The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that roughly 30% of all food produced worldwide is lost or wasted, along with all of the resources (water, fuel, fertilizers, etc.) necessary to get that food to consumers. The statistic brought to mind a compelling advertisement I saw a couple of years ago and got me wondering if we can draw parallels between how we manage food budgets and training investments.
The advertisement was created to make consumers aware of the enormity of the issue. I can’t recall the exact details but I remember the image of a man at a barbeque with a grill full of food. He is moving the food to a serving plate. Every second or third time he bypasses the plate and puts the food directly into a garbage bin. It is through the absurd nature of the act (who would cook dinner only to throw it directly in the garbage?) that makes the advertisement so effective. Its point is that, although we would never dream of wasting food by throwing it directly into the bin, we effectively do just that when we throw out the leftovers three days later. This compelling image was intended to help consumers look at the issue in a new light.
Which brings me to training investments. Like food consumers, no one knowingly makes an expenditure on training their teams with any intent of wasting that investment. And yet, depending on how well we as managers support the training, we are effectively doing so.
Several years ago, James D. Kirkpatrick, consultant, author and trainer, made a presentation at an event hosted by the Canadian Society for Training and Development. He presented a chart depicting the relative contribution to training effectiveness between management support and training quality. He indicated that 25% of a training program’s effectiveness can be attributed to how management positions and introduces the training before the event takes place. A further 50% of effectiveness will be the result of how management follows up and supports the training after the event. According to his presentation, only 25% of training effectiveness can be attributed to the quality of the training itself.
This is not to say that the quality of the training itself is not important. Obviously we want to ensure that the training content and delivery is of the highest quality. Rather, it is speaking to the important role management has in ensuring that participants get the most that they can from the training event. Without this support, Kirkpatrick’s research suggests that, like the food commercial outlined above, we are likely throwing training dollars directly into to the garbage bin.
Here are three things that we can do to get the greatest return from our training dollars in terms of skills adoption and behaviour change.
- Before the Training Takes Place. Introduce the training in context of how it will benefit the participants. What will they learn? Why will this be beneficial? What results should they expect by implementing the new skills? Prepare for the training and provide necessary backup so that attendees can participate fully. Arrange a venue that is suitable for the training purpose.
- During the Training. Although it is not always possible or practical to participate in all training that takes place, make a point of participating fully in training events when it makes sense. Get an advance copy of the training materials and review them carefully. Make notes in the margin of the workbook about examples from the day-to-day lives of the attendees that can help illustrate key points. Participate in the training and avoid sitting at the back of the room eyes glued to the computer or cell phone. Let others speak and avoid dominating the conversation, while making contributions of key points that are not otherwise raised. Network with participants during breaks to get a sense of how they feel about the workshop and the key points they are learning. Be enthusiastic throughout the workshop.
- After the Training. Follow up with participants and assess how clearly they see the relevance of the training to their day-to-day activities. Spend time to see how well they are applying the new skills and constructively provide feedback and coaching where applicable. Identify key behaviours to review in future meetings and provide opportunities to practice new skills (role plays for example) when practical.
No one wants to throw training resources into the waste bin. A good way to prevent this from happening is to recognize and act on our role as managers to support, reinforce and coach new skills and behaviours. We must remember that, in reality, we are not paid for what we do but for what our team does. Therefore it makes sense to do what we can to help our teams to be the best that they can be.
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“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”
– Margaret Fuller
 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations at: http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/