Training - How to Make it Pay

by Stephen Newton

Before the event

The setting of objectives and measurements of success should be done as part of the process of identifying training needs. However, some days before a planned training event, it is valuable to spend a few minutes with the employee to review the outcomes to be achieved, the time-frame and how you both expect the training to be of benefit.

Make sure that any information about the activity you have agreed upon is provided to the employee promptly, especially any administrative information, such as venue, directions, travel arrangements and so on. This will minimise any possible stress on the part of the trainee so that they can focus on the learning.

Remember to write down the agreed outcomes, time-frame within which they are expected to achieve them and the review process. You and the employee should sign off on this document.

Preparation

Think about possible pre-training work for the trainee. For example:

  • Could they/should they bring to the course any work-related issues that could be used as case studies or examples?
  • Talk to the trainee about specific problems which you both agree will be eliminated or reduced by the training. Reinforce the fact that their new knowledge will make it easier for them to be successful.
  • Talk about how their new knowledge will make it possible for the two of you to tackle a difficult problem together (emphasising team work rather than putting the problem on their shoulders)
  • Ensure that the trainee has adequate time to prepare for the course or other activity. Its value will likely be reduced if they are kept flat out up to the last moment.
  • Could or should the trainee do any pre-course reading or other work?

Logistics

This element is vitally important in order to ensure that there are no distractions for the trainee. Quite simply, make sure that any administrative arrangements are clear and watertight. Have a ‘plan B’ if possible.

Plan B

A ‘plan B’ should not simply be to send someone else in the event that the trainee cannot attend for some reason, or not unless the second candidate has the same development needs and can be properly briefed and prepared. If you send some randomly chosen person, both you and the stand-in trainee will gain limited value from the event. Plan B may, however, include an agreement with the supplier to offer an alternative date without additional cost or at a reduced price.

Basic arrangements

It is essential to ensure that the trainee has a clear (probably written) idea of the administrative/logistics ground rules that will apply.

  • What expenses (such as motor mileage allowance or meals) are allowable?
  • What hotel accommodation has been booked?
  • What travel arrangements are to be made and who is responsible for making them?
  • What is the dress code?
  • What are the timings?
  • What is the location of the course?

There should be no surprises on such basics. If there are, it will distract the trainee and damage what is now an implied ‘psychological contract’ that has been established between you.

Competence in this area also serves to make the trainee feel that the training activity is being managed professionally and reduces stress for all parties. Don’t forget that for younger employees, this may be the first time that the trainee has been away on anything other than a family holiday.

Contact during the course

You need to agree contact ground rules/priorities. As a rule of thumb, you should not expect a trainee to check in regularly during a course. To do so is a distraction. If you get the organisation and logistics right, there should be no need for them to do this. However, you do need to be able to contact them in an emergency. You must agree what the word ‘emergency’ means. My firm uses four levels of urgency:

  1. Routine
  2. Non-routine
  3. Urgent
  4. Emergency

Emergency in this context means an imminent danger of death or injury or a major business failure (think of office building destroyed by fire). Urgent may mean a family member sick or a problem threatening the loss of a client/account. Both should be very rare.

In their absence...

The trainee should also agree with you how their work is to be covered while they are away. This should be a two-way discussion rather than you telling. The benefit here is that the trainee feels they are being treated as an adult and asked to take responsibility for their work. The trainee should also have no concern that they will return to a full in-box and/or find that key clients or issues have been left unattended in their absence. This is a key factor in basic mutual trust and leadership.