Getting training right is about ensuring it is one of the ‘thousand beating
hearts’ of the organisation. Paula
O’Neill shows how not to waste money on the wrong projects
The director of a major multi-national organisation assured me recently that
cost control in his area was as good as it could be. Every time I worked with
his first line managers, we identified potential cost savings of around
I invited him to sit in on a workshop and hear what his own people were
saying. He didn’t arrive. Effectively, he was paying me to be professionally
impotent – some cost control!
So what can the well-spent training budget achieve? Positive change. Something
must be different – better – in the organisation, after resources have been
dedicated to training and development.
Some managers aren’t really sure what "better" should look like,
and many training purchasers have not grasped the fact that knowing how to be
better isn’t enough.
I believe there are four reasons for training budget waste:
– Inadequate buy-in to training objectives. This usually occurs
because training programmes are focused on one level of employees at a time.
Seniors may feel disassociated from the programme or threatened by it.
Delegates’ absence from the daily workplace causes strains within the work
team. Support from their manager is vital if development is to continue after
the training event; this could even involve brushing up their coaching and
– Difficulties of measuring development lead to a reluctance to attempt
it. Clarification is difficult and there is the possibility of failure.
Measurement involves three steps to assessing personal development: imagine,
measure, and then a parameter check. This "IMP" approach also allows
you to reflect on whether the original boundaries set were correct.
– Functional splits in businesses are perceived as a natural development
to their growth. Specialisation has its advantages, but there is a price:
alienation. For focus, read narrowness of vision. For in-depth knowledge, read
As our understanding of training, and particularly management development,
improves, so the training specialist can become more and more alienated from
colleagues in other disciplines. Paradoxically, managers may be too ready to
"send Bill on a course". Twenty years ago, Bill would have been
developed by being taken under Ben’s wing.
– Pure machismo. It’s the superheroes in other departments who really
earn the income, training just spends it. Not if you get it right it doesn’t!
Achieving more with training budgets at less cost means placing training and
development at the very heart of organisational strategy. This means cascading
the implications of that strategy accordingly.
True strategic thinking places training at the very heart of the delivery of
business targets. It is fair to assume that part of a business plan is to be as
competitive as possible, and part of that edge must come from cost control.
To ensure the achievement of our radical aim, strategic thinking needs to be
underpinned by both "multi-level buy-in" and the use of work-based
Multi-level buy-in is a vital component of the strategic cascade I’m
describing. Delegates must know that they will be encouraged – indeed, expected
– to achieve real, visible results from training and development. This
expectation should be nurtured by everyone, up to the chief exec.
The projects undertaken should yield clearly measurable resource savings or
productivity improvements. In many cases, however, the benefits will be
behavioural – in this case, the IMP approach above should be adopted.
Both the outcomes and the processes of the project can produce significant
added value. Cutting costs now and building benefits for the future -Êthat’s
what training should be about.