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Point Of View – ROI On Training: ‘It’s a whole piece, a journey and a continuum.’

Photo By Michelle Henderson on Unsplash
Photo Credit: Michelle Henderson on Unsplash

1. What specific skills or knowledge are targeted by the training?

Before you get into a training conversation with anyone, rather than talking about the training you ask why? Why are you doing the training? We never go to a doctor and ask them to give us headache medicine.

Similarly even for us we should not say yes, when someone comes with a proposal for training. A doctor will not just say yes without a diagnosis! A lot of the answers will come around, if we ask why we are doing this. It’s no longer the world of training. The training piece is very, very small. And in training you’re just transferring something from the minds of a trainer into the minds of a learner, which is okay if it’s knowledge but it doesn’t work if it’s a skill, because skill needs to be practised; it needs to be rehearsed. You need to give someone a chance to fail at it, receive feedback, correct it, tweak it and then enhance it. So, it depends on the purpose of it – any kind of learning intervention whether we call it a training or a workshop or a skill enhancement we are still looking at what the pain point is. Sometimes, the answer lies in, “Yes you need a particular knowledge enhanced, or a particular skill set.” But, sometimes it is just about getting your systems right or process right.

For a lot of learning & development (L&D) consultants one of the biggest issues is proving value. So if you have undergone training, it doesn’t necessarily mean you become a better communicator. You can’t learn leadership by going on a training programme – all it does is open up the mind to something. So we keep going back to what you want to do. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? Where is this issue coming from? What would make you feel like you have achieved this? A lot of what you can offer as a solution is a whole range then. It could be skills, or it could be knowledge.

2. What are the quantitative ways to assess skill improvement or performance?

Let us look at Kirk Patrick’s model of evaluation – for how to show the impact of your training. Different stakeholders will want to see different impacts. Firstly, take an initial reaction on how the training was; did they like the trainer? How well did the training go? At the initial level the idea is to assess people’s reactions – this is very basic but leads to improvement. If the trainer was not good what do we do to improve it, if the venue didn’t work how do we enhance it. The first layer is to collect reactions to assess impact, and how you try to make improvements. That doesn’t test learning at all. All it tests is whether people are happy with things or not and this is the place basic hierarchical needs come in – was the food good, temperature good, venue make sense etc.

The next layer is a little more detailed – What me, as a trainer, wants to know. Did learning take place? Best way to do this is either to do interactive sessions during the workshop – giving them quizzes, small tests etc, assignments, case studies that demonstrate their ability to apply that learning. Second stage tests the impact of learning. The idea is people should be able to demonstrate their knowledge gain.

Third stage is what companies are interested in. As a trainer, if learning has taken place I’m happy, and if I have a happy squad for the reactions I’m good. Beyond that is not my cup of tea. But the company that paid for the training will care for the next layer. For them it is a transfer of learning. What they learned in the session are they able to apply it in their workplace. Are you seeing behavioural change? If people go on an accounting course are they making less errors on their computing? etc. Whatever the learning you need to see the transfer of learning take place. And this is both qualitative and quantitative. You want them to make fewer mistakes or demonstrate sales. That transfer of learning is where the organisation really cares.

The top most layer is the return on investment. It is very difficult to pinpoint that a particular training impacted that return on investment – human beings and organisations are quite complex so you can’t isolate a training and relate it to return on investment but you can for the entire company’s training budget see what impact you’re having. So the layer of impact changes, what you’re measuring at each stage changes, why you’re measuring at each stage also changes, and the timeframe for each one also changes.

Reactions can be done straight away – on the day of the training. Learning can happen almost immediately or we can send them a test or assignment in a week’s time. Will a client want the entire data on a training? The L&D department of a company will have to show some more evidence of how the work you’re doing is adding value.

3. Can you relate an example of a client experience? What pain point did you see, and what was the outcome of the training?

One of my clients came to me and said, ‘We are a company that sells point-of-sale (POS) machines. At supermarkets, or malls the POS – the credit card machines – their job is to sell those machines on which you can make your payments. They came to me and said, ‘We are a team of 18 and we want to run a training on the sales negotiation process because we find our team is not good at negotiating and we want to enhance sales.’ Now, when asked why you want to do it, they said, ‘We want to improve our sales, we want to get better return on our negotiation.’ In a client customer transaction we want to get better profits – that was their thinking.

So we started running this training which was entirely to improve negotiation skills for people who are in the front end of sales. As we started running through the programme a couple of things that we found were they were all brilliant salespeople who were all hitting their targets – the problem was that the target was not correctly set, which was the fault of the managers. The wrong objective was set. While the sales team got a lot of sales orders, the rest of the team didn’t know what was promised at the end of sales. So over the series a lot of customers were dissatisfied, and repeat customers were not coming, which means the delivery of it didn’t work as well as possible. Along the way they realised that sales was not an issue, the completion of sales was an issue so they needed to have better communication.

So what started out as a sales and negotiation training, and the idea was to improve profit on the back of it, ended up being a series of training interventions, about 10-12 of them where we spoke about how to build a team, how to communicate openly, what assertiveness means, how to resolve conflicts, how to trust. All these other elements, which were not part of our original conversation on sales and negotiation. But, in order for that journey to come through, these were all the little interventions that needed to take place.

Within the first three sessions they were so much closer as a team, talking more clearly, language use was consistent, terminology was stabilised, so all these things are benefits of having attended a training – but was it a sales and negotiation training that achieved it? Probably not. So a lot of times the anticipated benefits, intended benefits and actual benefits may vary significantly – if you haven’t got the piece right in the beginning about what we are trying to solve here. You are going to have many benefits here – not only were they able to get what they wanted, which was to improve profits but so many things sorted out along the way. They became leaner, more efficient, got better at communicating, developed more trust, which are all softer benefits along the way.

4. What was the timeframe set for training?

The original task was a one-day negotiation for sales persons training – six hours, with about 18 people coming to it. This was the starting point. What we ended up with was a series of workshops, all of them day long, and on a range of topics.

Luckily they seemed to have a budget for it and there was a real appetite for this close team to work together and the manager also supported it as they saw the benefits.

The return on investment (ROI) for them was they were a much more cohesive team. And just at the end of the first one we were able to demonstrate that. That made them more comfortable about investing and reinvesting.

Each time we finished a session we would do a debrief on what worked, and what didn’t and what I as an external consultant observed and was there anything else I recommended that would help enhance it further. They were very open to this feedback, not all organisations are, but this particular one had the ability to pay for it. Secondly, they had the mindset of a leadership that said ‘let’s invest in our people’. Thirdly, they were willing to listen to the feedback.

5. How does it tie in to organisational goals?

Whether you’re an internal L&D team or external consultant the first conversation is very crucial to understand pain points for the business. If you can get that, the rest of the buy-in becomes easier. Most people will put in money if it ties back to the organisation or team goals.

Three ways training can add value 
A. Increasing revenue.
B. Reduce costs.
C. Avoid costs. (law suits, noncompliance, penalties or fines) – you have to link your organisation’s perspectives to one of those three things so that they can see the benefit.

6. How does training impact retention and engagement?

Companies that offer L&D opportunities, career pathways, and growth, will have people who are more motivated, engaged, and will therefore tend to stay with the company longer. Otherwise people are more likely to say this is a one way street – giving and not getting anything in return, and will switch off. It is something an organisation can measure in the fourth layer – but retention and engagement are not solely connected to L&D. There are so many other factors. The biggest reason people leave are their managers.

7. What are the costs involved in training?

There are direct and indirect costs involved. How am I going to deliver the training? Who is going to do it? Is it going to be in-house or external? In person or online? Where will it be – in the office premises or a 5-star resort? Indirect costs that organisations that don’t think about, which they need to, is actually taking the employee away from their job to allow them to attend a certain training. You need to allow them space to learn during that time but also come back and apply it. It takes time to make mistakes and take feedback and apply it. Those are the costs not often associated with L&D.

8. What are the risks and challenges?

What is the risk of doing an L&D intervention vs What is the risk of not doing an L&D intervention? This is where cost-benefit analysis comes in. A lot of companies will say look at how much it costs, and what is the benefit. But they will look at it very real-time, today, or three months from now. They don’t look at the longevity of it. And the risk is people tend to be short-sighted and narrow visioned when it comes to L&D. The challenge is giving your employees the space not just to attend a training, but actually make the most of it.

The risk is thinking of training as an isolated intervention, whereas it is never isolated. What happens before and after, and what happens during is equally of importance.

The focus is just 4-6 hours when training is taking place and not on what has taken place before that to reach that situation or what’s happening after it; whether people sustain and continue to build on that learning – because a lot of the benefits only come afterwards. Avoid the narrow vision and don’t look at just the training – it’s a whole piece, a journey and a continuum.

At YellowSpark we customise, design and implement suitable L&D interventions. To know more write to us at contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Payal Gaglani Bhatt is the founder and director of The Little Gurus – an HR and L&D consultancy in Dubai, UAE, with over 20 years of experience.