Don’t teach, let them learn

Far from providing a means to ‘jump ship’, training is a major tool in retaining and recruiting staff – but companies must let employees be the driving force behind their own learning. By Martin Croft.

Training is all too often dismissed by both employer and employee alike as a waste of time and money. But nothing could be further from the truth: money spent on training staff should have a direct and positive impact on the bottom line, because well-trained staff not only are able to perform their jobs better, they will also be more motivated and less likely to start looking to jump ship and join another company.

Derek Holder is managing director of the Institute of Direct Marketing, recognised as the premier organisation for training marketers about direct marketing.

Holder admits there is a general belief in many boardrooms that training staff just better equips them to get a job somewhere else. But the research suggests the opposite, he says: “Training is a good retention device. Studies show that companies which invest in training and developing staff are not only going to find it easier to keep them, they will also find it easier to recruit new staff.”

Colm Gibson, learning resources business manager at training company Video Arts, is even more blunt: “Often when it comes to justifying investing in training the answers are wrapped up in phrases such as ‘learning outcomes’ or someone quoting Donald Kirkpatrick. It’s actually less mysterious than that. Spending money on training and developing works best when, like any other business activity, we spend more time asking ourselves ‘What’s the point? What do we want to achieve?'”The next questions should be ‘How do we want our people to behave? What do we want them to think, feel and do?’,” he continues. “Once you have the answers, everything else becomes easier.”

Gibson also makes the telling point that training staff is very like running a marketing campaign: “The rules of segmenting and targeting are as relevant to training as they are to marketing – just look on it as a campaign but instead of marketing products and services, we are marketing ideas, knowledge and skills.”

Board 0n-board
Holder and Gibson, of course, have a vested interest in promoting training and development, as it is what their organisations do: but their belief in the value of training and development are echoed by many senior directors within the marketing industry.

For example, Cormach Moore, client services director at integrated agency Nexus/h says: “The company benefits by having better qualified, informed and motivated staff. The staff benefit from the opportunity to extend and improve their skill base – which ultimately helps them progress up the career ladder and earn more money.”

Obviously, some training courses must be mandatory – health and safety related issues, for example – but these compulsory areas aside, staff cannot simply be ordered to go on training courses – they have to be allowed to have an input into what they study and, where possible, how they learn, Moore argues. At Nexus/h, he says, “the approach on most training is to encourage staff to have an input. We let them know what is available and ask them to think about what may be relevant for them. We often let them suggest training courses they want to attend and then sit down and talk it through to judge whether it will be beneficial to both parties.”

Moore adds: “There is a bit of a misconception that staff resent having to undertake training. Our experience, though, is that as long as the training is relevant, interesting and not forced on them, staff are very keen to do it.”

Nexus/h has participated in the IPA Foundation Certificate programme since its inception some years ago, and is now exploring the next stage of that training programme, namely the Foundation Diploma and MBA.

The agency has found its clients very supportive of its commitment to training, even to the extent of allowing Nexus/h staff to work as “implants” in their offices, allowing them to better understand how clients do their business and what they need from their marketing services agency.

Field marketing company CPM is another example of a firm that invests a considerable sum in recruiting, training and developing them each year.

Learn to Hold On
As CPM board director responsible for human resources Stephanie Rouse, explains, CPM’s ethos is ‘recruit for attitude and train for skill’ – part of a new strategy for training and development introduced in 2006 that she says is already reaping significant rewards. Rouse observes: “The ‘get, grow, keep’ strategy works on the principle that every employee can clearly see what CPM offers them, from initial contact right through their career. Similarly, CPM makes it very clear what is expected in return.”

Each employee is expected to work with their line manager to develop a personal training plan, and employees are encouraged to seek the training they need to reach the required performance standard.

But Rouse stresses that development within CPM is not just focused on marketing skills. All•staff, • including board directors, are encouraged to seek training in this way.

The point that both Nexus/h and CPM make – that staff must be involved in creating their own training and development programmes – is one that training experts heartily endorse. Bernie Forde, a director of Jayne Forde Ltd, a specialist corporate training and development firm, argues staff must participate if management want to see some benefits from their investment.

Forde says: “Companies that engage their people in the decisions about how they will be developed will reap far greater rewards than those who don’t. Talk to them about how you would like to see them develop. More importantly, listen to what they have to say about it. If you want to maximise the potential of your people, make sure you’re offering them development that they see the value in.”

And, Forde adds, “Avoid the ‘sheep dip’ approach. Not everybody needs training in the same skills. Personal development works best when it is just that: personal.”

For some companies, though, the whole issue of training and development is more complicated because they are dealing not just with their own staff but with staff at third parties – retailers, distributors or franchisees, for example.

Caroline Hollings is training and recruitment manager for Pub Partners, the tenanted pubs division of Greene King. Pub Partners runs three levels of training courses for all its pub licensees, who are self-employed, tailored to their needs and level of expertise.

Licensees and Pub Partners have seen significant return on investment as a result of training, with 66% of pubs recording an increase in sales, 72% increased profit, 80% an increase in customer satisfaction and 60% an increase in repeat business.

As Hollings points out: “We need to recruit and retain the very best [licensees] in our industry. Our reputation as a quality business partner and employer helps with recruitment, but this is nothing if we don’t provide a flexible and versatile training programme, which develops individuals and adds value for the company.”

The Finer Details
Of course, once marketing directors accept that there is real value in training and developing their staff, there are still decisions that must be made – notably, who carries out the training, how it is conducted and where it happens.

In recent years, there has been a marked shift away from classroom-style training courses to ones that mix the classroom with on-the-job learning and computer-based distance learning.

Most experts agree that all three approaches have their value. The IDM’s Derek Holder, for example, says: “We are now doing much more online than face-to-face training sessions.” It makes sense, he says, since not only can it be far more effective – some individuals will learn more from a computer-based course than in a classroom, for example – but it also involves less money spent on days out of the office and associated costs.

But perhaps more important is the issue of who does the training. As Forde says: “When you’re choosing a provider for training and development, make sure they’re listening to you about your needs. If they’re trying to find a gap in your organisation’s skills into which to fit their solution, it’s probably not a good sign. Look for providers that will adapt their solution to what your organisation needs, or create you a unique one, rather than take one off the shelf. If they are truly experts they will be able to do this.”

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