A survey for the Industrial Society at the end of last year found that training budgets are underspent by 17 per cent.
This is surprising since it is accepted commercial wisdom that internal staff development and promotion is more cost-effective than external recruitment, for certain managerial levels.
Too often training is still something which employers offer begrudgingly, as if it equates to too many days off, and only rarely provides clear and quantifiable benefits for the individual and the company.
Training organisations which can point to a tangible link between staff development and company performance are in the strongest position. Nick Short, director of sales and marketing training company Hemmingway Executive Development, recognises that training is only one possible route towards a company’s objectives. And, as with advertising, the limited visibility of any impact on the bottom line makes training a soft target.
“It’s vital to understand clients’ business strategies,” he says. “Any training must be seen to be relevant to the company and the delegate.”
This depth of understanding means that at times the training company acts more like a general business consultancy. “A client may ask us, ‘What is six per cent growth next year going to look like?’ The answer could be new product development, extending the distribution base – or retraining of personnel,” explains Short.
Part of the problem is that clients are often looking for quick fixes. Offering a money-back guarantee if a programme’s objectives are not met does help, according to Short. This check is formalised through a follow-up session which measures achievements against objectives, with the option of reinforcement if necessary.
But with larger clients, one of the barriers to the wider and better use of training is the way that different parts of the company management have different objectives.
While human resources departments tend to talk about competencies and behaviours, sales and marketing directors will have their eyes set firmly on results for the company. Any training programme has to combine both types of aim, says Short.
As a major provider of training and education within its field, the Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM) is aware of company attitudes towards employee development. “The problem I find is that a lot of managers look at training as a tick-box activity. They never think through the cost of the course for each delegate and the return on this expense,” says Jill Hancock, in-company training director at the IDM.
But where the company does start to link training to results, the value of pre- and post-course evaluation becomes clear, says Hancock. Pre-course evaluation translates corporate and business objectives into training aims. Post-course evaluation at the IDM follows the “Kirkpatrick Model”, with different tiers of assessment at different times after the end of the course.
So-called “happy sheets”, the graded forms that delegates fill in at the end of their training, constitute the first stage. But the IDM sees its second level of assessment, some four weeks later, as being more revealing. This measures how much the training has been used in the delegate’s job.
Further evaluation can take place four to six months after a course, to gauge the impact on business performance, and the final stage measures attitudinal changes.
The IDM stresses the importance of continuity in training, and is not the first institution to use the phrase “life-long learning”. But there is a general move to make training far more of a long-term, planned contribution to the development of the company and the individual.
The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), which claims to be Europe’s largest marketing training organisation, is planning to introduce what it calls its “New Way of Training for the New Millennium”.
This initiative will be phased in over the coming year, and will be fully integrated into the institute’s October 1999 training prospectus. “We are moving away from offering simple training products and aiming to provide the individual with a full training service,” explains training operations manager David Thorp.
This means that individuals will be offered the opportunity to trace out a training path which corresponds with their career ambitions. It also goes much further than the piecemeal accumulation of random one-day sessions that so often passes for training. But this approach also allows for much greater support outside the classroom.
In all fields of education and training, the importance of consolidation and the practical reworking of acquired theory has long been recognised. Now the CIM is taking steps to ensure that every delegate nominates a senior colleague in his or her organisation to monitor progress in applying new skills.
Part of the new emphasis on building a closer relationship with all CIM delegates will be an increased role for formal “mentoring”. This reflects the responsibilities of the institute, says Thorp, as a professional organisation as well as a training enterprise.
Key stages in the CIM training programme remain the Certificate in Marketing Practice and the Advanced Certificate in Management Practice. The rising expectations of employers and the tendency to select higher calibre applicants, with more responsibility being delegated sooner, has meant that organisations such as the CIM have had to cover more ground in their training, even at the lower levels.
“Companies do increasingly expect their pound of flesh from the people who work for them. The modern day entrant has to have a good grounding in a whole range of areas,” says Thorp.
The CIM approach tends to be practical, throwing delegates in at the deep end with case studies and problem solving. Thorp recognises the growing potential of training over computer networks, and makes clear the institute’s resolve to become active in this type of high-volume training as well as low-volume intensive programmes.
But the traditional interactive classroom format offers undeniable advantages. “Groups in syndicate sessions will not always gel as individuals, and that’s when things can start to spark,” he enthuses. “Some very interesting work can come out of this sort of situation.”
Some professional associations are looking beyond the parochial interests of sector-specific qualifications, and seeking to create their own programmes which go much further towards integrating with other marketing fields. This approach is, they argue, a much more faithful representation of the way these related disciplines interact in real life.
The Sales Promotion Consultants Association (SPCA) represents 62 consultancies within the promotional marketing sector. As deputy chairman Clive Mishon points out, training budgets are one of the first casualties of any recession, and the last was no exception.
But for the purposes of recruitment, a field such as promotional marketing does not enjoy the same high-profile and dynamic image of, say, advertising. So the carrot of effective in-service training can make a significant difference when attracting new arrivals, either at the graduate “milk round” jump-off point or at a later stage.
To help make the best use of new and available talent, the SPCA has agreed a code of practice with recruitment consultants. The code, which aims to circulate skills from agency to agency, but also to attract new practitioners, lays great emphasis on the number of professional qualifications and the amount of in-service training that each individual has under their belt.
The association’s own findings suggest that, in the current climate, the quality of specialist training and development programmes overtakes even salary expectations when graduates are choosing a career direction. As Mishon makes clear, the kind of training that will attract graduates in particular is one which, far from shutting practitioners into a single role, gives them the basis of a fully-fledged career, and opens the most doors for future development.
The Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP) Diploma already serves the industry well as a basic requirement for practitioners entering the promotional field. “But the interests of our members cover more than just sales promotion,” Mishon explains. “Right now the SPCA is looking at developing an integrated training programme, probably for 1999. This will link with other related fields such as direct marketing, advertising and sponsorship.”
Agency staff are expected to benefit from these courses which will focus on skills such as negotiation, creative briefing and print production.
If training is tending to integrate skills from different marketing disciplines, it is also increasingly expected to keep the sales function and the marketing function in step. This was the case with a programme provided by the Chiltern Consultancy International for Black & Decker.
“It meant taking marketing teams through the concepts and methodology employed by the sales teams, so they were applying the same thinking and approach to the customer,” explains managing director Keith Francis. This in turn reflects the relationship selling model which has supplanted the mythologies of “old selling”, says Francis.
Key training areas within the relationship selling/marketing approach, says Francis, have been how Black & Decker’s customers run their businesses, how they view the supplier and what their expectations are from the company. The marketing team benefits from understanding how its pricing or product development policies, for example, can affect customer accounts. Consistency of approach to the customer, whether from sales or marketing departments, is at the heart of this strategy. The whole company should “sell”, says Francis, and not simply the relevant account manager.
Training opportunities are being increasingly scrutinised by entrants to the marketing professions.
The value of this training remains much clearer to many of the individuals participating in it than it is for the companies which employ them. But as training organisations tighten up on their ability to demonstrate how programmes can feed through directly into results, that reluctance to invest in training appears to be on the wane.