7 ways to spill down your training budget
By Philip S. Lall
In Pakistan today perhaps around 2500 organizations (including NGOs) send their people for management related training. Around 100-150 of this each spends more than Rs.1 million a year on training. If your company is among them, you probably know a lot about making training more effective. But there are also effective ways to do the opposite. Here are seven effective ways to reduce the impact of training.
Have vague ‘Overall’ Training Outcomes
I’ve experienced this many times; it reduces the impact of training quite effectively. It works on simple logic: if training outcomes are vague, then the impact of training is also uncertain. If trainers ask you’ ‘What training outcomes do you expect?’ You can kill the impact of training right at the start by just one answer: ‘We have an overall corporate objective’. This is the right jargon; trainers won’t question it _ and it’s completely vague about training outcomes.
When I recently asked a client what training outcomes he expected, he gave me an unforgettable challenge. He said: ‘’ I want my managers to be like managers in multinational’’. This answer floored me. The training had to be done as per contract but how would I obtain this outcome in three days?
ASK Trainer to Submit Participant Evaluations
This is a wonderful way of killing three birds with one stone: 1st, you get a training course plus 2nd, you get (so called) ‘independent’ evaluations of your employees plus 3rd, you make the Trainer feel he/she is adding value’. Companies who practice this approach ask the Trainer to give a written evaluation of all participants after the course. The theory is: in two days the trainer can find out more about participants than their bosses know. Some HR managers have a stricter version of this practice: they ask the trainer to give feedback about participants at the end of every day.
One morning, during a course I was conducting for a public sector company, the MD asked me to come to his office. He stunned me when he said: ‘’Our HR policy is that our employees should be evaluated independently by the external trainers in all our training’s’’ I asked him whether he mean I should evaluate quality of participation. The MD said he was more interested in an ‘overall’ evaluation of each participant. Eventually this training wasted thirty hours of my time because I faced a high level of hostility. Why? All participants received a memo from the HR dept. informing them they would be evaluated by the Trainer.
There is an even more stringent version of this practice. HR managers put the trainer’s evaluation of participants into employees’ personal files. Do this – and let alone reducing the impact of training, you can guarantee Training failure because you’ve now converted into an HR appraisal.
HR Staff Attends the Training as ‘Observers’
This is also a very good way to reduce the impact of training. Get your HR staff to attend the training as observers. It has three great advantages: economy (HR staff can evaluate a whole group of employees at one time); bargaining power (trainers know their future contracts depend on doing what HR staff expect); and future reference (HR staff learn training methods they themselves can use later).With these advantages for HR staff, how does this reduce the impact of training? First, with HR staff sitting in the same room, Trainers prefer to do what the HR staff expects: not what participants need. Second, participants become more interested in making good impression on the HR staff observers,causing much artificial behavior during the course. Third when trainers deliver the way HR observers want, even bad training gets approved & passed’ and we have a ‘win-win’ situation. Recently during a 2-days course for senior managers, suddenly the GM (HR) walked in with his HR officer. It would have created an embarrassing situation if had asked them to leave. With the GM (HR) present, I saw a strange transformation come over these experienced senior level participants. They all began speaking in English; their questions become irrelevant; they made comments to me while looking at the GM (HR); they started to use bookish cliches and jargon. I realized then that all my training effort up to that point had been zeroed.
Ignore Employees’ Views on training Needs
Another very good way of reducing the impact of training is to ignore employees views about their training needs. Just ignore what they say or write by email- and you’ve taken a good step towards reducing impact of training. Apply this theory: employees don’t know what need-we in HR do. Its so much more convenient and comfortable to follow an annual training plan than for employees to come and tell HR people what skills they need. If trainers ask to meet some employees and find out about their training needs, don’t let them. Instead, follow the same theory: we in HR know training needs. Some months ago during a management competencies course, there was a participant from one of Pakistan’s biggest multinationals. He had no direct-report subordinate and neither would he ever manage any subordinates. I asked him how this management course would be useful for his work. He replied: ‘’The HR people said this is in my training plan, so I have to attend.’’ When I asked ‘’Did you want to attend?’’ he just smile and said’’ Maybe I will know after the course’’.
Wave the Motivation Flag
This is another good way of reducing impact of training even before it has started. Tell the trainer you’re having the course conducted because you want to ‘motivate’ a chosen group of employees. If the Trainer agrees with you, fine, you’ve devalued the training right from the start. It’s been devalued in two way quote a lower price (after all, why charge a high fee for a non-serious walk-in-the park). Second the training content will probably, also be reduced accordingly. There is a textile company whose machinery suppliers often conduct technical training for production staff. The company recently employed an HR manager to fulfill ISO requirements. He told the CEO that non production people felt out and wanted training to be done for them also. The CEO agreed. At a subsequent meeting, when I asked why they wanted training, the CEO solemnly informed me: ‘’ As you are aware, no one learns anything in two days. We want to motivate our staff. We want to show them we are doing something for them also’’.
Attach the Training to Company’s Annual Conference
It’s surprising that so few HR people realize this is a good way to reduce the impact of training. I call it ‘conference appendix’ training. Some HR managers seem to feel it makes no difference. They probably believe it is ‘cost-effective’ training. The reasoning goes something like this: ‘’ Employees will all be present at the annual conference anyway, so we will save on additional travel & hotel rooms for a separate training session’’. You get another advantage when you attach ‘appendix’ training to the annual conference. You can fill up loose time-slots in between serious conference sessions. At one annual conference, the schedule was changed suddenly because the CEO and international visitors would be there in the time slot that had been given to me. Organizers shifted my session to a loose time-slot that was actually a rest-period. I wonder what impact-if any-that training session ever had! Some companies reduce of training with a different but even more effective version of ‘conference appendix’ training. They schedule training sessions just before the group outing to a scenic spot. This guarantees that training will be a complete waste of time.
Tell the trainer How He/She should Train
Some senior managers are very good at telling Trainers how training should be done. After all, they say, training is no rocket science; what’s more Trainers don’t know our employees the way we do. Training will only be for a couple of days-but we have to live with the after-effects for a long time. So we’re quite justified in telling the trainer how to do his/her job.
If the trainer is a professional, he/she just won’t let you interfere. But with a ‘raw’ trainer, this practice can be highly effective in reducing impact of training. Way back in the early 1970s when I had been in training for only a few years, I was told to handle a training request from a CEO of a very large pharma company. He asked to see a detailed daily schedule. He questioned everything about it-why so many exercises, why not more case studies, how will discussions be interactive, why no guest speakers from the company, and so on. By the time he was through, I had agreed to revise the entire course. Result: I got high ratings from the CEO and his trusted managers-but very low ratings on course usefulness from most participants.
Unfortunately, many new-generation HR managers don’t want to reduce impact of training; they talk about increasing it. My advice to them is: If you ever think about making training less useful-use the above methods and be assured your training money will be wasted.