Close the credibility gap

Mike Norman makes a plea for training specialists to use common-sense
commercial approach

I’m on a training course’ is a declaration which, despite legions of
research proving its worth, is guaranteed to raise a cynical eyebrow.

So why does training still suffer from this credibility gap in some
quarters? The profession has done much to overcome its image as provider of
nothing more than a nice lunch and a day out of the office with an early
finish. But in my experience, internal training departments are still
suffering, and I’m certain there is a lot they could do to make their
organisations take them more seriously.

One recent example of a ‘fully-booked’ internal training course, which on
the day yielded just six delegates for the four facilitators present, summed up
the problem. Many internal training departments are simply not as business-like
as they should be, and accept being treated like poor relations by their
colleagues. It is time for an outbreak of common sense and commercialism.

Resources are the first issue. The cost per training day must be kept to an
efficient minimum, and there are a number of ways to achieve this. The number
of training days yielded by permanent trainers should be maximised to the point
where they are providing at least three or four delivery days a week.

If you haven’t got the workload to sustain this, should they really be on
permanent staff? If they are delivering too few a number of days, the good
employees are likely to become demoralised and leave you anyway.

And don’t concede to trainers’ excessive design and preparation time
requests. One good commercial example was when one of my customers was
negotiating with an overpriced management development company, and asked:
"If you have done this course before for many other customers, why are you
charging me for 50 design days?"

Another of my customers’ permanent training team has convinced management
that Mondays and Fridays are bad training days. Yeah right, for whom? Running
programmes over weekends, including Sundays and Bank Holidays, promotes a clear
message that you are serious about learning.

Linked with this is the need to boost delegate numbers. The training world
seems to believe that six to eight students is the maximum any trainer can
take. In some cases, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the class size to be any
bigger (such as for presentation skills courses), but in others, a good tutor
should be comfortably able to teach 10 to 12 at a time.

While it’s true that some airlines have given overbooking a bad name, used
wisely, it is a principle that works to avoid empty seats. Overbooking tackles
the fact that people will always cancel. Induction courses are normally well
attended, with senior and management training days having the most acute
cancellation problems. Tracking your delegate numbers closely will determine
how much you should overbook by. If you’re not comfortable with overbooking,
running an active waiting list is another way to avoid wastage.

I’m always amazed by the ease with which people cancel internal training –
often on the morning of the course itself, citing overwork and other
commitments as their reasons. I wonder if they ever cancel their holidays for
the same reasons?

These excuses may well be true, but the message coming over loud and clear
is that it doesn’t really matter because it hasn’t cost anything for them or
their department. Had they cancelled an external training course at such short
notice, financial penalties would have been imposed – and it’s time internal
training departments did the same. Just as all training should be charged
internally, stiff cancellation fees should be an ever-present deterrent against
no-shows. Part of our company complained to our chief executive that it was
ridiculous that we, as the internal training department, were charging
cancellation fees of 100 per cent for less than one week’s notice. Our chief executive
agreed that it was ridiculous – he said it should be 200 per cent.

The need for training to be relevant and to meet the needs of the
organisation, following extensive consultation, is taken as read. But it should
also be recognised that no matter how relevant and well-delivered, training
will be undermined if costs and inefficiencies are at an unacceptable level.

It may be wishful thinking to suggest internal trainers should become as
important in the organisation’s collective mind as the department that pays
their salaries, but that level of indispensability is not a bad one to aim for.
What is beyond doubt is that departments have to sharpen up their act, or risk
death by inefficiency.

Mike Norman, managing director of Reed Learning

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