Friday, February 1, 2013

Corporate training effectiveness – Optimizing the ‘last mile’

According to ASTD’s 2012 State of the Industry Report, in 2011 US companies spend just over $156 billion on training.  That’s roughly equivalent to New Zealand’s entire GDP for the same year.

The top of mind question for executives is what type of return they are getting for that investment.  There is no question that business executives and L&D organizations want to deliver value through training.  However, many are optimizing the wrong part of the process and are jeopardizing the potential value of their investments.

Companies put a lot of time, money, and attention into the front-end part of the training process – assessment, design, and development.  They invest in rigorous methodologies, development of templates and standards, and implementation of tools to make the process more efficient and effective.  This is all critical for creating a good product.

However, while there is considerable rigor and discipline placed on the production of training, delivery is often treated as an administrative task at best or an afterthought at worst.  Training often takes place in whatever rooms a training coordinator can find (after all of the higher priority meetings are scheduled in the good rooms) whether those rooms are conducive to the training experience or not.  Instructor pools often consist of people who were looking for a career change or in some cases, from whoever was available to teach on a given day (and who had some tangential experience in the subject matter).  In many cases, course content  often gets simplified to make it easier for "anyone" to teach.  Course length is often cut to fit the training into broader agendas or to accommodate travel preferences. The number of participants in a session is often left unchecked under the guise of gaining economies of scale from the costs of each session.  And, as we move into more on-line learning, choices for delivery are often based on the tools or communication infrastructures that were created by software designers and engineers not learning experts.  As a result, genuine interaction is lost and artificial interactions (e.g., ask a question or poll the audience every three minutes) become the standard.

The value and impact of training does not come from the needs assessment or design of the course; it comes from the delivery of the course.  I’m not trying to suggest that assessment and design those are not important.  Having the wrong content or a poor design will reduce the impact of a training experience.  But, value doesn't come from the product, it comes from its use.

As many on-line retailers learned during the early days of eCommerce, having a good product is worthless if you can’t get it delivered properly.  A good design can’t offset a poor instructor, a bad room, or a hurried experience. Yet, a good instructor or engaging environment can easily and effectively counter a poor design.

If you want to start getting the most value from your training, start focusing more on where that value actually occurs.  If your presentation standards are more rigorous than your room, technical platform or faculty standards, you’ll never get the full value of the training experience.

Brad Kolar is an executive consultant, speaker, and author. For more ideas on how to be an effective leader, visit his blog at