PracticeAccounting FirmsEmployee benefits: training and development

Employee benefits: training and development

James Bryant and Dominic Irvine explore the myths and reality surrounding the value of staff training

It’s often said that only 10% of development programmes result in the skills
taught on the programme being transferred into the workplace. Fortunately, it’s
a myth that demonstrates the power of print. The incorrect citation of a fact
from a little read article in an often quoted paper has done the damage.

The good news is that the transfer of training could be as high as 60% for
the first year following the training programme. The bad news is that this means
over £7.5bn is wasted every year in the UK on training and development. Worse;
it does not follow that the transfer of skills from class room to workplace
necessarily delivers a quantifiable improvement in business performance.

Statistical problems

Training and development is plagued by statistic after statistic. The basis
of most are so many assumptions as to render the data value meaningless. The
existence of such statistics are attempts to create pseudo-scientific
credibility that is almost wholly illusionary.

For example, team programmes are run to promote staff retention through
attempting to improve a sense of team identity. Claims that reduction in churn
(and the cost savings achieved) are attributable to the programme ignore the
myriad other factors such as the general state of the economy, share options and
share price and personal factors such as schools or the career of significant

Many of these factors will be of much greater significance than the effect of
a two-day residential. Worse, is the current trend for employee satisfaction
surveys (otherwise known as the annual popularity contest). The evidence that a
happier workforce is a more effective workforce is flimsy. It is akin to
cleaning the inside of a car in the hope that it might make someone a better

Most organisations judge training and development providers by the scores
given on evaluation forms. The scores on these ‘happy sheets’ are easily
manipulated by the tutor by raising the emotional state of the group to such a
state of euphoria and energy in the last few minutes that the positive sense of
well being overflows into the scores given.

Can return on investment of training and development be determined? The
problem of determining the ROI from a training and development initiative stems
from a disconnect between the content of a programme and the work people do. To
focus on inputs such as the syllabus of programmes and theoretical skill sets
and hoping for improved outputs as a consequence is to begin back to front.

It’s the equivalent of stocking the larder with ingredients hoping for a
great meal. It’s better to establish what people wish to eat, the ingredients
you already have and then buy just enough and at just the right time to prepare
the meal. We need to change the focus from education programmes that seek to
fill the employee with a broad competence in a particular skill set to equipping
them with the capability that they currently lack to enable them to improve the
performance in delivering a specific business goal. We need to start with the
business goals they face?

The focus is not on what the broad syllabus should contain to ‘properly’
cover the topic. Instead, it is what specific skills do they need to know in
order to better deliver the goal set? As this approach directly helps people
achieve or exceed their goals and as these goals are linked to their
remuneration then the motivation to execute on the actions agreed is
substantially higher. Fundamentally, people do what’s in their best interests
and what gets measured.

Goals focus

This approach does not exclude in-depth understanding of a topic. In fact the
opposite is true, each training intervention can focus on a particular aspect of
management as it applies to their goals. It’s like looking at the problem
through a topic-specific contact lens.

Each intervention can take a different topic (a different lens) and examine
the problem from that angle. All the time the focus is on delivering a specific
improvement in the goal that is the focus for the intervention.

For example, a utility company needed to raise their performance in debt
recovery. The focus for delegates was how to improve their level of success in
recovering debt.
The first intervention examined the way they organised themselves with the goal
of freeing up time to focus on those activities most likely to contribute to
debt recovery.

The measurable aspects from this intervention were the additional time they
spent undertaking the most effective activities. Level of debt recovery and time
spent on key debt recovery activities was gathered.

The second intervention focused on performance management of front line staff
equipping them with both the skills to coach others in improving their debt
recovery activity and secondly in setting more robust and clear debt recovery
goals and targets. Again the principle measurement was the level of debt

The process continued over six months with each training intervention
tackling the challenge of improving debt recovery by focusing on a particular
dimension of the process. Part of the audit of effectiveness of any programme
should include a review of individual performance. Where appropriate this can be
linked into the other bane of corporate life ­ the performance management

Does this mean you can claim ROI on the development process? Probably ­ in as
much as it is possible to link causality to any specific variable in management.
But this probability is a whole lot more convincing than the scores obtained
from ‘happy sheet’ evaluations at the end of most programmes or the data from
ESat surveys. So next time someone asks ‘can I go on a course?’ Ask them which
business goal of theirs does it relate to? And, how much improvement do they
anticipate delivering as a result of attending the programme?

For more on linking
training with performance click here

James Bryant and Dominic Irvine are
managing partners at Epiphanies LLP

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