In times of lifelong learning, when perk shenanigans like beer fridge are insufficient to retain talent, we might consider sourcing employee training. Let's see how to make the right choice.
The choice: Visible cost, intangible benefits?
The initial challenge here stems from the human proclivity to underestimate what's intangible.
We instantly see the training price tag, but the benefit side is postponed in time and difficult to quantify. We've all seen this cost side vs benefit side clash in one of the iterations of the below meme.
Let's leave the ROI calculation for the next article and focus on simple, binary choices that will fit training for purpose and make it a better investment.
To choose the right employee training, you have to decide between:
1. Training the trainer or entire team
2. Selecting an external or internal trainer
3. Classroom or online training
4. Compulsory or facultative format
5. Delivery during or outside working hours
6. Standard or bespoke course content.
to choose the right employee training
1. Standardising knowledge vs concentrating (training for all vs train the trainer)
Should you directly train all staff or instead choose several leaders, such as team specialists or managers, that will learn in-depth and then share the knowledge with their teams?
Our goal might be to achieve a certain minimum level of service or skills across the entire team. This could be the case for a consulting practice where our consultants work for our reputation and periodical skill training will keep the bar high, offering our clients a similar level of skills.
If we are talking about the leadership skills or specialised IT skills which are crucial for the business, but either require customisation by a more senior person or are rarely used, it's best to train the senior staff that will later pass on the knowledge.
A good example here would be yellow, green or black belt training of Lean Six Sigma (process improvement methodology). No matter if we would like to make our finance procedures or manufacturing processes more efficient, we don't want to overload specialists focused on daily operations with an abundance of knowledge useful only for wide-scale project managers. We would instead prefer the trained managers to share with their teams only the knowledge they find helpful in practice.
2. Originating vs outsourcing corporate training (internal vs external provider)
Does the training concern niche areas where case-based knowledge is crucial? Do we have people with sufficient knowledge level? Are they able to create a decent, tailor-made training in a reasonable timeframe and without damage to business as usual?
If our BI Manager has recently created a bespoke cross-platform reporting system that is unique for our company, we would want them to take time to present the case to the broader internal audience, to promote proactivity and share know-how.
If the same BI Manager identifies that their team has problem exporting the Power BI data to Excel spreadsheets or that finance team has insufficient data cleansing or financial modelling skills, internally organised training might not be the best option. It might be better to hire a Microsoft Excel Trainer specialised in just those problems and being able to summarise the teachings from 20 similar cases in different companies. Otherwise, we might end up reinventing the wheel and bear the very high sunk cost, of the course material creation and presentation rehearsal.
If we ask our manager or the most experienced analyst to create a presentation, we would have to forgo days of productive work. On the other hand, if we delegate it to an ambitious intern, the training preparation might be inexpensive, but its execution very costly.
As soon as we invite our colleagues to the conference room for a training, we activate "individual money-counters", and just a single working day of 15 professionals can easily cost us £1500-4000+ in invested employee time. And that doesn't even take into equation conference room use cost, time spent on planning the event and other expenses. An alternative solution could sometimes be purchasing the rights to teaching materials that could be adapted and used internally. This way, we could save time and tailor teaching session to the company needs.
3. Self-paced study vs time-constrained study (Online vs on-site training)
How eager to learn the employees are? Would they voluntarily spend time learning after work? Are they disciplined self-starters or rather need more guidance?
Online courses seem to follow the spirit of the time, but they often are like that gym card that you never use. Yes, the cost could seem quite low, like £10-50 per month per user. But you would probably purchase it for many employees and for longer than a month. If you would measure impact in a 12-month timeframe, that would already mean £120-600 times the number of employees. You would also have a bit less control over the content. Opting for a learning platform, you might have some people learning how to code in VBA every evening and others learning how to make your cat an Instagram star. Enforcing control might not be the best PR stunt either.
There is also that unspoken doubt of the employees: "Do I use it at work or outside work?". Unless addressed, many employees would often find it confusing. Do you let them spend some part of their paid time on learning? Or do they have to do it outside work? If so, how long do they are allowed or should do it?
On-site training, however, imposes a well-defined learning time frame. When well-prepared, it initially delivers unbiased skill diagnostic, then engages participants during the course and finally provides with durable resources, such as concise course summary, factsheets or course tasks with solution and notes participants created themselves. Furthermore, by appointing an "outsider" to conduct the training, we put to work some psychological mechanisms and change the power dynamics. The team could better focus on learning instead to be drawn to impress the manager or hide their knowledge gaps. An external trainer might also provide the context broader than enterprise-wide, sharing best industry practices or takeaways from other training sessions. They can also foster the culture of collaboration instead of unhealthy competition.
In a nutshell, e-learning would probably be a more suitable solution for global interpretation in a multinational corporation that can allot resources for its wide-scale implementation. Classroom training would, however, be better for SMEs that can't benefit from the benefits of scale. This has also been noted in the literature review summary of the article posted in Vol 12, No 1/2019 of the International Journal of Advanced Corporate Learning.
4. Enforcement vs empowerment (transferable vs non-transferable skills)
Do we have to enforce minimum standards of knowledge/skillset as a company? Do we need to acquire knowledge to comply with the regulation?
Here we would define whether the main beneficiary of the training will be the employee or the employer. It will always be a mix of the two. However, if we provide training that's imposed by law (safety, industry-specific) or critical for the role and company-specific (e.g. bespoke internal software, company culture), we should bear in mind that it will most likely be perceived as work. Learning about company values on the weekend might just feel as unpaid overtime, while training of soft skills or widely used software would be recognised as personal growth activity.
5. During vs outside working hours (part of work vs employee benefit)
Do we need access to company infrastructure during the training? Will it be perceived as overtime work or a benefit?
Here, we wouldn't like to go against the will of our colleagues. As suggested previously, even if our people feel a sense of belonging, we wouldn't want to intrude to their private life. Probably most financial directors wouldn't prefer to learn how to set up sophisticated pivot table reports instead of spending time with their children. Still, some might consider time management course after hours. And then they can use the knowledge gained both during and after work. Even better if we teach them a lifelong skill and offer certification. Think language courses, sports, entertainment and maybe postgraduate degrees. Otherwise, training during working hours is recommended, especially in the era of increasing work-life balance importance.
6. Ready-made training vs tailored training
Do we just need a standardised course, or do we care about customisation and addressing our needs?
Minimum viable training would convey information. But as we are already investing several £ 1'000s in employee time and also putting our employer's image at stake, it's better to aim for the best. That could also add to the teams' morale as it is one of those rare opportunities where employees could be intellectually engaged in the collaborative environment. What's more, that's a unique occasion when they will be focused on something work-related, not on a pub quiz. And there's nothing more bonding than learning together, right? Therefore, to cover that extra cost of interactive, high-quality training, you could rich to PR/team building budget if necessary. Finally, we wouldn't like our people to feel like in that boring lecture at college.
Now, when we have some basic idea on how to determine what corporate training we need, we may think about how to calculate its ROI. But that's a topic for a separate article, coming up next. Subscribe to our LinkedIn page for more articles.
Excel & VBA solutions for accounting/ finance
. Devarakonda S. 2019. Calculating the Economic Viability of Corporate Trainings (Traditional & eLearning) using Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) and Return On Investment (ROI). International Journal of Corporate Learning. Vol 12, No 1, p. 44.
Other publications of this researcher: