For many small and growing businesses (SGBs) sending an employee to a course or a program can be a big investment – timewise and financially. Hence, like for any other investment, you would like to see a return on your investment (ROI) – and rightfully so! This is even more important now, in times of overall economic slowdown and uncertainty, where resources need to be allocated where there is balance between risk and ROI.
At Amani Institute, where we run a number of different development programs, we often get asked by business leaders, “how can I be sure to be getting my return on investment when it comes to training and development”? This holds whether that’s for a two-day training for an entire team, or for a six-month leadership development program for selected high-performers.
There are a number of articles that discuss other elements that influence the training success and can lead to an improved ROI, such as the program/course quality & design, or the learner’s capabilities and motivation. However, in our experience, one of the most overlooked factors in training success is the role of the manager of an employee who attends a program or course. In this blogpost series, we would like to propose three mindset shifts that we see are required and also share some practical tips for you as a manager. The three shifts are:
- Treat learning & development as an investment (not as a cost).
- See learning as a process, not an event.
- Consider the role of the manager in training success as central, not peripheral.
Shift 1: Treat learning & development as investment (not as a cost)
Based on our experience, many SGBs – particularly in emerging markets – don’t see learning & development as an area of investment, but rather as a cost. The very first step to get the expected return on investment (ROI) on your training is to treat it as an investment. Making this mental shift comes with a number of implications: One, it means you expect a return over time, not immediately. Secondly, the same as with any financial investment, you diligently assess up front where you want to invest and what ROI you expect. Thirdly, you monitor, manage and nurture your investment.
This also impacts your role as a manager during the pre-training process. Before you decide to invest in any course or program, do your due diligence. Specifically,
- Clearly understand what high value business need will be addressed with the investment into a particular training program.
Training programs are never an end to itself, they should only be a means to an end to achieve a better business outcome. (That doesn’t mean at all a training should not have value for the individual attending it). Examples of business outcomes include: higher work productivity (could be on different levels), increased customer satisfaction, increased revenue, better service/product, etc. Unfortunately, managers and business owners are often not clear enough for themselves how the investment into a training program will link to improved business results. This lack of understanding can lead to a number of potential consequences: no training investment, under-investment, lack of prioritization, lack of accountability and expectation setting with the employees, etc. understanding the link between the training investment and business performance is critical.
- Next, check, if training is the right development intervention for performance improvement on a people level. Training can be a great way to close a knowledge and skills gap or help people to perform even at a higher level. But if you are looking at skills development, then mentoring and coaching could also be development interventions that you could consider. However, training isn’t the right solution if the performance problem stems either from an attitude problem, unclear expectations, or lack of feedback. If in such a scenario, you were to invest in a training course, you are very likely not to reap any fruits of your investment. Unfortunately, that is still too often the case, and unfulfilled expectations lead to disappointment.
Finally, once you have considered the first two criteria and you have decided to invest, it is very important to:
- Make sure the “why” is understood and you jointly agree what business and personal success look like. That could include a number of actions from a manager:
- Clarify to the individual employee or the team the bigger “why” of this training: what business results are you trying to achieve – how does it link to the strategic goals of the organization? In many cases it is more powerful when this explanation comes from the line manager instead of HR.
- Explain the individual “why” behind a nomination to attend training/course/program – knowing the why will make a big difference to the motivation of the learner(s). For example, if you see the employee as a high potential individual with room for even further growth and that’s the reason they are nominated to be on a leadership development program, then communicate that explicitly.
- Share what performance expectations you have – what behaviors you would like to see a change in? Try to be as specific as possible.
- Discuss with the trainee(s) what they are hoping to get out of it and what would success look like to them. If they are the ones who proposed to attend a particular training, explore with them the bigger why.
To sum up, one way to increase your ROI on training and development is to start seeing and treating the investment in training and development of your people the same way as you would any other investment. That means giving the right amount of attention to due diligence, having clear business-outcome expectations, and also making pre-training communication with participants a priority.
In the next blog post we will discuss the second mindset shift and how it connects to increasing your ROI from training your team.
By Caroline Gertsch, Amani Institute Kenya Country Director
This article is part of a knowledge series dedicated to skills that are particularly useful for Small and Growing Businesses. Check out the other articles from the series:
Changing the Culture of Feedback
Capitalize on Your Strengths in Your Leadership Journey