Marketing to the Internal Audience – From Low ROI To Cost-Effective Corporate Training

29 Oct
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Just Who Needs Training in American Companies?
(Spoiler Alert! It’s NOT just the “Workers”)

One of the biggest challenges for marketing is creating cooperative teamwork between marketing and other departments, especially in the traditionally uneasy partnership with Sales and, as technology increasingly becomes a part of marketing, IT departments. According to the American Society for Training and Development, U.S. firms spent about $175 billion on employee learning in 2012 (a lot of that on sales) and the rate of spending continues to grow at a double-digit rate. But some research suggests that current training programs only result in a 10% ROI.

This article shifts the focus toward understanding the disconnect happening in corporate training today. We gathered 9 experts, trainers and training consultants, and asked them how businesses are and aren’t getting their money’s worth training their employees.

The virtual panelists are:

Margaret Maat, Owner & Managing Partner at Forward Focus Coaching & Consulting, a change management company that assists clients in making the internal human resource related changes needed to execute on their external business strategies and goals.

Carol Leaman,  CEO at Axonify Inc., a company that delivers personalized, bite-sized targeted learning in a fun, effective way that makes it stick. Carol, in 2010, was named Canada’s Leading Female Hi-Tech Entrepreneur.

Suman Nair, Breakthrough Coach and Managing Director, Atiitya Trg & HR Consultants, author of the Zen of Facilitation.

Roberta Nedry, Founder and President of Hospitality Excellence, Inc., has spent her career exploring guest experience management, training techniques and impact, and exceptional service. She’s now sharing her passion on her blog.

Bill Stinnett, Founder and President, Sales Excellence, Inc. Bill is a highly sought after speaker, coach, and consultant on the subject of maximizing sales and marketing productivity and performance. He’s the author of two best-selling books: Think Like Your Customer, and Selling Results!

Robert DeGroot, a consultant, trainer, researcher, author, hypnotherapist and counselor. He is the founder of Sales Training International.

Daniel R. Tobin, Ph.D., Corporate Learning Strategist, is currently Vice President of Design and Development for the American Management Association in New York, NY.  Dan has extensive experience in management development, executive education, sales and sales support training and technical education. He’s written 5 books. Noted for his practical approaches and his sense of humor, Dan is a popular speaker and seminar/workshop leader.

Bob Longo, Bob Longo Consulting, helping companies maximize return from their employees by helping them do their jobs better. For Bob it’s all about Making Learning Possible.

Karen Grosz, Owner/President, Canvas Creek Team Building®, a company with a unique approach to accomplishing unity in a team – from corporate training to couples’ date night!

SocialAgenda Media: In today’s corporate environment, proper training and development is required to keep employees on the cutting edge of industry knowledge and practice. Many corporate training departments struggle with this. How do you (or your clients) manage to keep up with the rate at which information and technologies are changing?

Carol Leaman: Our clients keep up with rapidly changing information through the way we deliver learning on our platform.  It’s bite-sized, continuous, personalized to the demonstrated knowledge (or knowledge gap) of the employee, and engaging.  Since employees are typically using it every day, the content can be changed dynamically and instantly as operational information changes so the next time the employee logs on, the new information is presented immediately. Our platform works on any technology – mobile, tablet, laptop, point of sale… whatever is accessible to the employee.  We make it a highly targeted (in terms of the content) and easily accessible experience to keep employees on top of everything they need to know to do their jobs well.

Margaret Maat: My advice would be to focus less on training classes and more on creating a learning environment.  Recruit people who love to learn and reward them for doing so. As much as possible, integrate learning into workplace activity. This requires intentional design of learning activities and ensuring that those activities are directly relevant to day-to-day work tasks.

Karen Grosz: The focus should be on true analysis of needs and sticking to the mission of the business, not listening to hype.  Often technology is like a shiny object distracting people, but focusing on the mission negates the temptation.

Bob DeGroot: Not falling too far behind rather than staying on the cutting edge is more the norm. A huge number of companies do only the minimum training required by law. They are easy to spot. They have no meeting rooms or classrooms in their facilities. They don’t have a “learning” vibe, just a “git ‘er done” high stress energy. Training is not mentioned on the VIP tour and being sent to the training department is a “toe-tag” assignment where you’re dead on arrival.

Some companies are so heavily regulated (pharmaceuticals, chemicals, transportation, etc.) that they have become very sophisticated in managing the learning functions. And, because they are required to do so much training, they are leading the charge for finding ways to do the training better, quicker, cheaper. For example, to keep costs down, delivery platforms are changing rapidly from classroom to eLearning and mLearning + coaching. No one does more training than the military and so who developed SCORM? Yep, the military. Now Tin-Can API is available for mLearning devices.

Bob Longo: This is typified by the acceleration of computer program releases, much of which happens via update.  In this specific scenario, the users are often ahead of training.  Google offers so many options for self-teaching that the training department becomes secondary.  In other, less dramatic examples, it is imperative for training to “stay in touch”, doing surveys, needs assessments and absolutely getting out to where the work is being done.

Dan Tobin: As training director for a number of high-tech companies during my career, my strategy for keeping up with the ever-increasing rate at which information and technologies keep changing is to form alliances with the parts of the organization where new information is generated, e.g., product management, strategic planning, competitive analysis groups, etc.  When one of these partners identifies information that is needed by employees, we look at two basic items: first, what information do they need and, second, what is the best way of providing that information.

For the first question, what information is needed, the answer can be anything from “they need to be aware that this is happening, or that a competitor is coming out with a new product, to “they need in-depth training on how to sell or service our new product.”  The training group does not always have to create a new training program for every change or new bit of information — sometimes it is enough to point employees to a web page that contains the information or to a competitor’s website to view a new competitive product.  The role of the training group should be to keep up with all of these changes and to make recommendations on the best delivery method for the information.  When new skills are needed, the training group can work with the relevant groups within the company to create and provide the training.

By forming alliances and using a real or virtual advisory group, the training group can keep up with the flow of information and create the relevant methods to deliver information and/or skills to the right employees.

SocialAgenda Media: How do you ensure that training and development is cost-effective yet still supports corporate needs?

Margaret Maat: When needs assessment is done effectively and identifies the most critical competencies required for job success, we find that the training and development is cost-effective. Sometimes companies go to a lot of trouble to identify every job skill when, in fact, there are a few job skills which, if implemented, translate into greater value for the individual and the organization. By focusing on these “leverage” skills, there is no question about the value proposition. We are very strategic about who to involve in the needs assessment process to ensure that the critical competencies identified are those which are most likely to support the business/organizational goals.

Roberta Nedry: A red carpet attitude starts at the top. Leadership and role-modeled behavior at every level is critical to ensuring training and development is effective. Accountability for actions desired from training and development is also essential to supporting corporate needs. We say, “People do what is expected when it is inspected!”  How internal employees are treated is how employees will treat customers. The internal social network supports that.  It’s critical to understand what experience management is all about BEFORE implementing technologies so that training is cost effective and yields maximum impact.

Suman Nair: The effectiveness of Training & Development is currently being monitored from the learners’ awareness and readiness perspective. Although clients want to link learning to business outcome, the commitment needed to define the linkage needs a stronger approach. The shift has not yet translated to rigorously monitoring behaviors after the training delivery. In my own experience, the number of meetings held before the workshop is more than the number and amount of concern shown after the workshop to assure effectiveness.

SocialAgenda Media: What in your opinion should organizations do to get more value out of their spending?

Margaret Maat: Organizations can be more intentional about integrating learning and development into the Talent Review process. For instance, one of our clients asked us to design a Talent Review scoring process that takes into consideration, not only competencies, but also results. When a performance measurement falls below a certain threshold on the employee’s scorecard, the employee is required to complete a learning activity related to that measurement. Employees can also complete additional self-directed learning activities to improve skill sets related to the Talent Review scores. The employee’s supervisor monitors all learning activities. The supervisor becomes a learning coach, so to speak. Learning activities are considered complete, not when the learning facilitator says that the assignment has been turned in, but when the supervisor/learning coach says that the behavior is now being demonstrated in the workplace setting.

Suman Nair: Some things they can do:

a) Study the strengths, skills and behavior required for the job in the given context. Facilitate enhancing these strengths while also focusing on developing areas that need to be developed for the role.
b) Allow the person to choose his/her preferred style/mode of learning. Classroom learning may not fit all.
c) Develop a definite plan for the individual and create actions which are monitored by the reporting Manager (who best knows what the job requires) and supported/facilitated by the HR/T&D team.
d) Create context for the employees to teach back to others what they have learned, which helps them better assimilate their own learning.
e) Learning progress is incorporated into reviews to assist a faster and happier learning experience.
f) Reward demonstration of new learning.
g) Pick a learning theme every year that supports the cultural values of the organization.

Roberta Nedry: Start at the top and focus on training perception as opposed to just behavior. Once learning and development activities take place, a structure must be in place to reinforce what has been learned. Many organizations do training as a 1-2 times a year activity and neglect the day-to-day integration to keep what was learned constant and consistent. When we deliver our training and experience management programs, we work with clients to set up this structure before the training along with leadership training so that maximum value can be achieved.

Bob Longo: Promote a culture of training and continuous improvement.  Everyone should be thinking and talking about how to improve. Training has to become part of a personal developmental program, part of “how do I advance” and not a way to take a break from work.

Bill Stinnett: The real challenge of sales training is to enable and empower learners to go out and apply what they have learned. We believe strongly in the power of ongoing training reinforcement and always recommend supporting any onsite workshop with ongoing review and reinforcement. We also work with management to reinforce the application of new ideas and approaches.  This is the best way to ensure maximum value from an investment in training.

Carol Leaman: Organizations need to better understand how humans actually learn – it’s a continuous process that needs to be personalized to the individual based on demonstrated knowledge or knowledge gaps.  The day of the one-time event, where a company brings a group of employees into a classroom, are gone.  No one remembers anything, and the entire investment goes to waste. Delivering a daily, short burst of information maps to our cognitive architecture is best, especially when combined with the spacing effect and retrieval practice (two core, brain science-based, ways we remember).  Using SaaS and cloud technology to deliver an on-demand, at-the-point-of-need experience to individual employees is highly cost effective compared to any other form of learning.

Karen Grosz: We say ‘we begin with a blank canvas to get your people on the same page.’ I think that is a step that is often skipped. Organizations throw training at the wall, hoping it will stick and finding it fell flat on the floor because they move so quickly. People need a moment to change gears, to get out of the day-to-day tasks and into the opportunity to absorb new ideas.  We like to be the leadoff activity for ongoing change.  Our process gives teams an opportunity to create something unusual that they are proud of.  This opens them up to listening, to accepting change, and being ready to really implement the training they are taking part in.

Bob DeGroot: From what I’ve seen, most training managers are doing a very good job holding costs in line with expected outcomes. More use of e/mLearning will continue to lower costs. For example E-Learning E-Zine reports that today eLearning is $56.2 billion and is expected to grow to $107 billion by 2015. That could mean that money spent on travel and classrooms may decrease and the younger generations learn using their preferred methods. 10 years ago we kept our classrooms full and instructors constantly on the road. Today we don’t have classrooms or instructors.

Dan Tobin: Twenty years ago, I asserted that at least half of corporate expenditures on training programs were wasted because what employees learned was never applied to the employees’ work to make a positive difference in business results.  As a corporate training director, I have always used three basic measures for any learning initiative I undertake:  Relevance, Value-Added, and Quality (RVQ).  Training content is Relevant if the employee can start using it immediately upon the completion of the training.  Training content is Value-Added if employees can use it to add value to their work in order to better achieve or exceed individual, team, or corporate goals by improving productivity, reducing waste, accelerating progress, lowering costs, providing better customer service, etc.  Training program Quality refers to the quality of the training materials, instructors, etc. — all those things that are generally measured on end-of-course “smile sheets.”

The focus of every corporate learning initiative has to be on the corporation’s business goals and strategies.  Unless the training group can make this connection, the program should not be undertaken.

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