Failure: A training manager's perspective

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Kerry Bellamy
Business Director
Elysian Training Ltd
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Training managers are increasingly faced with a need to justify L&D initiatives or hold their own against critical scrutiny from the higher levels. Kerry Bellamy questions, shares insight and invites debate around some possible failings of the training manager function.

In a climate of reduced resources, increased targets and failing frontlines, there is little tolerance for anything that cannot withstand serious scrutiny. Without careful planning, creativity and an acute appreciation for the finer details, even the most skilled negotiator is going have their work cut out. Rarely a day goes by when an executive board somewhere isn’t presented with a proposal for a new L&D initiative. These proposals appear to say all the right things and yet they fall short somehow.

All too many L&D proposals are failing to get executive recognition and achieve the coveted corporate green light for implementation. Instead, training managers across the country are faced with an increasing need to justify their department’s functionality and, in some cases, their very existence. In fact, when surveyed in 2010, only 20% of business leaders said they were happy with their business’s L&D function. So what could be going wrong?

Failing at ROI

A 2012 article in Personnel Today reported that 'evaluation of corporate learning programmes' was the number one priority of L&D professionals across the sector. Yet, only 8% of these professionals reported full execution of ROI analysis. However, when explored further it is concluded that much of this evaluation, in reality, extended little further than the completion of happy sheets at the end of a workshop session which provides limited evidence to substantiate improved employee performance. Failing to effectively monitor L&D ROI means training managers rely on inadequate data from which to counter those probing questions from the board and are therefore unable to showcase the true value of their L&D activity.

Tip: Commit to proactively engaging with a robust process of ROI measurement. Establishing a process that measures the entire developmental journey will offer a true representation of the impact including levels of knowledge, skills and behavioural change.

Failing in strategic alignment

Most organisations operate to a three- to five-year strategic plan. The need to align departmental aims and objectives is fundamental to achieving successful organisational vision. All too often, however, mangers fall foul of either failing to appreciate the finer nuances of the strategic challenges or, ineffectively communicating how L&D is a necessity for achieving organisational goals.

"Establish the root cause for the disengagement and tackle it directly. Could the answer lie in rethinking budget management systems?"

Tip: Training managers often forget that they have a unique position within the organisation, whether you are working in a team or operate as a one-man band banging that forsaken drum. You have the expertise to challenge assumptions, ask questions and assess developmental need. By taking the time to understand the organisational strategy and direction in depth you will discover a variety of strategic ‘hooks’ on which to hang your new initiatives and proposals.

Failing to achieve line management accountability

When surveyed 70% of staff reported that their company expects line managers to support staff throughout the learning process. In reality, however, only 23% of managers appeared to actually engage with the process in a meaningful way e.g. inviting reflective discussion pre- and/or post-event. An operational failing that impacts substantially on the individual’s development and puts waste to the resources invested. In failing to provide follow-up opportunities for learners we risk them forgetting over 50% of the content, according to Ebbinghaus, so the need for proactive line management engagement with the programme is significant, yet the challenge is often immense.

Tip: Reflect and rethink. Are the established processes putting blocks in the way? Establish the root cause for the disengagement and tackle it directly. Could the answer lie in rethinking budget management systems? If effective L&D engagement linked directly to budget allocation would managers become more hands-on in their support? Is the failing a result of inadequate leadership development? With only one in five UK-based managers holding management qualifications are we expecting too much of them? Are we failing to provide our line managers with the developmental opportunities that 9 out of 10 of them say would improve their performance?

Conclusion

With so many variables at play there is no doubt that the working world of today’s training manager is fraught with challenges and a need for justification of function. However, it is not all doom and gloom. In taking the time to really connect with the organisational strategy, establishing a robust ROI process and ensuring that you are effectively working through your network of line managers you will be able to create a solid evidence base from which to counter even the most critical of board member debates. After all, American Society for Training and Development researcher Laurie Bassi, discovered in the mid 90s that the more an organisation invests in developing employees, the higher its stock value became the following year. Now, that has got to be something to make the board take notice.

Kerry Bellamy is the business director at Elysian Training Ltd and has a background in organisational psychology, coaching and mentoring, training management and programme delivery

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