Training spend: eight ways to maximise your ROI

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Too many businesses plan their training without considering how to measure its value. It’s time to re-evaluate this.

Against a backdrop of political and economic turmoil, it seems almost inconceivable that many businesses continue to see a rise in training budgets.

The drivers for this investment are undoubtedly based on a mix of strategic and operational need and wishful thinking. What’s certain is that most businesses find spending the training budget easier than substantiating the return on that investment.

Improve how people think by creating stretch experiences, providing engagement with multiple perspectives, and helping people join the dots in sense-making.

For years, we’ve convinced ourselves that learning value equates with long days, crammed with content, to saturate a captive audience. It’s an overwhelming experience that results in very little content sticking, let alone being applied.

Sure, many participants enjoy the interaction with colleagues and the opportunity to network, but that should be a by-product of the training, not the primary motive.

As learning professionals, we need to help our businesses take a step back from the annual list of training programmes, no matter how well thought through, and instead help them to explore the question: ‘what can we put in place to reap the benefits of training?’

Here are eight elements that can create meaningful value for both the training participants and for the business.

1. Establish a set of learning principles

What guides your learning design? Establishing a set of principles will encourage coherency and consistency between the many elements of learning you offer. These principles should be based on factors that maximise learning and application.

Examples could include that learning is: real world focused, current and relevant, sustainable, supported by science, measurable, and so on.

2. Create a learning sequence that extends over time, rather than a one-off event

This includes preparing your learners with pre-work that primes them for what’s to come. Space the learning content over time, embracing various learning conditions, for example: classroom, e-learning, action learning groups, peer coaching.

Create trigger events that are safe situations where you can test learning, reminding people of what they’ve learned and reinforcing that learning. Repetition is the mother of learning. The trick is to serve it in a variety of ways.

3. Integrate line management

The line manager is the most critical element in the ROI equation. Before any training, it’s critical to discuss and agree learning objectives with the designated participant.

What are the areas which, should they improve, would have a positive impact on their performance? After each element of the training sequence, the line manager checks in to help the learner evaluate their progress.

Since the best way to learn is to teach, line managers can also facilitate opportunities for learners to share their riches with others, creating a ripple effect.

4. Limit learning goals

The research suggests less than five, more than one. So, be selective and focus on two or three learning goals to begin with. Help learners to visualise success and to frame goals as a positive intent, e.g. ‘I’d like to…’.

The more curious we want our learners to be, the more skilful we need our facilitators to be

Importantly, encourage them to explore the potential barriers to achieving their goals, and encourage them to share their goals with relevant others. Taking these steps will improve their resolve and increase the likelihood of achieving their goals.

5. Create learning that teaches new ways to think

In our process-laden organisations we have created conditions that inhibit thinking. Entrepreneurship is used as an excuse, ignoring the need to consider risk.

People have become slaves to rules, creating learned helplessness and stifling innovation; supply thinking trumps demand thinking.

Process plus thinking is a conduit to unlocking value. Improve how people think by creating stretch experiences, providing engagement with multiple perspectives, and helping people join the dots in sense-making.

6. Design domino learning

These are learning experiences that reach wider than the target audience. Imagine a situation where your employee engagement survey gave senior managers a low score for their focus on staff development.

You might find it easier to shift their understanding and their thinking by educating and involving them vicariously in a programme for their direct reports.

7. Foster curiosity

At each stage of the learning sequence, maximise the opportunity for curiosity. If learners have to find answers for themselves, it increases their engagement and the stickiness of their learning - less chalk and talk, more ask and unmask.

Also, ask learners what other information and/or experiences they can relate their new learning to. The more curious we want our learners to be, the more skilful we need our facilitators to be.

A subject matter expert is not enough. Facilitators need to be prepared to leave the comfort of expertise and a plan in order to better serve the needs of the group.

8. Learn from neuroscience

Learning emerges as a result of an experience that causes physical changes in your brain. These changes cause the learner to make new connections that often replace previous learning.

Understanding learning means we need to understand the brain. Stella Collins’ book: ‘Neuroscience for Learning and Development’ should be the reference manual for all learning design, making training more impactful, more memorable and longer lasting.

Establishing these eight elements as the bedrock for your organisation’s approach to training will create fertile ground for increasing and more easily evidencing the return on training investment. You will reap what you sow.

About Ally Yates

Ally Yates

Ally Yates is author of ‘Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business’ and an expert on Behaviour Analysis and the interactions that define us. She combines a deep understanding of people and how to achieve results, based on her many years’ experience working with large corporate clients around the world.

Since 2000 Ally has been working as an independent consultant, facilitator, trainer and coach. She has collaborated with international business schools and has received national and international training awards.

Ally’s approach is grounded in a sound understanding of theory, trends and practice in learning and development, business development and leadership development. Clients value her insights, pragmatism and influence.

She is passionate about family, rugby union, travel and learning.

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