Companies spend a small fortune each year on training their employees. Right from human resources personnel to line managers, everyone swears by the “T” word, almost as if it makes the world go round. Scratch the surface a bit; ask them about the real results they achieved from the last training program they were involved in and you might get a very different reaction. We think training might be the most misused, misunderstood, overestimated, yet underutilized tool in corporate history… well, maybe not quite, but you get the picture.
So, are we saying that companies that invest in training their employees have got it all wrong? Aw, give us a break! The last thing to do is throw the baby out with the bath water. Allow us to explain.
Don’t think of it as annual ritual. We think that most businesses approach training like it was some kind of festive tradition – do it once a year and be done with it. Training is not an isolated experience, and learning isn’t something that can be swallowed in three quick gulps. Like it or not, every person is continuously engaged in the training process – how would they learn, otherwise? Most real training happens during the normal course of a work routine, the more people go about their tasks, the more they learn. And that which is learned during this type of process, is rarely forgotten, unlike the information contained in glossy presentations and glib talks that form the essence of a lot of training programs!
Which brings us to our next point, and that is, there must be transfer of knowledge. The holy purpose underlying the efforts of all those firms training their employees must be that the trainee learns something, which can be put to good use, during the normal course of work. Knowledge by itself is of no value, unless it can find application of some sort. And since we’ve already said that transference happens best when one is on-the-job, it’s easy to see that one feeds off the other. If we change our mindset to one that believes that training is not a one-off, but “infinitely-on” activity, and formalize the everyday learning a little bit, it can really pay off! Let’s take the example of a research company – regular sharing of information among team members about new resources, techniques and concepts, multiplies the knowledge capital right away. Isn’t that a type of training, in itself? Of course, there are plenty of situations where a structured training program is called for, like when new technology is involved, or a fresh recruit has to be taught a manufacturing process. But don’t forget that the real learning begins once the training program ends.
We talked about results earlier. Many senior executives mistakenly believe that training their employees is a waste of time and money, because the results are not there to see. Hold on, a bit. Could this merely be a case of myopic hindsight? What efforts are being made to ensure that the goals of the training function are in sync with the company’s objectives? Has someone tried to align the two? If so, what were the expected deliverables? You know what we’re getting at. On the other hand, could it be that the process is not working because of practical limitations, such as the inability to gather all concerned at one place at one time? Technology has found a way around this – companies such as Walk the Talk offer a host of CD based training materials that enable people to learn when they can, where they can.
Get people together. If the newly gained knowledge is applied as it should be, it is likely to impact others within the company. So, take the big picture into account. Take the example of a new sales reporting or invoicing system primarily used by the accounts department – make sure the sales and customer service teams know about it too. And finally, make sure that senior management is involved at important times. If the CEO believes in the worth of training, and says so, the guys down the line have no choice but to believe it!
Paying attention to some of these ideas might make a big difference to the success of your company’s training initiatives. Do give it a try.
By Akhil Shahani