Improving Employee Training and Development During an Economic Downturn

Chris Young
April 28, 2008 — 2,440 views  
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The business and financial headlines haven't been pretty as of late.  Every week it seems a new report comes out about people losing their jobs, home foreclosures rising, and well known companies failing to meet stockholder expectations.  These discouraging headlines are making business leaders worried about the very real possibility that the economy is slowing and the impacts it may have on the organizations they lead.

When business leaders become worried about the economy they tend to scrutinize every dollar that is spent to ensure that scarce resources are being used wisely.  When this happens department budgets are gone over with a fine tooth comb to see what can go and what should stay.

Unfortunately the training and development portion of the budget is often put on the chopping block. For many business leaders and managers it is difficult to justify the funds allocated for employee training and development when the return on investment isn't always clear.  It's hard to blame them as not everyone has had the greatest experience with training and development investments as most are unfocused, don't stick, and fail to deliver the anticipated results.

Despite the bad experience that some have had, training and development is a critical part of any organization's talent management strategy.  I'd like to offer five tips for improving the way your organization approaches training and development that will help you defend this critical part of your department's or organization's budget when it is put on trial as the economy slows down.

Treat training as an investment - Companies with the courage to hold steady or even increase their advertising budgets during an economic slowdown typically reap the benefits of added market share and revenue when the economy turns around. The same is true of organizations that continue to invest in employee training and development. When the economy comes back - and it always does - your organization will have an edge over its competition whose skills and abilities have not improved at the rate your organization's team members' have.

Only administer training that is really needed - It's hard to strategically invest in training and development if you aren't aware of what your team members' strengths and weaknesses really are. Allocating a few dollars to thoroughly assess your employees' strengths and weaknesses is money well spent and will allow you to deliver the targeted training that brings about real results and will keep you from throwing money out the window on training that just isn't needed.

Establish measurable returns - If you aren't able to measure the results of a training investment chances are it isn't a good investment. It can be cumbersome and laborious to establish the necessary metrics for evaluating the return on your training efforts, but ultimately it will demonstrate the value of the investment and make it easier to defend this part of the budget to a finance committee or CEO.

Only hire training vendors who understand your needs - Managers and leaders often have a disdain for hired training vendors as most vendors have limited solutions that are applied without regard to the real issues at hand. If a potential vendor seems more focused on selling you their product instead of understanding your unique needs and how they can help, chances are they can't really provide a training solution that meets your needs.

Avoid boxed training - static and inflexible training rarely brings about lasting change. Focus on providing the kind of training that can be tailored to meet your team members' unique needs. If the proposed training is close, but not exactly what is needed, you probably won't be satisfied with the results.

Defending a training and development budget can be difficult when economy is slumping.  The best approach is to remember that training is an investment, to ensure it is targeted to a clearly identified need, and to thoroughly demonstrate that the requested training resources will be well spent and can provide a measureable return on investment.

Chris Young

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The Rainmaker Group is a human talent maximization company specializing in helping organization maximize their bottom lines by improving employee retention, hiring the best talent possible, and strategic talent management and coaching services. From the Fortune 50 corporation to the small medical office, The Rainmaker Group guarantees lasting organizational change via a unique blend of energy, insight, and science to maximize talent, transform organizational culture, and provide strategic intervention.