Training budgets: Come on down and face the budget challenge

There’s little doubt that many training and learning and development departments are facing or are about to face very challenging times.

It may be an old cliché that the first thing to be cut in a downturn, apart from the staff Christmas party, is the training and development budget, but nevertheless it’s usually true. After all, it’s better to do that than to lay off training managers.

Already the doomsayers are examining the tea leaves and predicting woes galore for training departments and suppliers. For example, Common Purpose, which specialises in leadership development, recently polled 120 training and L&D managers and found almost half said their training budgets were soon to be cut.

Predictably, so-called soft skills, such as communications, time management and diversity, were named as the most likely to get the chop. Teambuilding days were also likely to be axed.

Yet, a time of challenge offers opportunities.

Many years ago, a former colleague who was training manager in a large corporate told me that his budget had been cut in its entirety. “One minute I was sitting on 50 grand, the next I was sitting on my hands,” he told me. “I thought I was stuffed.”

Fortunately, it’s rare that an entire training budget is cut, but it’s no bad thing to consider what you would do were that to happen.

First, my old amigo contacted department heads and told them he was cutting all externally supplied training unless they could pay for it out of their own budgets. Surprisingly, at least for him, some said they had budget so that training could go ahead.

Then he examined training that he thought the organisation could do without, at least in the short term. Having agreed it with his superior and appropriate departmental heads, it was axed.

Next, he focused on itemising the training he could deliver personally without incurring costs. Then he set about finding ‘hidden’ experts within the company who could be used to deliver some training and mentoring.

Fortunately, my old mucker was an experienced trainer and was able to mentor subject specialists in how to train and produce appropriate materials.

Of course, this scenario is appropriate only in certain circumstances. But I paint it to show that if the economy continues to slide then it pays training and L&D professionals to think of what they can do if the worst happens and their budgets are slashed.

As of now, no-one can tell how long the downturn will last and how deep it will be: in the late rip-roaring 1980s few saw the housing bubble was about to burst with such a bang that the economy was rocked back on its heels for four years. Fortunately, inflation is relatively low by modern standards and employment relatively high. Nevertheless, be prepared for two to three years of belt tightening.

Out of Africa

I guess there’s nothing like having a hungry lion on your trail to stimulate rapid and appropriate decision making.

I’m not quite sure if such a scenario is relevant to business leaders facing today’s hostile economic environment. but Chris Howe, boss of leadership development company ChangeMaker International, clearly thinks it is. He’s invited eight Masai warriors to take time out from the plains of Kenya to trot along to London’s Institute of Directors on 24 July to offer their unique insights into how to survive in a truly hostile environment.

The session will explore a wide range of leadership issues and will look at what criteria the Masai use to assess risk, he says.

I wonder if that will include speed of lion, minus pace of warrior, divided by the distance to the nearest tree?

John Charlton, editor and former training manager

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