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Using Training as a Strategic Tool

by Nitin Sharma

May 4 2013 - "What is the best way to get the maximum return on the training budget?"

At a time when training budgets are tight - the above question as to where to invest it for maximum returns is clearly a top-of-mind issue for many organizations. The dilemma is: Should the focus be on maximizing individual employee potential or should it be on maximizing organization returns?

Though both these objectives seem tightly inter-linked, there is a fine dividing line. In the eyes of employees, by and large - loyalty to the organization is no longer seen as an investment that pays. Consequently, for a large population of Theory X managers responsible for deciding on training investments, it is the immediate and tangible returns on a training investment that find more favour than the longer term organization returns. In other words, invariably the short term impact is prioritized over the long term benefits.

Let me give you an example to illustrate. A training intervention that can be shown to have an immediate and tangible impact is perhaps a technical training session around the products or services that a company sells. Given the right environment, senior people involvement and metrics - it can be shown that the session has had a clear positive impact. Now consider another kind of training intervention - a leadership workshop, a workshop around innovative thinking or say a team building workshop. These are investments that do not have an immediate tangible result (regardless of how good the intervention may have been) due to the very nature of the issues being addressed.

One does not become a better leader, right after attending a workshop on leadership. Similarly becoming a good team player is a skill learnt with time and practice. However, what attending such a workshop can do nevertheless, is to set a person out on a certain path towards the long term goal - of being a good leader or a good team player. For a keen learner, that is all that is often needed.

In that sense, workshops that address long term but important issues act only as catalysts in changing people & hence the destinies of companies.

But why should companies invest in something like making their employees better team players? Is there a tangible benefit?

"Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful & so rare" - Patrick Lencioni, author of 5 Dysfunctions of a team.

In todays age, all our Products, Services or even Processes can be copied. The window available for new innovations is becoming shorter and shorter. The competitive advantage for companies then is in putting together teams that can handle rapid industry changes, improvise continuously and produce ideas that help business to sustain.

An increasing number of companies are slowly coming to the same realization as stated above by Lencioni. The age of the "lone wolf" or the "star performer" is pretty much done and dusted. The success or failure of most organizations now hinges largely on how well the different teams within them work with one another. At its best it can work like a well oiled engine - at its worst it can be a HR nightmare.

An individual may be a great performer by himself - but if he does not know how to take other people in his team along, communicate effectively within the team and handle conflicts in a mature way, all the personal skills can come to nought.

No wonder then that an increasing number of companies now hire professional firms to run Teambuilding workshops for their teams to make them more cohesive & oriented towards the organizationís shared values.

Such workshops teach teams in a fun way to strive towards common goals & commitments. To achieve a common objective, teams often have to try new methods, prioritize tasks, assign roles, trust their peers, innovate and become more adaptive towards the ever changing environment. Along with their skills & tools, individuals in such workshops attain another important asset - "the right mindset", which is collaborative and team oriented.

When teams start displaying trust in each other, it creates a safe environment, where each team member feels he is equal and hence becomes an active asset for generating IDEAS. Organizations & members both flourish in such healthy environments. And the results help them in Getting Ahead - Staying Ahead.

A few thoughts that can help managers in hence prioritizing their training budgets are:

  • Focus on what the TEAM needs to succeed

    This necessarily means striking a balance between immediate impact trainings like ones focused on products, services and processes versus the long term impact ones like leadership, innovation and team building

  • Create a supportive learning environment

    Building a TEAM isnít just about recruiting and putting different members together. Sharing the learning goal for the team - in line with the business priorities, helps people understand why a certain kind of training is needed for the team.

  • Tap the individuals in the TEAM for their inputs before freezing on the training schedule

    There is a famous saying:
    "You have a coin and I have another. We exchange, we both have one coin each.
    You have an Idea and I have another. We exchange, we both have two ideas each."

    Most teams carry an innate wisdom that we often ignore. The best way to decide on a training calendar for a team is to often just openly ask the team members to share their thoughts. Share the big picture - share the business priorities - and then ask the team which are the areas they need help in to succeed. What this also ensures is a much bigger buy-in for whatever trainings that you finally roll out.

Any organization can outshine the competition if their "rate of learning" is faster than the "rate of change". L&D managers in organizations hence have a key role in ensuring organization competitiveness. Its only when they can get the teams within their organization to think about learning on an ongoing basis that they can truly become a Learning Organization.

The foremost things that training managers should hence keep in mind while deciding the use of their training budgets is a healthy mix of the short term imperatives versus the long term necessities - in line with business priorities.

What are your thoughts about how you use your training budget? Do share with us!

Nitin Sharma is Corporate Facilitator at FOCUS Adventure India.


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