A CFO asks a CEO: What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?
An ongoing debate I find I have with colleagues relates to training. How much should be offered? What type? Should it be externally provided or internal? Can you have too much? What payback should you expect to the business and over what time frame? Should you provide it to everyone or only a select few?
Questions like this are relevant to all leaders and important to work through. Providing training is not necessarily easy. In addition to the direct cost of sending people on the training (often with associated travel expenses), there is a cost with those people not available to complete their normal jobs and needing to be covered. Like any investment, a business is expecting a return - the question is over what time frame.
Organisations range in the training they provide across the extremes, some providing no formal training (or informal for that matter!) to others where employees might feel they spend more time in courses than they do actually doing there job. A person I know who is retiring soon, works for a business that encourages her to spend her last year learning new skills (which they are happy to pay for) to be able to continue being a productive contributor to society once she leaves the workplace. There is no expectation that this final training will be of any direct value to her current employer!
Professional organisations recognise the importance of training and personal development through their ongoing requirement for continuous professional development (CPD). Engineers Australia
, for instance require 150 hours of CPD over a 3 year period made up of:
- at least 50 hours must relate to your area(s) of practice
- at least 10 hours must cover risk management
- at least 15 hours must address business and management skills
- the remainder must cover a range of activities relevant to your career and interests.
Having been recently challenged by a peer about the relevance of training I have spent some time trying to work through my own view. Whilst it would be nice if every training event resulted in an immediate ROI, in my experience this is an unreasonable expectation and one that results in leaders not offering training for very short sighted reasons. I can come up with several additional reasons to provide training beyond the immediate potential payback of the upskilling:
- Training might be a slow burn where the material initially doesn’t land with the trainees, but sows a seed that becomes useful down the track, or opens a tangential path not previously considered
- Training might not be directly useful but demonstrates to the employees that the business is willing to invest in them. This builds engagement and makes it much more likely that an employee will stay.
- Training typically takes you away from your day to day role, providing a break and change of scene that often in itself is enough to spark inspiration.
- Often training involves participants from different parts of the organisation or even other organisations. The contacts and conversations you build often deliver value in their own right independent of the training material.
- A training program can generate a positive reputation for a business which can help attract top recruits.
When training does resonate with a participant, often the benefit provides an exponential payoff, unleashing a talent or skill that previously had laid unrealised or unexplored. The trick of course is that this effect is not going to occur with every training session, maybe not even one in ten. Like any agile process the outcomes will invariably surprise and I believe it is impossible to predict which training and who will receive this massive benefit. For that reason I believe the careful, but generous selection of training for employees is critical.
High performing teams, train hard. In fact they train religiously. Think about it. Think of the best sports teams you’ve been on or been a fan of. Think about the best organizations you’ve been a part of or observed or read about. If you dig-in a bit, you’ll find they all train hard…
Creating and prioritizing ongoing training is tough. It’s incredibly difficult to carve out time to conduct training on a regular basis. Every part of your daily business needs will try and rob you of whatever time you try to set aside. The only way to be successful in developing and implementing training plans for your group is to be MANIACAL about protecting it as a priority. Fiercely protect the time you carve out and make sure that everyone understands and believes in the importance of making on-going training a priority.
Reflecting on my own experience over two decades of various formal and informal training sessions I am yet to have had a training experience that I have not taken something of value away from, and in some cases the training has completely transformed the way I work and operate. My overwhelmingly positive personal experiences no doubt are reflected in my positive perception of providing training to people in my team.
Learning is a consequence of thinking, not teaching. It happens when people reflect on and choose a new behavior. But if the work environment doesn’t support that behavior, a well-trained employee won’t make a difference.
Here are three conditions needed to ensure a training solution sticks.
1. Internal systems support the newly desired behavior. Spotting unwanted behavior is certainly a clue that something needs to change. But the origins of that unwanted behavior may not be a lack of skill. Individual behaviors in an organization are influenced by many factors… These all play a role in shaping employee behaviors. [for instance] people weren’t behaving in a disempowered way because they didn’t know better. The company’s decision-making processes forbid them from behaving any other way. Multiple levels of approval were required for even tactical decisions. Access to basic information was limited to high-ranking managers. The culture reinforced asking permission for everything. Unless those issues were addressed, a workshop would prove useless.
2. There is commitment to change. Any thorough organizational assessment will not only define the skills employees need to develop, it will also reveal the conditions required to reinforce and sustain those skills once a training solution is implemented.
3. The training solution directly serves strategic priorities. When an organization deploys a new strategy — like launching a new market or product — training can play a critical role in equipping people with the skills and knowledge they need to help that strategy succeed. But when a training initiative has no discernible purpose or end goal, the risk of failure is raised.
To this I would also add a further point that leaders need to themselves be aware of the skills and tools being learnt in the training to be able to effectively encourage their use. The best way to ensure this is for leaders to also participate in the training or ensure they receive a comprehensive summary of the training from participants. Frequently I see that employees go on training but then lack the meta skills to know exactly how it should be applied in the context of their work. If their supervisors and leaders who know the work context intimately, but do not know the trained material are not then following up to apply the training skills soon after they are learnt then the value quickly diminishes. Writes Greene:
Often times, externally hired managers and leaders end up skipping all or some of their … training because they … get pulled into managing their new teams and leading the business. DON’T let this this happen! Technical competency and knowledge is one of the key ways that leaders earn the respect of their teams. If they are allowed to skip training, they’ll lack the technical competency needed to understand the business, the product, the processes, their team’s jobs, etc.
But once you have considered these basic guidelines I believe the principles articulated in Eric Ries Lean Startup
capture how leaders should move forward with training. That is you should try many ideas and iterate on them continuously towards success — a classic Build, Measure, Learn cycle. It is a conceit to believe that you know exactly what your team needs and you should be omnipotent in choosing only the courses you believe will deliver value. Or that you would deny training that an employee has enthusiastically requested, because you don’t see the point. Promoting a growth mindset and developing organisation resilience would suggest that providing diversity in training is very important, allowing unusual ideas and points of view to develop that could hold the key to driving your business clear of the competition.
Zig Ziglar once said
, “You don’t build a business — you build people — and then people build the business.”
What are you doing to build your people?