Training: The only route to success

by  Ananya Mukherjee

Training is an essential part of the core strategy for any organisation that aspires to move forward or stay ahead in the corporate fast lane. In the current dynamism of the world market, it has become an integral part of staffing and business strategy for all employers of choice. Needless to say, emphasizing on the importance of training in raising the bars of human capital development and productivity is almost redundant at this point of time. The issue today is not the intent, but the direction of the attempt in which training is conducted.

Training involves time and dollars and none of these are easy investments when you are doing business in a fast changing and unpredictable economic condition. Most importantly, training, when not properly planned, will usually result in failure. In sharp contrast, a well-laid and structured plan that is aligned to the company’s strategies and objectives has a high probability of improving productivity and other goals that are set in a training mission.

As Ragi Singh, Vice President, Human Resources, AIA Singapore, observes, “It is all about empowering employees with the ability to learn so that they can progress and help the company to grow at thesame time.”

Identify your training needs
Training must be a stable and continuous part of your company strategy and growth plans. But how do you begin to train without analysing your training needs? Before embarking on a full-fledged training mission, it is imperative for HR to assess the training needs on the basis of three key human resource areas—1)the company as a whole, 2)the requisites of the job 3)and the needs of the employees. Analyses such as these will give you the benchmarks you need to measure the effectiveness and success of your training initiatives.

The fundamental rationale, above all, is to use training as a competitive edge, not only from the perspective of driving business results and new behaviours but also from an employee satisfaction standpoint. Darryl Wee, Country Head, ACCA Singapore, remarks, “It is important to note that training should be delivered in a manner which is structured and integrated with the overall business and people strategy. To ensure that both the organisation and staff can benefit from training, it should be put in place to develop and enhance organisational competencies in a manner which supports business results. I believe for training to be effective, the resulting changes in behaviour should be measureable, performance management systems need to be aligned to reinforce the new behaviours and it must be supported by senior management.”

Make training your competitive edge
Human capital is the key differentiator and investment in this area will only help to build the capabilities of your employees to deliver superior performance. For employees to gain the required capabilities to contribute successfully in their roles, training has to be an on-going business strategy, backed by organisational support. Take the example of OCBC Bank. The bank has more than 280 internal line trainers who handle an extensive range of learning and development sessions for all functions within the bank. The average training man days per employee was above seven days for the fifth consecutive year in 2010. The bank has created an OCBC Learning Academy and also dedicated an entire floor at OCBC Centre called The Learning Space @ OCBC for the sole purpose of learning and development.

“To date, OCBC Learning Academy has offered about 80 courses ranging from core banking topics that serve to help our employees build up skill sets that relate directly to their roles and responsibilities within the organisation, as well as professional development courses that go towards helping them embrace and apply ‘soft’ skills like service delivery, clear writing and communication,” Cassandra Cheng, Head of Learning & Development, OCBC Bank, shares. In addition to the typical physical classroom training, the bank has also tapped on learning technologies like eLearning and virtual classrooms.

Training big boys and star performers

The key benefit of the entire exercise is to have the right people with the right competency in the right place at the right time. “Training sends an early signal to the employees that the organisation is willing to invest in their development, which in turn, proves to be an effective engagement tool,” says Jobina Gonsalves, Senior Manager, Human Resources, Robert Bosch Singapore. Whilst training at ground and mid-level is crucial, an ongoing process of corporate learning and development is also critical for top performers at senior levels. Leadership development, thus, forms an essential cornerstone in corporate training. Based on this rationale, Ernst & Young has developed a unique global development programme, called EYU that offers a structured framework for them to obtain the right in-house training, on-the-job learning, and coaching by seniors to accelerate their career development. The development programme is complemented by the use of experience maps, which are targeted to develop specific competencies through experiencing selected types of work or industries.

“For high-performing individuals who demonstrate the potential to take up leadership position in the future, our new in-house Global NextGen (GNG) programme is geared towards helping them achieve their potential. The programme helps the participants expand their network within Ernst & Young, accelerate their leadership and go-to-market capabilities, and prepares them to excel and thrive in demanding, multi-faceted leadership roles,” Steven Phan, Country Managing Partner, Ernst & Young, says. For its partners and leaders, HR works with leading executive education institutions to design high-level programmes that target their specific needs and roles.

ROI of Training
Training costs. Naturally, as an employer, you have to ensure that bottom-line results are met and there’s a substantial return on investment. For instance, at AIA, to continuously improve its training methods, HR actively listens to employee feedback after each training session so that it can learn what is useful and effective for the staff.

In addition, for behavioural changes of staff attending training, AIA evaluates the impact by means of pre and post-feedback mechanism from the employees, the immediate supervisors, fellow colleagues or external parties. “The success of each training session conducted are measured in terms of the knowledge gained, the application of knowledge or change of behaviour of staff who had attended the training, by using the Kirkpatrick’s training evaluation model,” Singh points out.

However, it may not be as easy as it seems to get these evaluation initiatives rolling with the desired momentum. CrimsonLogic’s HR has also adopted Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels Evaluation in implementing its training strategies. This framework supports four levels of learning evaluation: Reaction, Learning, Behaviour and Result. Currently, the organisation has completed the first three levels. “With regards to the 4th level, Result, we are doing careful planning before implementation as it is difficult to find an accurate measurement of the ROI in training,” Lee Tee Ling, Head of Human Resource, CrimsonLogic, highlights.

Most importantly, as Gonsalves remarks, it is also the intangible benefits like employee engagement and commitment towards the company which contribute to the ROI.

In a nutshell
As HR, you have to establish a competency management system where the potential gaps between target and actual competency are identified for each role, and you can provide further training to close the gaps. In short, there is no end to learning and HR must ensure that employees and organisational skill sets are constantly reviewed and enhanced so that they don’t become obsolete. There will be ample learning opportunities in the workplace; all you need to do is help staff assimilate these opportunities with their experiences so that they continuously build their skills.

Know your training needs

  • Does the organisation as a whole require consistent training?
  • Have you identified the jobs that need more training than the others?
  • Did you set a budget and minimum-time requirement guideline for training?
  • Have you identified the employees who need more training than others?
  • Do you have the infrastructure and resources to support your training needs?
  • What is the percentage of the training programmes that needs to be outsourced
  • Have you thought of alternate training methods (eg: e-learning, social media) besides classroom or on-the-job training?
  • How do you measure the ROI of your training programmes?

Training plays a critical role since:

  • It demonstrates a commitment to keep the employees on the cutting edge of knowledge
  • It ensures alignment of individual goals so that they are able to meet organisational goals
  • It prepares talent for future leadership needs. It is also essential that development starts early so that young leaders are groomed in time to take over leadership positions
  • It enhances job satisfaction and motivates staff to perform better
  • It reduces staff turnover and enhances corporate branding as an employer of choice
  • It increases efficiency and productivity as employees have a better understanding of the processes and how the system works

Measuring ROI
Return on investment is determined by taking the actual cost of the training from the total value of the benefits. This sum is then divided by the cost of the training. The first step in measuring ROI is to itemise costs. Once costs are determined the various benefits can be counted, Tan Gek Khim, Senior Director, MDIS, says. The following steps may be adopted to measure the ROI, Tan advises:

  • Application: Tests taken after a longer interval (perhaps 3 months after the course) can prove that certain topics have truly been taken on board. Did a user always perform a task in one way and subsequently, after training, demonstrate a skill that was covered on the course? If the answer is yes, the course has achieved a degree of success, but was it worth the cost?
  • Cost assessment: Place a value on your delegate’s time; calculate a potential loss of earnings from a sales person who has been taken away from his customers for a day. This can be carried out by obtaining a well-researched figure that can be attributed to the cost of the programme, then display it against the list of benefits achieved (reduced errors, improved morale etc) to complete the cost assessment. Qualitative data such as improved attitudes and morale, employee and customer satisfaction should be included as well.
  • Benefit assessment: All benefits are best converted to a monetary value. It is easy for hard facts such as time savings, but difficult for soft data such as customer satisfaction. However, typical benefits one should consider include time savings, improved productivity, labour savings (less supervision, overtime or temporary help required), improved quality, and better morale.
  • Evaluation: To maintain the credibility of your ROI findings, it’s important to try to isolate the effects of training, rather than taking credit for improvements caused by other variables. Ask the users, ask their managers, ask the technical team. And if enough people tell you that training made the difference and allowed them to hit a business target they’ve never hit before, take pride in what the training has achieved and report it.

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