberdeen Group has noted that in 67% of “Best-in-Class” company managers are responsible for their team’s professional development. In these companies, managers must ensure that employees are actively acquiring job skills and making measurable progress toward meeting their performance goals.
While there are many reasons that managers may not reinforce training, one of the most important reasons is that they may not be skilled in the competencies on which their employees are being trained.
Even more significantly, many managers lack skills in “developmental coaching.” Despite good intentions, without successful experience in coaching others in specific skill areas, even the best managers may not be able to gain the greatest impact from training.
Customizable, Flexible, and Modular
An ideal training program is best practices-based—structured, but flexible. It consists of modules that break learning into manageable chunks and integrate practice, testing, and reinforcement. An ideal training program is also customized. For example, a customer service improvement workshop conducted at three companies may contain elements in common, but it will also be based on learning activities specific to each company, and it will drive to specific organizational goals.
“Of all the sales training we have participated in over the years, this was by far the best – practical, applicable and can really take us to the next level of success.”
Brandon Smith, i365 Inside Sales Rep
The Elements of an Effective Training Program
Effective training is a process that occurs over two to 12 months. It includes self-study, interactive workshop sessions, real-world practice, developmental coaching, and ongoing reinforcement. The following are basic components:
Managers and their employees evaluate employee competencies around key skills. Managers evaluate their own coaching abilities, with review and validation at the VP or director level. In addition, the evaluation process is likely to include third-party, behavioral, and online evaluation of skills. The results of these evaluations are used in program design, customization, or development and incorporated into success metrics throughout the process.
Prior to participating in an interactive workshop session, learners complete an online self-study program and/or reading assignments. The goal of self-study is to efficiently transfer basic knowledge, language, and concepts that participants will need to move forward. This component of the program also engages employees and managers alike by getting them into the right mindset.
During this component of the program, companies choose key account information or elements of employees’ jobs to be brought into and used during the interactive workshop sessions.
“This was a truly transformative program, packed with essential information for anyone who wants the sales process to be a demonstrable and meaningful win-win partnership with their clients. Great ROI within one day of the first session!”
CEO, Computer Magic
“Of all of the vendors I have worked with at Cisco, the team of people at Next Step is the people I can count on the most to deliver real results – on time and on budget.”
Developmental Coaching for Managers
To prepare managers to coach, reinforce, and support learners’ application of new skills, it is recommended that they participate in workshops covering the concepts on which their employees will be trained. These sessions also provide managers with an opportunity to practice developmental coaching techniques.
Developmental coaching helps managers to model effective on-the-job behavior and deal more effectively with uncooperative employees or those who may not be aware that they need to improve their skills. At the end of each session, managers are given real-world coaching assignments aligned with the assignments to be completed by their employees during the training program.
Employees’ Interactive Workshop Sessions
Here, employees put what they have learned during pre-course work into action and are coached by their managers. In sales training, for example, sales representatives may demonstrate the use of impactful opening statements or probing questions and get managers’ feedback on their effectiveness. Again, depending on training requirements, several sessions may be conducted.
At the end of each session, employees complete a personal action plan that documents how they will implement the skills they have learned. Like managers, they are given a set of real-world assignments that use the skills covered in the session.
Real World (Field) Assignments
Between workshop sessions, participants complete and track the results of their assignments. Their managers provide coaching and sign off on completed assignments. It is difficult to overstate the benefit of this component of the program. Managers and employees must apply what they have learned in the context in which they work, thereby bridging the “knowing-doing gap.”
Whether in a classroom or online, follow up is a major component of this approach. Follow-on web-based training, for example, begins within several weeks after initial program completion and offers ample time to review results, practice, and reinforce newly acquired skills.
Finally, both managers and employees assess progress and follow up on completion of real-world assignments. Managers are requested to evaluate employees’ skills across all competencies and their own coaching skills. Employees are requested to self-assess their own job performance.
Invest in Training that Delivers Results
Whether in tough or robust economic times, training is a critical component of business success—not a luxury. The positive impacts of effective training include:
- Measurably improved customer satisfaction
- Increased top-line revenue
- Improved employee productivity and retention
- Employees and managers with confidence, knowledge, and the skills they need going forward
As The Aberdeen Group has so persuasively pointed out, companies that invest in solid, well-structured formal learning programs have demonstrated their value in significantly improved business results, while their peers have often lagged far behind.
About Next Step
Next Step, a global consulting firm based in Silicon Valley with a branch in Oslo, maximizes revenue results for Norwegian, US, and global companies.
Our team of 40 seasoned professionals with practical experience in sales, marketing, people and process development has facilitated revenue and profitability growth for Adobe, Google, Lily, Opera, Palo Alto Networks, Tandberg, Ticketmaster and many other global enterprises and SMEs since 1997.
Next Step offers a full range of customized training programs in sales, marketing, leadership/management development, and professional. All areas designed to maximize retention that typically surpasses the industry average of 25%. Clients have experienced revenue and productivity enhancements of up to 300% as a direct result of Next Step’s programs. For more information, visit us at www.nextstepgrowth.no or call on (47) 902 30 982 or 1 650 361 1902
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