They say a great team performs better than the sum of its parts – and training people together is something brands are using as a cost-effective way to get people to work brilliantly with each other.
For Aviva global head of advertising Jonathan Pearce using group training also ensures a higher speed of progress. This increases the overall impact of a training programme by letting it fuel a major leap forward, rather than the slower progression that might be achieved through training team members individually over a longer period of time.
“Sometimes when you need to get teams to move fast it is very efficient, as long as it’s constructed in the right way and you know what you are trying to achieve,” he says.
To this end, the company trained more than 50 people to improve their digital knowledge in areas such as search and social media. The staff attending the course had a wide spread of knowledge and experience. Some had relatively extensive digital skills that needed to be upgraded, others were less experienced, but all were responsible for some level of digital activity. “It’s less of a specialism now. It’s just a way of doing business,” says Pearce.
“That training programme was about taking a whole group of people through an immersion piece. It showed them the innovation that is going on in certain areas of digital marketing and after getting them excited and filled in a foundation level of understanding around all things digital for those who needed it.”
The Aviva groups were broken down into teams of 15 for the study of foundation skills, while some more experienced staff worked with external experts to discuss innovation. A series of eight deep-dive sessions followed where staff who worked with, or were passionate about, particular areas of digital marketing could study subjects in more depth.
Warren Daniels, head of marketing for the UK and Ireland at enterprise applications company SAP UK, has also used group courses to ensure that teams of people in the marketing department are performing at the same level. The UK marketing team at SAP consists of about 25 people, again with varied experience and seniority levels. “We did a training programme right up and down the hierarchy. Everyone from the marketing director to the heads of marketing, to marketing managers and assistants were part of that learning,” says Daniels.
However, group training is only one training resource that staff can draw upon at SAP, which has a culture of training and staff development. “It is one component of many things we have access to like online training and external courses that aren’t specifically marketing-related but are tasked with giving people the chance to learn about other disciplines in the business. Storytelling workshops and how to engage with end users are examples. Mentoring is a big part of it too, as well as networking,” says Daniels.
Getting the entire team together is not always possible. Reed Business Information marketing director Lawrence Mitchell leads an international marketing team of about 100 people. “As our business has changed and become more focused on other regions, we have marketers based in the UK, the US, and Asia Pacific,” says Mitchell. The teams tend to be brought together within territories, so those based in Chicago will join New York colleagues for training courses, for example.
For training purposes, the company distinguishes between its general marketers and those with a more specific responsibility, such as search or database marketing. It has used external training organisations such as the IDM and Econsultancy to source trainers to run in-house training schemes. “For training overseas marketers we like to use our own people, who attended those courses, to go and bring them the knowledge,” says Mitchell.
Training outcomes can be more consistent with a group approach, confirms Mitchell, although he says no assumptions should be made. “We have been pushing the digital agenda in terms of marketing for quite a while now and it has been really important for us to bring the marketers together so that they are all going through a similar experience.
“In the early days we ran a two-day in-house course on digital marketing aimed at more traditional marketers. It was a common experience so it was certainly more useful than one person going on a course and then coming back with a load of new ideas, because that then informs not only the thinking but how marketing technology and strategy is adopted.
“We invested in group training to get the thinking and knowledge skills, but we didn’t necessarily have the tools in place in the early days to implement things as easily as we wanted and that then informed our decision to buy marketing automation technology, for example.”
Value for money is naturally a key concern. Economies of scale can mean that training groups of staff together is far more cost-effective than a more individual approach.
The quest for value means that changes have been made to the way training courses are run. Those who remember the days when a training course meant several days retreat in a country hotel, complete with a well-stocked bar, may lament that austerity measures seem to have been put in place by many companies.
“They are always held in our offices,” says Mitchell. “They are away from the work environment, in a training room, but that doesn’t stop them [the trainees] from returning to their desk or logging in.”
SAP training courses tend to take place at the company’s Maidenhead office – away from the marketing team’s usual location, but still in-house. However, there is a strict rule about not using phones, laptops or other devices.
“We took them out of the standard environment. Had budget been unlimited, we probably would have done it off-site,” says Daniels of recent courses.
When it comes to fully justifying a training budget, companies must broach the complicated task of evaluating training programmes. This can be easier said than done, as proving a return on investment or attributing any improved performance to an individual course creates a significant challenge to training managers.
At SAP, a considerable part of measuring the impact of training is linked to career development plans. “Everyone in the marketing organisation has their own personal development plans and what we do in terms of external training should play into those,” says Daniels. Individual learner feedback is important to judge how effective any course has been.
“The key thing is looking at behaviour change.” says Mitchell at RBI. “That is hard to measure in a quantitative way.” The company has introduced a multiple choice questionnaire for people to measure their opinions of the training.
“Then the real benefit comes from seeing real change in behaviour in different types of activity. For example, things like demand generation,” he adds. He now approaches team members a few months after their course to find out what they have been doing differently. Effective courses have also led training consultants to understand the company better, moving future training courses to a higher level, he says.
With improved outcomes and greater efficiency than a more individual approach, tailored group training schemes look set to play an increasingly important role in the way that companies prepare for the future.
Q&A: Sarah Bateson, head of marketing communications, Paddy Power
Marketing Week (MW): What recent group training has Paddy Power employed for the marketing team?
Sarah Bateson (SB): This quarter we have run a series of training modules specifically tailored to the paddypower.com marketing communications team. The training was a series of six modules focused on the key elements of the marketing communications process relevant to the team, including planning, creative development, copywriting and analytics. Training modules were tailored for the needs of the Paddy Power team using a number of inputs such as skills assessments and key competency guides so that the training covered all levels within the team.
MW: Why was a group approach taken? What are the benefits of group training?
SB: As a new and expanding team, we ran the training as a group to ensure that there was a base level of knowledge and to make sure the whole group was working to the same processes and methodology, as well as using the same key frameworks and tools. Training as a group in-house also worked out a lot more cost-effective than sending groups of team members on external courses. It also gave a growing team the time and opportunity to learn together.
MW: How are Paddy Power training courses evaluated to judge their effectiveness and value for money?
SB: We put a decent amount of time and effort into the evaluation training. Each module has pre- and post-assessments that enables us to measure the overall impact of the training modules. We measured knowledge and confidence scores pre- and post-training of each module – this gives us a good feel for how our people have benefited from the training.
Given actual return on investment is difficult to measure, this should be a focus for training companies as most businesses want to understand the impact of training when there is any kind of investment made. Crucially, we also need to understand that our people feel a benefit from the training in their day-to-day lives and that the training has been pitched at the right level.
Finally, understanding future training needs is an important part of the assessment that we worked with Econsultancy on, taking feedback from both attendees and course tutors.
Styles of learning
The increased use of group training programmes reflects long term changes in the dominant theories of learning. Over the past two to three decades, there has been a marked shift towards recognising that social practice plays a significant role in learning.
This ties in well with group learning practices, where people with common experiences and objectives can use these to their mutual benefit. In theory, they should learn faster and be able to apply their new knowledge more effectively in the workplace. A group setting also creates a mix of skills. Some may learn best from practical examples, while others may learn best from personal research and reading.
Getting away from the work environment helps some people to be more willing to accept new ideas, but it is not always the most appropriate use of resources according to David Thorp, director of research and professional development at the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Depending on objectives, it can be beneficial to apply action learning techniques within the workplace, so that training can be related to work objectives and examples. For this style of learning, the workplace is the best place.
Professional trainers also emphasise that different learners learn in different ways and, crucially, at different speeds. A mixed media presentation of courses can help individual learners find methods and a pace that suits them.