Posts Tagged ‘ROI’

Management Gone Missing?

Monday, September 10th, 2012

I saw this comment on a learning and development forum recently – “I recently ran a management course for new and existing managers at similar levels, it is a course which all managers new to the organisation are told about and attend with agreement from their line manager. I had a number of managers who were negative and felt they shouldn’t have attended as they had a number of years’ experience as managers already. The other delegates were newer and did want to be there. I found I really struggled to turnaround / manage the really negative individual and the other few who weren’t happy to be there. Due to this I really feel I didn’t deliver the best course I could have done as, whilst I have experienced the odd 1 or 2 negative delegates in the past on various courses, I’ve never experienced such constant negativity which I didn’t seem to be able to have any influence over.”

Following the post were a number of suggestions from respondents, including:

  • Having individual discussions with delegates prior to their arrival
  • Encourage delegates to explain their concerns
  • If people don’t want to stay, don’t make them
  • Tailor the course more to their particular needs
  • Ask them what they want to get out of the course
  • Meet with their managers post-course

What surprised me, though, were that all the responses focused on what to do in the classroom environment, or post-course. In order to implement a long term solution, there needs to be wider and more systematic activity.

What can be done to ensure that such instances are minimised in the first place? What appear to be missing are effective learning and development management interventions.

For learning in the workplace to be effective, there needs to be a tripartite approach comprising the delegate, the delegate’s line management and the learning provider. And in terms of the learning provider, this means both the trainer and – importantly – their management.

Within the post there is no mention of 3 key activities or processes that I would expect to see.

1. Why is each delegate attending the course? They have been nominated by their manager – what are the reasons for the manager requiring them to attend? Managers having pre and post-course meetings with their attending delegates is one of the areas often examined during an Investor in People (IiP) assessment – because it makes a difference.

If this process doesn’t happen, it should. If it does happen, it should be recorded – and most     importantly be available to the trainer. This not only helps in terms of dealing with the issues    in the person’s post – by being able to explain to or remind them of why they are there – but it helps in terms of planning a more meaningful event for the delegates – and will generally mean an increased return on investment (ROI).

2. How might the use of a Student Charter or Learning Agreement help this situation? If such a process is in place, it means that the internal customer (the delegate and their line management) knows what to expect from the internal provider (the learning and development function). It should also include what the internal provider requires from its delegates – in terms of participation, input and behaviours – together with the consequences for a delegate who chooses not to meet this level of expectation.

Such an agreement should have been agreed across the business at senior management level – and so it is then easy for a trainer to use and implement without fear of having overstepped the mark. Transparency for all concerned.

And as a consequence, those who want to be there and want to learn can do so.

3. Finally, the person’s post on the forum indicates that this course has been delivered previously. What evaluation data has been generated?  And I don’t mean end of course or Level 1 data – I mean Level 3 or above, good quality data.  How is it improving the performance of those who are attending? How have previous delegates been able to use what they have learned? How is the course improving organisational performance?  What is the organisation’s return on its investment?

This information should be gathered from the delegates between 2 and 4 months after the completion of the programme. Both the quantitative and qualitative information can then be used by the trainer to illustrate what delegates can gain from attending – thus also demonstrating the overall value of the internal learning and development function to the business.

I have to say, I really feel for the trainer. I’ve been in that position and it’s not a lot of fun. Here is a trainer wanting to deliver a quality product, but some of the delegates are apparently thwarting his or her efforts.

And I get the impression that perhaps in this situation they are not been sufficiently supported by their learning and development management. The activities I have outlined above would both assist the trainer and probably make their role more enjoyable – and, above all, benefit the business.


Misleading Matters

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

I was having a lovely email exchange with a person yesterday who has recently moved into learning and development management. She was explaining how she now needed to be more strategic, she has real plans for her company and she was so passionate about what she wanted to achieve. It was an inspiring exchange!

It started me thinking about if I was in such a position again. If I wanted to develop a culture that was as performance focused as possible and able to demonstrate how it added quantifiable value to the organisation, what are the words or phrases that would most hinder that culture shift, and what would I seek to replace them with? How could I demonstrate clarity of direction? Here are my top five:

Training Manager – that would be the first one to go. For me, the title signifies that the post-holder is purely focussed on what happens whilst a delegate is attending a course or undertaking an e-learning package. I’d want to be the Learning and Development Manager – or even the Performance Improvement Manager – thus signifying that I have a proactive interest in engaging with the managers and delegates pre and post event, and ascertaining the value of our contribution.

Abstraction – So often I used to be told at meetings that training was an abstraction, and the person making the judgment argued they couldn’t afford such an abstraction (in some companies the word ‘overhead’ is also used). I would immediately retort – sometimes interrupting the person, especially if they didn’t get the message the first time – that the learning and development that I managed and delivered was an investment (not an abstraction). If people get used to referring to your activities as an abstraction, the activities have the potential to become so. Take the opportunity to change the culture and make people think differently about what you are doing.  Eventually others will call it an investment, and then you know the culture can change and you will be viewed very differently.

Time Management Course – Why advertise that you are going to do something that is clearly impossible? Sailors don’t claim to manage the tides, and weather reporters don’t claim to manage the weather – we may wonder what planet they were coming from if they did. So what reasons do trainers and training managers have for claiming they can help people manage time?  We know what the tides will do, and can see and feel (and predict to some degree) the weather, so we manage ourselves accordingly. The same goes for time. Call such events Task Management or Task Prioritisation Courses – you will be surprised how differently people think about the event from the outset, because you are being clear about what will be achieved. Have a look at all your offerings – do they really do what they say on the tin?

Problem Person – I have often been faced with someone seeking assistance as they have a ‘Problem Person’ to deal with.  I bet Carl Rogers turns in his grave every time he hears this. If people are viewed in this way, they will potentially always be a problem. Such an individual is a person. A person who has a problem – a problem which you may well be able to assist them with. Where the manager thinks they have a ‘Problem Person’ they will more than likely become one.

Can you organise a (whatever) skills course, please? – The answer to this is ‘No’ – well not on this information, anyway. Operational managers are busy people and also may not be aware of all the ways that development needs can be met. You need to find out more – a lot more … how was the need identified, how many people does it apply to, how do we know it applies to all of them, why do all of them need it, what opportunities will there be for all these people to use the new skill, and so on. Get to the heart of the matter. You will receive so many ill-defined needs – and asking these questions (and others) will help generate a performance improvement partnership between your function and the rest of the organisation. And if you don’t ask the questions, and the learning and development intervention doesn’t work, the operational manager will make it public as to whose fault they think it is – and that will not do your culture shift (or reputation) much good!

So those are my top five – are there any that you would add?


Can training ever be exceptional?

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I saw a question on a forum yesterday that got me thinking. The question was, “I’m interested to know how folk define ‘exceptional training’ – what makes training outstanding, and sets it apart from an everyday training course?”

As a trainer, what have I delivered that has been exceptional? I can think of many sessions that I have been pleased with, and that have gone better than others that I have delivered. I can also think of ones that I have thought have been very powerful in the learning that has been generated for the delegates. But I don’t think any of that necessarily makes them ‘exceptional’.

Then I considered what training I had attended that had been exceptional. What came to mind was not training that had been exceptional, but exceptional learning that I had taken from sessions or courses – and the two, I think, are completely different.

For training to be exceptional (if, in fact, it can be) it will depend upon how the delegates respond to it – and not necessarily whilst they are experiencing it, but how they respond back in their workplaces and lives in the weeks, months and years to come.

For example, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Work Foundation’s Runge Effective Leadership Programme about 10 years ago. There was a session on how to create a Vision for a Company or Department. I cannot remember the name or much about the man who delivered the session. It wasn’t a particularly innovative or interactive session, and at the end of the one-week Programme it wasn’t in my ‘top three’ of the sessions I had attended. When I look back on it, however, I realise how valuable it was to me and how much I have used it since. It has been a foundation, a starting point, for many of my successes since then. But I really couldn’t class it as exceptional training.

Which supports my view that only delegates can really say whether such experiences are exceptional, and they can only really do that further down the line. Perhaps there can be ‘exceptional learning’?

So as a starting point in trying to answer the original question how about this – exceptional learning occurs when 100% of the full cost of the learning event is recovered within 12 months of the event – in other words, the person or company acquires a full return on its investment (ROI) within that time frame. I think that could then be classed as ‘exceptional’.

The first step in seeking to achieve this is for trainers to stop thinking of themselves as trainers, but to think of themselves as Performance Improvers – who can play their part in achieving such improvements by effective training methodologies. By reframing their role, their thought processes are likely to have a greater focus on how they create exceptional performance improvements – which then brings the realisation that it is as much about the part the delegates play as the trainer.

It includes getting the right people on the right events in the first place, and motivating and developing them once they get back to the workplace.

The trainer – or Performance Improver – plays their important part in such achievements, but others also have very important parts. And all must play their parts well to achieve exceptional learning.

Unless, of course, you think differently?


Who’s giving training a bad name?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

I sometimes wonder how people are appointed to positions as trainers. Do some organisations see it as a position that people are moved if they might be good at it, and are then left to get on with it – without any training or support? Do businesses think training is such a waste of time that they just employ anyone in the position? Whatever the reason, there appear to be too many companies or trainers giving training a bad name.

I see requests for assistance from trainers on various forums, but I’m not sure how they expect people to be able to respond with targeted and focussed suggestions. I’m meaning where people are asking others to suggest methodologies. Here are a couple I have recently seen:

“I have a four-hour workshop to give on presentations skills. I see the same participants the following week and they have to give a five-minute using the information they’ve learned in just four hours. Any recommendations? No technology available for them except for one laptop. They do not have laptops themselves.”

“I work in a manufacturing facility and I am about to conduct management development training for supervisors/managers to teach them more about ‘HR in their jobs’.   Does anyone have any good icebreakers that will compliment this training?”

Do these same people (or organisations) say, “I’m going to buy a car, which one would you recommend?”, or “I’m going on holiday and need a coat – which do you think I should buy?” I think not. So why do it for training?

Trainers asking such questions cannot expect to receive any sort of meaningful advice or assistance. And if they do use what is offered, does the organisation realise how much money it is potentially wasting?  

Let’s say we have 12 people in our group, and each receives a salary of £100 per day. That means with salary on-costs they probably cost their organisation £120 per day. That’s £1,440 in wages for attending a day’s training. Add another £200 for the trainer’s delivery and preparation time, £100 for the administration of getting the people on to the course, £50 for room hire and £10 for photocopying costs – that gives us a total cost of £1,800 for the day. There may also be travel and meal costs, but we’ll leave it at this for the purpose of the exercise.

If we have 6.5 hours contact time, it means that each hour of delivery is costing our organisation approximately £277.00. Or £4.62 per minute.  So a half hour opening exercise comes in at £138.

And if it costs £138 it needs to be focussed – not focussed on the ideas of others who have no knowledge of the organisation, but focussed on operational effectiveness, focussed or organisational goals, focussed on delegate needs and focussed on extracting a return on the investment. Effective evaluation.

As effective trainers know, evaluation starts at the planning stage. An evaluation of the needs of the attendees and the organisation. Once a Training Needs Analysis of some sort has been undertaken, planning, validation, delivery and further evaluation follow. This evaluation can show the organisational and operational improvements that have been achieved as a result of the training. Very satisfying, and likely to lead to the increased credibility of the trainers and L&D function.

Training people effectively is costly. Training people ineffectively is even more costly as we reduce (or fail to get any) the return on the investment.

Or have I got it all wrong?


Work like an Egyptian

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

She looked surprised at the question, slightly confused. “It’s our Square, so it’s our responsibility to clean it”. She paused, and looked quizzically at the reporter. She continued, holding her sweeping brush, “We made it untidy so we have to clean it.” The young woman was standing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square late on Saturday evening. The celebrations of having forced Mubarak to resign had developed into the sense of responsibility for ownership of the Square that had been the focus of the world’s attention over the past couple of weeks. There were families there each equipped with cleaning equipment and rubbish bags. Other people were replacing the cobbles that Egyptians had recently been hurling at each other.  I found it very powerful television.

Less powerful – and rather concerning – was the report in yesterday’s Times newspaper (12 February 2011) regarding the EU and how it spends its money.  According to research by the Open Europe think-tank, last year Eurocrats and MEPs spent €274m on travel costs and allowances to visit overseas nations.  That’s more than €1m per working day – on purely travel and associated allowances. That’s a huge amount for one year. It would be interesting to hear some of them explain the return we as EU citizens have gained from their investment. This total included, for example, €55,000 for seven MEPs to undertake a two-day trip to the Seychelles. The think-tank’s research pointed out that this total was more than the EU spent on food aid over the same period – this humanitarian budget only contained €237m.

Perhaps the EU has lost focus on what it should be seeking to achieve with its financial muscle – a little like British society apparently has. ‘Call me Dave’ continues to talk up his ‘Big Society’ in an attempt to address this issue.  In simplistic terms, my understanding of the ‘Big Society’ is helping people to help each other to take responsibility for themselves and their communities rather than relying on the state. Whilst many people support this idea (and long before it was labelled ‘Big Society’), the culture of our nation has become very financially and materialistically based – thus making such a concept very difficult to achieve. But it would be a wonderful place to get to.

I was at the Manchester United v Manchester City ‘local derby’ football match yesterday, and experienced the euphoria of Rooney’s spectacular goal and United winning the match. The place was rocking and no-one had any troubles, everyone was smiling. That was only a football match. I considered how many times greater the euphoria must be for the Egyptians in central Cairo? The euphoria of the derby win has almost passed. That experienced by the Egyptians will last a while longer, but there will undoubtedly be more difficult and challenging times ahead – there always are when a country attempts to make such a seismic cultural change from dictatorship to democracy.  Achieving the ‘Big Society’ may register slightly less on the Richter Magnitude Scale than the proposed Egyptian cultural shift, but they will both be very challenging.

I really hope that the Egyptian people’s hope and belief lasts, and that MEPs and Eurocrats spend a little more time on the ground here in the EU proposing how they can use some of their travel money to support the Egyptians. The woman with the sweeping brush in Tahrir Square demonstrated a really clear understanding of a ‘big Society’ and – perhaps tellingly for us here in Britain – seemed a little confused that such responsibility wasn’t obvious to all.

Her words, and how she said them, will stay with me for a long time.


Deliver Outcomes, not Outputs

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Where at all possible, I try and steer clear of discussing governmental politics. This is because I don’t really want to be perceived to have particular party allegiances. But rules, as with policies and directions from Sat-navs, are there to be broken where there is good reason – they exist to provide effective guidance for the majority of situations as opposed to the answer for all situations.

I am very interested by the Business Plans that the ruling coalition has published this week (I feel like a very sad person as I write that, but please bear with me …).  It’s the approach behind some of the Plans that I find particularly interesting.

When the coalition first came to power, they talked about financially rewarding private contractors for ‘housing’ prisoners and stopping them reoffending – whereas currently they are paid for merely ‘housing’ them for the duration of their sentences.  As someone who is very keen on the use of outcomes rather than outputs, I found this very refreshing.

More detail on this approach has now been published – it is within the Ministry of Justice Business Plan which was published last Monday. The first two objectives within that particular Business Plan are:

1.1 Develop an overall strategy for the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ for adults and youths, including paying local private and voluntary organisations by results.

1.2 Introduce payment by results schemes, working with local, voluntary and private sector organisations that specialise in the rehabilitation of offenders.

I am interested in this approach as I believe that society as a whole should move more towards an outcome focussed approach to business. This is particularly true of learning and development providers – and clients.

If a client seeks and purchases a course, event or programme to address a particular area or aspect of business, it is likely that it will be delivered and there may well be a short end of event questionnaire. It is rare, in my experience, that there is much further evaluation of the benefits of the event.

So, how about the client publicises the issues or skills they require addressing on the event and these are then quantified into measurable outcomes (not outputs).  The provider who then gains the contract only gets paid once these targets have been achieved – perhaps 6 months after the event. The probable consequences would include:

  • A greater focus on outcomes as opposed to outputs.
  • Only providers who have confidence in their abilities bidding for the contract.
  • Clients ensuring and demonstrating value for their money.
  • Far greater interest by clients, providers and delegates’ line managers as to how the learning is put into practice in the workplace.

Who wouldn’t want these consequences?

So why does this approach generally not happen at the moment?


Organisational maturity

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

As we leave September and the nights grow longer here in the UK, many organisations are awaiting the Spending Review due to be published on 20 October. I was at a Business Link event last week and this was one of the main topics of conversations. There is understandably much concern and trepidation around due to the potential impact of the spending cuts.

As you will have seen from the news, many public sector organisations are already starting to make cuts in spending and people resources due to their reduction in finances. Many private sector organisations have been undertaking this for some months already.

So what are you doing to start working more efficiently and effectively? We will need to do this in order to soften the blow of any cuts. I also believe that we all have a responsibility to do this. And don’t underestimate how much you can save. A 2007 survey by the Proudfoot Consulting (Guardian 22 October 2007) covering 2,500 businesses over four years and across 38 countries, demonstrated that the cost of wasted time to UK businesses is £80bn per year, equivalent to 7% of its Gross Domestic Product. The ‘worst offender’ causes of inefficiency were found to be:

  • Inadequate workforce supervision (31%)
  • Poor management planning (30%)
  • Poor communication (18%)
  • IT problems, low morale, and lack or mismatch of skills (21%)

Recently I delivered a Leadership and Management Programme within an organisation. It took place on a number of days over a period of 4 months. It was great fun and I was a little sad when it ended as I had developed some lovely relationships with many of the very keen and talented delegates.

At the end of the Programme, the delegates delivered presentations as to what they had learning and, most importantly, how it was making a difference in their workplaces. Where possible, I assisted them to convert their achievements into cash or efficiency savings.  

One person explained how they had stopped staff from coming to the line managers and asking questions (unless business critical) and as an alternative the managers held ‘surgeries’ for such questions three times a day. This saved on the time of all concerned and allowed for more uninterrupted work. A by-product of this was that staff then started to sort out their own minor problems, thus saving even more time. Over the period of a year, based on the finding of the first month, they were due to make over £15,000 of efficiency savings due to the time they were saving.

One saving I have always been keen to make is through not having ‘Any Other Business’ on meeting agendas. If you have 10 people attending a meeting, and all work for £16 per hour (including on-costs), every 15 minutes of the meeting costs the organisation 2.5 hours staff time or £40. By cutting the AOB section, it means that people have to plan more effectively for what they want in the meeting, other delegates can plan for the item and the Chair can make the meeting more focussed.

And all these activities have knock-on effects that can help to develop a more mature organisational culture. The surgeries example has led to staff sorting out their own issues and therefore thinking for themselves more effectively, which will create a more Adult and self-sufficient environment. Losing the AOB means that staff start to plan more effectively, and this skill will then be transferred elsewhere. So, the increased efficiency leads to increased effectiveness.

So, as I said earlier, what are you doing to work more efficiently and effectively? Or, more pointedly, what changes will you introduce this week?

Please let me know – I’d be really interested to hear other ideas.


Reducing the cost of Training Rooms

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

The sun is shining and I’m in a field in Northamptonshire – Elkington to be exact. Having said that, I’ll not be in the field when you read this as I have no internet access here and so ‘publication’ will have to wait. I’m at the Battlefield Trec with Peta and Sasha (and Sam and Joker).

The Trec is presumably named after the Battle that, according to my map, took place near here in 1645. My lack of detailed knowledge of English history and – more importantly – no internet access prevent me from imparting further detail.

A Trec, in short, is a challenge for horses and riders in orienteering and agility skills and they take place all over the UK. On one day horse and rider enjoy a 20 – 50km ride (dependent upon your level) where they pick up points for interpreting the map clues correctly and completing the ride within the set timescales. On the other day, they undertake a sort of obstacle course and are timed on how effectively the horses can undertake walking and cantering – technically referred to as ‘Control of Paces’. I go as a helper, gofer and driver – and have increased my repertoire of skills this weekend by doing some judging.

What made this Trec different to any of the others that I have attended was the provision of a training session for people who wanted to learn more about moving up a level. If you move up a level you go on a longer orienteering ride and the clues are more difficult.

The training session was in a barn. You took your own chair, your own paper, your own refreshments and your own writing implements. No free pens bearing a sponsor’s name, no sweets to eat (or take home to the kids!). The air-conditioning was determined by the gap in the barn door. But all the delegates were enthusiastic and willing to learn. What would you prefer – a posh venue with delegates who do not particularly want to be there, or keen and participative delegates at a Village Hall? 

This venue reminded me of various discussions I had seen and heard in the previous week relating to perceived links between the quality of a venue and how this can improve the quality of learning. One person had asked the question on a forum and there were various responses, including one person listing their Top 21 tips for an effective training room.  Another person in another discussion was quite effervescent in their enthusiasm for the use of good quality learning facilities and the many benefits they bring with them – they did at least have the openness to point out that their role was to hire out such facilities. The return on the investment is difficult to quantify – if in fact there is any.

But hiring facilities is an expensive business.  And if you or your organisation is looking to save money at the moment it is an area that you could target with surprisingly good results. 

Every day there will be training and meeting rooms near you sitting empty, and every day – again near you – your organisation or other people will be hiring such facilities. These people need to be brought together. 

I have done this previously by getting together with similar organisations and creating a ‘currency’ for the use of a classroom or a spare place on a corporate course. First it needs some alternative thinking – in a similar way to the Universities when they decided to hire out their accommodation during student holiday time.  It also takes a bit of setting up as you need to decide on full or partial cost recovery and may need to involve your Finance people to keep them on side, but it’s do-able.  And not only does it save money, it cements effective helping relationships and can bring in different ideas by having delegates from other organisations. 

Try it – there are great gains to be made, and not just financial ones. If you want any more information about how I went about it, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll happily supply you with more information. 


P.S. (added after returning from Elkington) Peta, Sam and the horses came second overall in their level with their highest ever score, so they were very happy!

Is ‘e hurt, man?

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Well, it certainly looked like he was hurting to me. He looked like he could hardly stand up, never mind play tennis. I’m referring to John Isner the American tennis player, one half of the record breaking duo (the other being France’s Nicolas Mahut) whose final set at Wimbledon yesterday went to 59-59 in games before bad light forced a break in proceedings. And it has already broken so many records – longest match ever (10 hours) most aces in a match (193) – and there are more, but I’ll stop there.  All those record breaking outputs, but they will lead to only one outcome (hopefully later today) which will be one of them winning the match. And that is what will be recorded in the competition.

As a trainer, I know that I have been too interested in outputs in the past, and I now see trainers who are too focussed on them. I understand that it can be difficult to see beyond the session or course itself as we care passionately about what we do and get very involved in it. I know it’s great to come up with an inspirational methodology, a role play that explores the affective domain or a great set of PowerPoint slides. But these are all outputs. We need to focus on the outcome. By increasing our focus on the outcome, the methodology becomes more meaningful and business orientated.

When one of the players was interviewed when leaving the court yesterday evening he said, “I’ll be interested to see the stats.” Again, as trainers, we are interested in “the stats” we usually get at the conclusion of any session or course – normally provided through some sort of evaluation questionnaire. We need to move beyond this, too.

What we should really be interested in is our delegates’ (and their managers) responses to the statement, “As a result of this learning event, I have (they have) improved my (their) performance within the workplace.” Followed by, “This is evidenced by …”. If this question is posed to delegates 3 months after the event, I would expect effective delivery to achieve at least 85% agreeing with this statement. Anything less and there are potentially issues with the event, the people being nominated for it or the post-event support delegates are receiving in the workplace. That is a true outcome, one which is meaningful to the organisation and one which enables the trainer to really demonstrate their worth. It also starts the process of examining and quantifying the return on the investment for the event (ROI).  Essential in the current economic climate.

How can you make your events or your trainers’ events more outcome focussed? What can managers do to ensure that their events are delivering meaningful outcomes? I’d be interested in your views – or the views of delegates.

Oh, and the title of this post? It’s an anagram of the two players’ names. Well, you have to find something to do when watching a 118 game final set of a tennis match …