Dec 22, 2004

The Challenges for Training & Learning

If there is one part of HR that seems constantly under question for its “ROI” potential, credibility or plain effectiveness it is what is usually known as “Training” – or in the new world as “Learning”, “Management Development” etc.

The reasons for the questions are not difficult to spot.

Training is the only group in HR that actually spends hard cash externally, as opposed to Recruitment or Compensation and Benefits that spend it as salaries. Once people see rupees flowing out of the organizational kitty, they are quick to question the ‘effectiveness’ of these trainings.

The training folks in organizations, haven’t actually covered themselves in laurels when it comes to their work.

The reasons for these are varied. Here is my diagnosis of the reasons:

Training is usually organized as a monolithic sub-function within HR and is junior staffed. This usually means a fresh graduate gets the fancy title of “training asst manager” or some such designation and becomes a gopher for meeting various training requests.
Why a training is being asked for?
What skills/competency gaps will it fill?
What is the follow up program for that training ?
Questions like these are scarcely asked.

Metrics used to measure training are usually uni-dimensional. Lacking either content expertise or process expertise, the training dept/person is measured by the HR head on factors like :
Number of training programs conducted
Satisfaction ratings
Number of people trained
Number of training days conducted per employee etc
Budget variations to plan

With the result, that the training department/person essentially is trying to meet these metrics. As you might have noticed none of these metrics even talk about linkage of training to business needs or outcomes. Any wonder why training fails to link up strategically.

Different groups need to own different parts of training. Content expertise for example resides in the various groups. The training group needs to turn facilitator and help these groups discover their own knowledge and learnings. The role that training needs to play is less of ‘content provider’ and more of standard settings and inculcating similar language across various organizational silos.

Training also needs to engage with various groups to help them to share learnings that are localized, across the organizations.

At a horizontal level, training needs to work with business and identify developmental areas of various levels to meet current and emerging business needs.
By doing that training will need to do a role that even HR is struggling in most organizations. i.e. linking to strategic business needs. That can happen best when training is led by someone who has been in business or can demonstrate in depth understanding.

The path for Training to become strategic

To uncover the way to become strategic training groups need to start doing the following:

Ask questions : Most training people are so ‘task focused’ that they do not seem to be able to ask “why am I doing this?” “How will this impact my firm’s bottomline?” If they do not think about ROI, others will think it for them
Think numbers : Training professionals need to think about a new set of metrics that focus more on effectiveness and less on efficiency. They have to rise from Kirkpatrick’s level 1 to level 3 and 4.
Realise that learning is more than training: Let’s face it. Face to face, classroom training probably accounts for less than 30% of what a person actually learns in an organization. Trainers, have to start thinking how factors like supervisor and management support will help in learning, how they will help in applying concepts learnt to increase workplace productivity. Attending training programs should not be the end, increasing workplace productivity should be
Involve line managers: Training professionals should involve line managers to actually be responsible for their employees trainings and where possible they should actually conduct the training themselves. Outsourcing training might help in the short term, but does not pass organizational culture along.
Transparency: People who are getting trained need to understand the larger context of where the training fits in with organizational strategy. Their managers and training professionals need to paint the whole picture to help them understand and communicate it to them.
New skills: Trainers themselves should pick up new skills like business and financial skills and not be just event managers. They need to understand the linkages between knowledge, learning and performance to figure out how they can add value to the organization.

What do you think?


  1. My comments on this from the perspective of online education for legal aid (public interest civil lawyers) training is here:

  2. I have been trying to relate my own industrial and military experience to your training perspectives.I'm sure enjoying it!helps me to have a current think and vocab !thanks you are helping me no end
    keep thinking

  3. Hi Gautam,

    Your article is awesome, there is sufficient information to understand the topic.
    Thanks for this article, i like it.

  4. I believe that Learning & Development should be a stand alone department or come under the purview of business operations rather than HR.
    Traditional HR itself faces a lot of credibility issues as the nature of work is majorly administrative. many large companies have come up with the CLO title and it remains to be seen how much weightage they carry in the boardroom, especially in india
    I fully endorse the involvement of line managers so much so that their team development efforts should carry a weight-age equivalent to their financial targets. Learning has to be decentralized and liberated from the classroom and ingrained into the culture.
    The biggest hurdle is that mandate has to come from the very top and while Cxo's go overboard with 'people are our greatest asset', the ground reality focuses too much on getting numbers, many a times using myopic measures. Unless the top guys are willing to stick their necks out and willing to overlook a quarter or two to set their house in order, I don't see much change.

    while concepts like ROI have been created, I don't see any of them actually being of any practical value. Rather they are complicated. time consuming and costly affairs. Kirkpatrick himself believes that the 4th level covers ROI and there is no separate need. They have come up with ROE ( Return on Expectations) which seems simpler and practical.

    Another huge challenge as you highlighted is that quality of talent that gets to handle this department. This also takes away from the credibility L&D needs. Certainly, a respected performer with the attitude and aptitude for developing others should be heading this profile.

    From what I have seen in my years in consulting is that the BD guy will prescribe training for every problem from leaky roof to attrition. this creates unrealistic expectations in the mind of the decision makers and invariably sets the whole exercise to fail. A two day program would be conducted in some 5 star and the success of the program would be judged by the smile sheets. and we all know smile sheets are more about the air conditioning, the menu and quality of the trainers jokes than anything else. The program would be deemed a sucess and the 'case study' would be pitched in the consultants brochure. The training department would have added another spreadsheet in its database and it would be forgotten