3 Questions that Help Manage Training Costs

It may seem counter-intuitive, but improving training within the organization often involves convincing your business that they don’t need training. Here are three questions that may help avoid unnecessary training. Or, if training is really needed, help ensure that it is effective.

These questions are a great approach in those scenarios where the training request you are receiving from the business is very simple and straightforward. It could be something like:

“We need you to run a course on refactoring. A group of developers has to refactor some existing code we have”

or

“Please put together a course on collaboration for us. The sales team members are not cooperating with each other”

As Hale (2006) points out, training departments are “way down the information chain”, and “generally called upon after others have already decided on a solution”. You may have little room to present a case for revising the conclusion, even though you understand that where business has clarity is on the gap, not on the solution. The gap is what they have observed: “The sales guys are not cooperating”. What we don’t know yet is if the course they are asking for is the best possible solution.

A picture of three question marks

Although a full revision may be entirely out of your hands, it is much easier to ask if the “fundamentals” for providing the requested solution are already there. Here’s when the three questions come handy:

1. Do people know what is expected of them?

This, of course, goes beyond the specific request, such as “we need you to collaborate more”. It is about a clearly articulated, coherent and convincing message that links goals and vision with specific actions. Answer to question 1 is affirmative if the business routinely communicates -and possibly in some cases over-communicates- expectations related to this specific training request.

2. Do they have the right tools and resources?

Take this in a very broad sense, starting with tangibles such as desk space, light and a comfortable temperature and not so obvious resources such as a usable user interface in applications. I once heard a story (unverified) about a company that organized typing lessons for all mid-managers, following poor performance in completing a required data entry task. Most managers could type fairly well, but were discouraged by a particularly badly written application interface. Training was not the answer.

3. What are the incentives?

What happens if people do what is asked? What happens if they don’t? This is much more subtle than salary and bonus. It can be about pride, about a sense of accomplishment or about the colleagues next door. A production manager once asked me to set up a refactoring course for his programmers. “Refactoring” involves looking at previously written computer code and redesigning it to make it better, although the code will continue doing exactly the same thing. When I asked the third question, it became clear that his programmers thought that refactoring was “uncool”, because it doesn’t produce new functionality and the team next door would be working on new code. Needless to say they were all perfectly qualified to refactor and didn’t need training, but the value perception and therefore implicit incentives were not there. The issue was solved through communication and clarifying recognition, not through training.

If you don’t receive satisfactory answers to every question, try to build a case against training based on cost and the lack of requirements for change to happen. If all questions are covered, then training will have a much better chance of driving actual change.

Hale, J. (2006) ‘The Performance Consultant’s Fieldbook: Tools and Techniques for Improving Organizations and People’, Pfeiffer, 2nd edition.

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