Get Your Paws Off My Training Budget

Don’t you wish you could say that? Don’t you wish leadership could understand and value the contribution that your training department makes? Don’t you wish that justifying your existence did not become a distraction to your departmental mission and divert precious time and resources away from being productive? Why can’t they see it?

Why is it that in every organization I’ve worked for…or with…they ask these same questions? Now that’s a good question, and it is likely the one whose answer holds the key to protecting budgets and avoiding reduction in staff. In truth (…and that would be my truth), asking these things about what leadership does or doesn’t understand is a deflection away from the true source of budget and staffing angst. What value are you bringing to the organization? Maybe the better question is, “To whom is your value most valuable?”

The way we learn has changed. I read this statement in the eLearning Technology blog this morning in a graphic illustration that captured rich thoughts at the recent ISA Learning Think Tank 3×3’s. Has it really? Has the way we learn changed, or are we, as learning professionals, finally coming around to aligning a better way to learn with how people need and want to learn? I’m only smart enough to have an opinion on this, but that may be enough to stimulate a dialog that gets us to an answer. Methinks we’re recognizing that what is driving outcomes…is about the learner…not the learning. And not just the learner in an academic-feed-me-knowledge-to-make-me-smarter sense, but the learner who is confronted with moments of learning need in the context of their work.

Here’s the opinion part – If we have not yet shifted learning opportunities closer to the actual point of work, then we deserve every penny of decreased funding that is slashed out of our training budgets. Strong opinion? Absolutely! It needs to be strong. It needs to be strong enough to generate some momentum of change within our approach to learning in the organization. The organization does not need to change; the training department does! There needs to be a “re-invention“, and in some cases, a “re-branding” of the training department’s value proposition. Why else would so many change their names to the Learning & Development Department? “Training” has been stricken from the vocab.

A visible and tangible shift needs to occur within the training function toward creating sustained capability – not just stellar level 1 evaluations. Will training remain a part in that shift? Certainly it will, but it will be different in application, and it will be shaped by a learning continuum that is definable in simple concept, but unique to each knowledge worker’s (learner’s) work context. Training organizations must be equipped with the competencies and methodologies to service a continuous learning environment, and that sounds like a break with tradition to me. Sounds like change. Sounds like new thinking too.

Is it “re-invention”? That’s my word of choice. And yes it is. And it has to be more than jargon and marketing spin. There needs to be a substantive re-focus on holistic discovery that embraces the work context of the learner not just their knowledge and skill requirements. That implies a different or an expanded skill set for many instructional designers. Those skills are outside of the traditional ADDIE mindset. The work context is foreign thinking to many designers because their predisposed target for training solutions are either in the classroom or on-line…or a blend of both. Neither of those destinations have anything to do with where the learner works. And where people are working is more often where and when they need to learn. Call it “just-in-time” or performer support; either way the design approach is a contradiction to traditional linear design models.

The “re-branding” effort is also a requirement if senior leadership is going to recognize that the value proposition is indeed rich with the value proposed. While that smacks of a marketing effort (a.k.a. distraction from mission), I beg to differ. I think it IS a critical part of the mission! And if the learning deliverable renders sustained capability there will be resonance within the ranks of leadership with minimal extra effort.

The primary objective is to “(re)-brand” the training department into a strategic asset in the eyes of leadership – and as a reliable source of performance improvement in the eyes of your stakeholder population. Be positioned to get the “first call” when there is a performance challenge, and become known as a driver of results versus the traditional role of order-taker – or worse – cost center.

Your efforts must show a return – no, not the dreaded ROI – consider instead the Return on Learning Solutions (ROLS). This is not new news – I’m merely suggesting proactive communication of Level 3&4 evaluation results. You have to go there, because it’s not always about the “clear” justifiable financial return needed for true ROI. I mean really…what’s the latest dollar valuation of impacting learning through implementation of a collaborative social networking solution? No bean counter I know is going to buy into any of the soft dollar stuff you throw down as proof. Forget ROI on that venue…better the effort spent on a new LMS or something that has buttons and flashing lights.

So…how have you re-invented and/or re-branded your training efforts?

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise