How to ensure training improves your bottom line

How to ensure training improves your bottom line

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review (October 2016 edition) titled ‘Why leadership training fails – and what to do about it’. The inference was that training fails to improve the bottom line, so naturally I was quite interested and was ready to defend my profession should I not agree with the article summary!


When I first started my career training accountants and lawyers many years ago, the idea that most of the time it fails to deliver a return on investment would have felt like a dagger through the heart.


After all, I would (and still do!) put a tremendous amount of time and effort into defining learning outcomes, designing and writing material and collating and analysing feedback and actions. And of course, actually doing the training! Delivering with as much energy, passion, enthusiasm, confidence and authority as you can, for countless hours, to audiences of varying levels of engagement. It can be a tough gig at times….


Yet here is an authoritive source telling me that all this has counted for nothing? That the vast majority of the knowledge, skills, behaviours, war stories, case studies and experience based wisdom that I’ve delivered time and time again actually made little difference?


The thing is, if we are talking about ‘training’ in isolation then we whole heartedly agree….and have been telling our clients and contacts this for a long time!


Unless training and people development is positioned at the core of the professional services firm then there is little chance of a lasting return on investment. Which really means that the equity partners of legal and accounting firms are wasting huge amounts of valuable resources.


Delivered as part of a cohesive plan, training, learning and development can be invaluable and have a massive impact on the bottom line of a firm. Our view is that training just has to be viewed differently by stakeholders, management and delegates. It has to be seen as a core investment.


We see three different levels of ‘training’ impact.


1. Very low to low impact


This is the view of training that, sadly, is held by many management teams and individuals. Generic educational training courses ran by training organisations (or even internal teams) who do not have an absolute understanding of the strategy, values, culture, challenges and required outcomes of the firm. The programmes may be motivational, may have some useful content and may be viewed positively by the delegates and firm. But most of the learning has evaporated by the time the aspiring lawyer or the accountant returns to their desk, and with no action plan or accountability there is no lasting impact.


2. Medium impact


Bespoke programmes based on the competency / capability frameworks of the organisation, or from opinions of management of the required skills and behaviours for success. The programmes focus more on behavioural change than education and include action plans and follow up. However, delegates are left to fight against organisational, process and cultural barriers to deliver any behavioural change successfully….. and in our experience there is only ever one winner here. And it isn’t the individual.


3. High impact


Training, learning and development is at the core of the professional services firm. It is driving growth. The environment has been designed to ensure programmes deliver a return on investment.


Training is an investment – just as purchasing new offices, plant and machinery or software!


Imagine a scenario where a business is investing heavily in new plant and machinery.


The project will have been scoped out, outputs and productivity targets would have been defined, the business will have planned where it is to be placed, how it can run most effectively and what needs to happen to ensure there is a successful return on investment.


Or a roll out of an investment in new software. Substantial research and planning will enable the software to link with other business critical systems, education programmes will ensure the software is embedded and that it creates efficiency or adds value in line with the strategy.


In both these scenarios, the environment supports the investment – so why not use the same approach for your training plan?


Creating the right environment for training to be high impact and generate a return on investment means:


  • It is aligned with the business strategy, values and culture. This means the outcomes, the skills, attitudes and behaviours to be improved have been identified as crucial to deliver success against the business plan.
  • Management and delegates have been involved in the design of the programme.This means that delegates are more engaged with delivering post course behavioural changes, that actions will be supported by management and the right conditions can be created for them to apply learning.
  • Training is linked to performance management and career development.This means there is accountability. Progress against actions and objectives set on courses is included in appraisal meetings and good performance is rewarded. Individuals understand that the programmes will help them grow and build careers, which is a key motivational driver for most.


We often get asked ‘just what do theGrogroup do?’


We are confident that we deliver high impact people development solutions that positively impact the bottom line of professional services firms. We help drive success and growth for our clients, because the ‘stepped’ approach that we take ensures that our solutions are positioned absolutely at the core of the business. Our key steps mean clarifying:


  • What is the business strategy and how well is it understood? We often find that the strategic direction is unclear, or the strategy hasn’t been validated, it is no longer relevant based on the business environment and, most importantly, is not embedded and understood by employees
  • How will any programme help to drive the strategy? What are the key behaviours, skills and experiences that your people need to develop to ensure that the organisation is successful? Is any competency framework aligned with the strategy and the company values? What approach is required?
  • What would you want delegates to do, think and feel differently? 1. Immediately after the programme?; 2. 6 months later; 3. after a year? What are the defined outcomes that the programme has to deliver and what is required to build momentum post programme?
  • How will you measure success? How will you know your return on investment? Accelerated career progression? Better client service? More engaged workforce? More sales? What KPIs and metrics can be set?
  • And the most important….What are the barriers that could stop the programme and on-going change from being successful? And the information generated from this question is more valuable if it is directed at people across all levels of the business.


Common barriers we see are:


  • Senior management don’t work as a team and haven’t committed to a new direction or acknowledged changes in their own behaviours
  • A lack of coordination across business, functions or regions due to poor organisational design and silo development
  • Inadequate leadership time and attention given to talent and succession issues
  • Ingrained ‘this is how we always do it’ culture
  • Performance management and reward systems not linked to required changes


The more progress that is made in clarifying responses to these questions and addressing barriers, the stronger the environment created to enable training to be successful.


So this is what we do – and we love to help our clients navigate through all of these steps.


So ‘training’ certainly can be a waste of money. But take the right approach, create the right environment and training can be one of the best investments any business can make


To find out how to get a return from the investment your firm is dedicating to training and people development please talk to theGrogroup.