One Sure Way to Maximize Training & Development Dollars

Categories Human Resources, Your CareerPosted on

According to the Association of Talent Development’s (ATD) 2016 State of the IndustryReport, organizations spend on average $1,252 per employee on training and development efforts. This means billions upon billions of dollars globally every year; however, despite the size of these expenditures, many leaders struggle to determine if the investment expended achieves desired learning outcomes and improved organizational performance.

It is almost unimaginable that organizations struggle to determine if the financial investment and time expended in training initiatives achieve desired learning outcomes. However, the reality of the challenges to make connections between training efforts and business results is difficult as many variables play a potential role in influencing learning.

Consider two such examples…

  • If a sales person attends a training program, how much of that investment is truly tied to closing the ‘big deal’ six months later? Was the big sale the result of applying what was learned in the course or merely the outcome of good preparation before the sales call, a superior product or service, or a stroke of good luck? Perhaps all of the above?
  • What about a department that receives an award for customer service? Did that come from phone skills training they received? Or, was it the result of proper staffing, improved technology, or a leader who was doing all of the right things?

The reality is that these examples and countless others point to the fact that it isn’t just training that makes the difference. There are a limitless number of factors that can play into success. Everything from the economy, to the weather, to the marketplace, to the business processes, to the latest hire who joined the organization may play a role in causing or not causing the desired result. Nonetheless, I constantly come across leaders who experience what I call the Return on Investment (ROI) Conundrum.

The conversation usually involves a comment like this:

“I know that training is important, but I think we need to measure more than how many people attended a workshop. We need to determine the impact of the training to see if we made a wise investment.”

Do I applaud the thinking?

Absolutely – this is definitely the right conversation to have.

However, as is often the case, the right thing to do is one of the hardest things to accomplish. Measuring the ROI of a training initiative is difficult. Isolating the effects of the training and quantifying the value is near impossible. Most organizations eventually give up because they lose the will to complete a longitudinal study designed to measure results in a manner that is defendable in front of everyone from operations to finance.

In the end, they throw up their hands and give up completely or develop a poor answer to the original ROI question making some sweeping declaration about the training working or not working without the ability to truly defend their results. Then, two or three years later, they circle back around to the same ROI question and start all over again.

Why do they start all over again?

Is it because they didn’t learn the first time around?

No, it’s because it’s the right question to ask. The problem is that they rarely learn how to go from classroom feedback to application of learning. If you have ever experienced this situation, then you are all too familiar with the ROI Conundrum.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to this conundrum. It doesn’t replace the value of a full blown ROI study and if your organization has the resources and stamina to conduct such a study, by all means do it. However, many organizations lack the resources – financial, personnel, and otherwise – to accomplish such an undertaking.

This is merely one sure way to begin to maximize your training and development ROI.

Create a Process, Not an Event

Too many organizations look at training as an isolated event. An employee is sent to a workshop or seminar with little discussion before the event. No expectations are set; no pre-work is completed. Then, when training is finished, the employee returns to work with little discussion about the training beyond “How was the weather?” and “Did you get a chance to do anything other than sit in the workshop?”

Organizations should look at training and education not as an event, but as part of a learning process that begins prior to the learner’s arrival at a course and extends beyond the completion of the session. An increase in relevance can be achieved by engaging the trainer, the employee, the employee’s supervisor, and the entire organization in the process. Doing so ensures that the concepts outlined in the learning environment are directly connected to the workplace.

The following table highlights activities that all four players can employ prior to and upon completion of a course. These activities represent specific actions that each player can take to enhance learning outcomes and increase the ROI. These examples, serve as a point of embarkation for learning and development professionals as they work to enhance specific learning engagements.

As depicted in the table, a number of key actions can take place prior to the commencement of training. This list is not intended to be inclusive, but provides possibilities that organizations, teams, and individuals can explore to improve training ROI.


The credibility of the instructor is important and, because of this importance, a trainer should not wait until the commencement of training to begin the establishment of the one’s credibility. An instructor could send a personalized pre-workshop email explaining his or her credentials and convey the importance of the session to the employee. The instructor can also examine the list of workshop participants to see who will be in the room that day and identify ways to enhance relevance through stories or examples, while considering communication behaviors to better meet the needs of the audience. A session filled predominately with engineers might benefit from certain examples and illustrations compared to those that might resonate with an audience composed mainly of policy makers. Conversely, a session consisting of people from a certain geographic location or possessing a shared experience might react positively to certain communication behaviors.

Organizations can contribute greatly to training ROI by establishing a development framework for their employees. Attending a training course is an investment and should be made based on the needs of the organization and the individual both today and into future.

One of the best ways to do this for an organization to establish a career development framework that identifies what training an individual should receive throughout his or her career and make investment decision based on the expectations outlined in the framework. As organizations send people to training, they should also research available training programs to identify both the best training courses and training institutions to deliver the learning. Decisions should not be made based on anecdotal evidence (the guy down the hall went to the course and loved it) or simply on where the course is held or the date it is delivered. For training dollars to be best invested, organizations need to research courses to find the best fit.

Lastly, senior leaders should reach out to those going to training to emphasize the organization’s support of the employee’s learning and reinforce that an investment is being made and the organization is looking forward to the individual returning and applying what is learned within the organization.

If the training program has pre-work, an employee’s supervisor should review the work to ensure it is complete and to discuss the employee’s expectations for the program. Additionally, the supervisor should talk about the benefits of the program with the employee. There should be no doubt in the employee’s mind that the supervisor supports the training and expects that the employee will share what he or she learns in the course upon returning to work. Where appropriate, the supervisor can draw from personal experience if he or she attended past sessions of a given course or ask others to provide insight to the learner.

Employees must play an active role in preparing for training and this is not limited to simply clearing one’s calendar and turning on the out-of-office notice in the email system. An employee should complete all course pre-work, invest time to document program expectations, and meet with his or her supervisor to discuss the upcoming training. Additionally, employees should consider how to best share the learning after returning to work. It is often a good idea for the employee to identify a colleague or a group of people to teach what is learned in the course and making a firm commitment to do so prior to departure will go a long way to improving ROI.


After completion of the session, the instructor should continue to provide support to the learner. Instructors could provide additional job aids that reinforce the learning. Instructors can augment their efforts by assigning specific homeworkassignments, sending out follow-up notes that encourage learners to keep their commitments, and soliciting success stories to share with others. If feasible, the instructor or training institution should establish an alumni group that remains connected after the course through an on-line presence that the institution provides or by using various forms of social media.

Organizations that send employees to training can perform a number of post-session roles to increase application and drive ROI. At a minimum, organizations can require employees who attend training to share what they learn in a written format. Many organizations require some kind of trip report. These can be a good idea, but often lose their value when an employee simply provides the training location and dates and then copies the learning objectives from the training materials. What would be more valuable is if the organization expected the individual to identify the three most important things learned in the course and two specific behaviors the employee will do differently because of the experience. This concept can be enhanced if the organization deploys a lessons learned system to capture and share knowledge acquisition so that others looking to attend future training events, or simply tackling daily work issues, can benefit from those who attended previous courses. Additionally, organizations should look at the reward and compensation systems they have in place. Employee behaviors are often the result of the systems, structures, and processes the organization has put in place. If the organization feels that employees are not using what they learn in training, they should examine what the organization is doing to drive, or not drive, the right behaviors. A system of awards, recognition, and expectations, if properly implemented and evaluated, can positively influence training ROI.

The employee and his or her supervisor can conduct post-session actions to reinforce the learning. Learners might choose to write up their key workshop insights and share them with colleagues. They can also teach what they learned in the workshop to their co-workers and complete a method to track implementation of what they learned. Meanwhile, the learner’s supervisor could briefly review weekly progress, host sharing sessions if multiple ‘graduates’ exist in the organization, and set a firm date on the calendar six months after completion of the session for the learner to formerly report out how the program has influenced work performance and any lessons learned through the application of what was taught.

Each of these actions and others like them will take additional time and effort from all parties, but they will also have the potential to positively influence the learning. While pre-session actions work to build trainer credibility, enhance content relevance, and serve as a motivation catalyst, the post-workshop activities keep the content in front of the learner and raise expectations for all team members.

Consider Adding These to Your Office

Categories Culture, Human ResourcesPosted on
Forbes Magazine reports that 1 in 5 employed Americans work from home. Experts believe that number will grow by 60% in the next five years. Greater flexibility, increased productivity, and financial savings are cited as the catalysts driving the teleworking trend. Small businesses, large corporations, and government agencies around the globe are participating in the work-from-home movement.

If you work from home, or might find yourself doing so in the not-so-distant future, might I suggest you get a dog.

It’s true; dogs do bark during an occasional conference call or demand you feed them while you are in the middle of an important task, but these four arguments make the decision a no-brainer.

1. Trust

The importance of trust in the workplace is well documented. Here are two quick examples:

  • A 2002 study by Watson Wyatt showed that total return to shareholders in high-trust organizations is almost three times higher than the return in low-trust organizations.
  • The 2013 Human Capital Institute’s Building Trust Survey indicates that higher trust aligns with increased levels of productivity, involvement, and employee satisfaction.

You may not always know where you stand with your human boss or co-worker, but last week’s edition Science contends that you can determine if your dog trusts you:

The work shows that when dogs and their people gaze into each other’s eyes, all get a boost in their circulating levels of oxytocin — a hormone thought to play a role in trust and emotional bonding.

2. Forgive & Forget

Let’s face it; we all mess-up. You may have had the best of intentions, but still find yourself in one of these situations:

  • You invest hours preparing for a presentation, but fail to deliver a clear message. Your boss is disappointed and perhaps the episode shows up on your next performance report.
  • You offer to help a colleague with a task, but then you are pulled by another requirement and can’t follow through as you had initial planned. The colleague understands; however, she is still disappointed. Maybe she tells others not to ask you for help.

Mess up something with your canine co-worker and I promise the entire issue will be forgotten in a matter of moments.

3. Supportive

Over the years, I’ve had some co-workers who celebrate my achievements. They are genuinely happy for me. I’ve also had others who appeared to be less than pleased when I did something well.

Your dog is all in for you! Hang up the phone after a great call and you are guaranteed a kiss on the lips.

4. Active 

In recent years, I’ve heard people say that, “sitting is the new smoking.” They argue that we need to move throughout the day. With no parking lot to walk across, no conference room to journey to, and no bathroom on the other side of the building, it is easy for a teleworker to sit idle for hours.

As content as a dog might be to lay around, most are willing to get up and move at a moment’s notice. When I’m working from home, I just ask, “Wes, do you want to go for a walk?” and he is halfway out the door.

If You Don’t Work From Home…

If you don’t work from home, you might consider bringing a pet to the office. A 2012 Frontiers of Psychology article, analyzed human-animal interaction (HAI) studies conducted over the previous decade. The analysis points to HAI benefits including reductions in aggressive behaviors, increased empathy, reduced depression, and improved social interaction. Pet allergies aside, most work environments would benefit from these outcomes.

Your Turn…

If you work from home and have a dog by your side, please leave a comment and let everyone know why your dog is an excellent co-worker!

Overcoming a Lack of Shared Expectations

Categories Human Resources, Leadership & ManagementPosted on

Arguably, the #1 source of friction and relationship erosion between a team leader and a team member is a lack of shared expectations.

We have all been there. (Perhaps you are there right now.)

Things start strong. Both team member and team leader are looking forward to great results in the new quarter.

Then, something goes sideways. Priorities conflict. Performance suffers. Panic sets in.

Eventually, the relationship is strained. Perhaps the team member disengages. Maybe the leader loses confidence in the individual. Possibly both occur. If it goes too far, one actively works to avoid the other.

Arguably, the seed of frustration and disappointment was sown at the outset. In all likelihood, you and the other person entered the situation with very different ideas of what winning looked like.

Over time, you begin to venture down different paths. Eventually, they can barely see each other

Here’s an IDEA you can put into practice to avoid future shared expectation issues. Before you start down the path of your next performance period, sit down with your team member, to exchange and come to agreement on IDEAs.

I – Investing

  • What investments will be made in the team member over the course of the performance period.
  • What will she learn?
  • How will the experience make her a better employee, more marketable, etc.?

D – Delivering

  • What results will be delivered?
  • How will customers be delighted?

E – Enhancing

  • How will the experience enhance the team’s offerings, services, or capabilities in the future?
  • What will we be able to do better at the end of the period?

A – Acquiring

  • Will we be able to acquire additional business along the way?
  • What new customers might we acuire?

If you want to put this IDEA into practice. Click here and download the free IDEA tool that I’ve used with my colleagues over the years.

5 Key Programs to Foster a Culture of Engagement

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What are you doing to foster a culture of engagement in your organization?

These are the employees who are both passionate about the organization and have tremendous potential to do well in their roles. In short, they are engaged and contributing their best!

As a leader, the engagement level of your people often comes down to how you interact with them, and how you support or hinder their development. Over the years, I have noticed that great leaders, no matter their level in an organization, ensure that 5 key programs are in place to foster culture of engagement.

You will note that you can use the first letter of each program to spell out the word S-T-A-R-S, as in Shooting Stars.

As an individual leader, you can be the catalyst to help your organization get these right. However, I encourage you not to wait for the entire organization or some other department to put these programs in place or to get them right.

You can start today to cover down on the basics and care for your people in each area.

Here are the 5 key programs, a brief explanation of each, and questions for you to consider as you assess your current performance:

  1. Selection & Orientation
  2. Training & Development
  3. Accountability & Performance Management
  4. Relationships (Coaching & Mentoring)
  5. Succession Planning

1.  Selection & Orientation

Imagine what it is like to be the new employee who shows up for her first day at the office and finds herself with no building access, an unprepared workspace, and no clear plan for the first few days of work. If you’ve had more than one job in your life, you can likely relate to the different ways organizations select and orient their people. Consider these questions:

  • Do you and your organization have a clear process for interviewing employees?
  • Is there a documented and consistently followed process for on-boarding new people?
  • Are new employees quickly and professionally oriented to your team and the broader organization as to have the biggest impact from day one?
  • Employees understand from the first day what is expected of them?

2.  Training & Development

Many teams and organizations approach training as an event. Employees attend training workshops and then go back to their daily work applying little of what they learned. This typically doesn’t happen because the employee is a bad person or lacks the desire to improve. The outcome is often a result of treating training as an event – not a process and development as a function of circumstance – not a deliberate process. Consider these questions:

  • Do you wisely and effectively use your training resources (e.g., funding, facilities, etc.)?
  • Do all employees on your team clearly understand the training, education, and experience requirements required as they progress through their careers?
  • Does your organization have an effective means for measuring return on its training investment?

3.  Accountability & Performance Management

People should come to work each day knowing where they stand. They shouldn’t be confused as to what is expected of them, nor should they be unaware of how well they are performing. This means that the organization needs to set and communicate clear goals, encourage employees to connect their daily work to the overarching goals, track progress openly, and ensure that leaders and team members work together to ensure accountability. Consider these questions:

  • Does your organization have a clear performance management process that leaders consistently use to assess individual performance?
  • Do all employees on your team understand how the organization is performing on its top priorities and how individual contributions align to top goals?
  • Do you recognize and reward performance?
  • Are you and other organizational leaders capable and comfortable with providing candid performance feedback?

4.  Relationships (Coaching & Mentoring)

People want a voice and a sounding board. Look for opportunities in your organization to establish both coaching and mentoring programs. Don’t confuse the two. They aren’t the same. A good coaching program establishes relationships where the individual employee is able to explore situations, develop options, and ultimately discover for themselves the best route forward. Coaching isn’t about telling – it’s about allowing the employee to uncover for themselves the way forward. Mentoring programs allow more junior employees the chance to learn from seasoned workers. Unlike coaching, proteges do receive guidance and direction from their mentors. Consider these questions:

  • Does your organization have an active and effective mentoring program to connect and develop employees? If not, what can you do?
  • Does your organization have active and effective coaching program that allows employees to dialogue with a third party coach where the sole purpose is to help the employee unleash his or her highest potential? If not, what can you do?
  • Are all your employees encouraged and provide time to develop mentoring and coaching relationships?

5.  Succession Planning

Whether you are a team of 10 people or an organization of 1,000s, you should take the time to assess future vacancies and how you will fill them. Are you grooming bench strength that can step up and fill key positions if they go vacant or are you going to be caught flatfooted? Things happen, people change jobs (today more often then ever before). Take the time now to map out which positions will turnover in the short- and long-term and create a plan of how you groom people for future success. Consider these questions:

  • Do you and the broader organization avoid having key positions unfilled for extended periods of time?
  • Is there an effective succession process in place that gives leaders and high potential employees a career path to future job positions within the organization?
  • Do you transition key employees well? Who is leaving next?

Best of luck to you and your team as your work to unleash the Passion & Potential of each of your people!

Let’s Get Real About Culture, What Does Your Organization Truly Value?

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Think about your organization’s culture. What does your organization truly value?

I’m not asking what your strategic plan lists as your top goals. I’m also not referring to what senior leaders say are important initiatives. True, these may all be the same things; however, there is often a gap (sometimes a big one) between what the organization ‘says’ it truly values and what the organization ‘truly’ values.

Let me share a couple of examples…

Imagine that it is 1998 and you are sitting in a conference room holding a meeting with your colleagues. The session has been in full swing for two solid hours and everyone is in need of a much-deserved break. A suggestion is made to adjourn for 15 minutes and all eagerly agree. Some scurry to the restroom and others opt to run back to their workspace to check email.

Why did they go back to their workspace?

That’s where they would find their computers and the much-treasured email. You return to your desk and discover that during the two hours of conference room time, six emails have arrived in your inbox. You quickly read and respond to each and hustle back to the conference room.

As you settle into your seat, you mention to your colleagues that you received six emails that morning. Not surprisingly, your co-workers are impressed that you had received so much electronic correspondence in just two hours. That is until a co-worker mentions that she had received 10 emails during the same timeframe. The attention and adulation quickly turn to her.

What’s the point?

In the early days, emails brought bragging rights. In turn, merely counting the number of emails received drove the behavior of some. Never mind if there was anything of value in the messages. Forget the important stuff we were discussing in the meeting – the emails were driving behavior!

Today, most of us get hundreds of emails a day and thousands per week. They follow us everywhere we go – no longer restricted to the boxy computer at the office. The supply is high – demand is low – value is in the tank.

The emails in the past represent a form of organizational currency. People in the organization saw them as valuable. Acquiring them drove behavior that was rewarded and reinforced.

Often times, what is rewarded lines up with what truly matters. Other times, that’s not the case.

Here’s another example…

I once worked at a place where a few items went missing from desks in the headquarters building. The leadership decided to address the situation by adding a sign-in roster at the front desk for all employees to enter their names into during after duty hours.

Every week, an executive (yes, an executive) would go through the book to see who came in and out of the office in the evenings and weekends. People figured this out and started to show up during their time off just to put their names in the book and let the boss know they were there. Signing the book became a organizational currency. Ridiculous? Of course – nonetheless, the smart folks that worked there did it anyway.

Consider your organization:

  • What’s your organization’s currency?
  • What do people in your organization TRULY value?
  • What is being rewarded and reinforced?
  • Think about the things that people count and brag about. Are they important items that drive goals that matter or are they trivial things with little true value?

Explain this story to a few people in your workplace and ask them to tell you what the current organizational currency is in your organization. You might be surprised!