Get More Bang for Your Training Buck

September 24, 2007
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[Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series about making training work.]

No matter how much your company invests in training each year, you want to make sure to get your money’s worth. How can you make sure you get more bang for your training buck?

Throughout my career in the HVAC industry, I have been involved in training many companies and individuals. I’ve had the opportunity to watch many of them as they went back to the real world to apply new knowledge and skills they learned during training. I’ve seen how some have been very successful with it, and how others have failed to have the training make much of an impact on their businesses.

In the previous article, we talked about the reasons training fails and not getting the best return. In this installment, let’s turn the negative into a positive and take a look at four critical ways you can help ensure training succeeds in your company.



AND HERE ARE THE TIPS

Tip No. 1: Good training is built around your company objectives. It’s late in the afternoon after a long day at work and you are going through e-mails, faxes, and mail that came in during the day. As you glance over all the bills, ads, and solicitations, you come across a brochure for some upcoming training. Now you believe in training your employees and this is a really nice brochure. So how do you make the decision whether or not to send people to this class?

Hopefully by now you won’t say it’s mostly based on price. If you want to maximize your return on training investment, your first question should be “how will this training help me meet the objectives of the company?” In other words, you want to invest your money in training that will have a positive impact on your organization by improving productivity, cutting costs, and increasing profitability. If the training offered doesn’t meet that basic criteria, don’t waste any more of your time.

If it looks like the training might have value and you decide to pursue it further, take time to investigate. Check out the company providing the training. Try to get more information about the qualifications of the instructors and get a course description. If the course is technical in nature, how much of it is theory and how much is hands-on?

Finally, decide which employees would benefit the most from the training. Does the training address a need or weakness in the organization, or in individual employees? Yes, all this may take a little time. But you take time to investigate every other investment you make in your business, like expanding staff, acquiring new vehicles, and purchasing new tools or equipment. Investment in training requires the same due diligence.

Tip No. 2: Effective training requires communication. Once you’ve determined a training program meets the criteria discussed in the previous tip, the next step is to communicate with the employee or employees who are to attend it.

All too often good training can be wasted if those attending don’t really know why they are there or what they are supposed to take away. You can overcome this problem by explaining to the employee what they can expect from the training, and why the new skills or skill enhancement is necessary. Have you ever attended training and couldn’t really see what the link was between it and your job? Be sure you provide that link to those attending training.

You can further enhance the impact of the training if you can communicate to the employee how the training will increase his or her ability to contribute to the reaching of the business’s objectives. Most employees want the company to do well and be profitable. If they can see how training helps make that happen it is likely to be more successful.

And let’s face it, everyone’s favorite radio station is WII FM (What’s In It For Me). Good communication should also include showing the employee how this new knowledge or skill will help them in their career path, and provide them with added compensation and job satisfaction.

Tip No. 3: Coaching and reinforcement are critical. Once the training is completed, follow-up and applying what was learned during the training is where many of us fall short. Training only produces tangible results when it changes behavior and attitude. Since it is unlikely that long-term change will occur as a result of a single training session, coaching and reinforcement of the training is required.

Motorola Inc. did a study that found that training reinforced by management got a $33 return on every dollar invested. Training with no management follow-up had a negative return on investment. People naturally follow the leader, so any training program will be more successful if management supports it.

When new and improved skills and/or behavior patterns are introduced to employees, the old ways are constantly competing with the new ones. Even though employees want to do it and know it makes sense to do it, change can be uncomfortable and it’s easy to slip back into old habits. So this goes back to treating training as a process rather than a single event.

To affect a long-lasting change you must do two things: reinforce the training through repetition and provide ongoing feedback and support. That means managers and supervisors have to regularly monitor on-the-job performance to make sure employees are incorporating new skills and knowledge properly.

It is equally essential that you provide additional opportunities to strengthen those skills through additional training. This might take the form of refresher training during weekly meetings, coaching on the job, or sending employees to follow-up training classes. And here’s a great way to reinforce training - assign those who have been through training to teach others in the company during short 20 minute segments at your weekly tech meeting.

Don’t leave your employees to go it alone and expect training to stick. Give them support and encouragement to continue to apply what they learned, and recognize and reward their accomplishments.

Tip No. 4: Measurement and accountability are a must. In Tip No. 1, we talked about aligning training with the company’s business objectives. Once you have done that, it just makes good sense to check back periodically and make sure those objectives are being met. The only way to maximize the benefit of your training investment is to measure performance and require accountability for that performance.

Training professionals use a scale developed by Donald Kirkpatrick to evaluate training. The scale starts at Level 1, which essentially only tells us whether participants liked the training. The top of the scale is Level 4, which evaluates results of training and whether it makes an impact on the organization. In 2000, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) reported that 95 percent of training was measured at Level 1, while only 3 percent was measured at Level 4. If you are only measuring at Level 1, how will you know if training was successful and has been integrated into daily business practice?

Be certain you have defined benchmarks established to measure the results of training against. Certainly you want to look at overall profitability of the department or company both pre-and post-training. You should also set up more specific measurements.

For example, in your service department you might want to look at average revenue per ticket. You could also look at average length of each service call and percentage of calls completed on the first trip. Customer satisfaction scores and call back percentages are other good indicators. Once you begin measuring performance, you establish a baseline that then allows you to track whether new knowledge and skills are being applied consistently, and to recognize if employees are beginning to slip back into old habits.

Alright, I know this all seems like a lot to do, but if you will implement these key components into your training program, you should see more impressive results.

In addition to a better return on your training investment, you should also benefit from higher employee morale, lower turnover, increased productivity, and improved customer satisfaction. But remember that leadership must start at the top. Lead with a firm commitment to make training work in your company. So my hope is the next time you’re going through that stack of mail and run across that training flyer, you’ll look at it in a whole new way.

Publication Date: 09/24/2007

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