What is the difference between an interest rate and the annual percentage rate (APR)?

Savvy leaders and organizations recognize that training is a valuable tool for personal and professional development and therefore establish some sort of annual training budget.

Most people I’ve spoken to have had both great training (hopefully ours!) and training that wasn’t so good. In a perfect world, we could connect the best training experiences with the best workplace app. It would make the equation easier – choosing great training, ensuring people would apply what they learned, and the result would be a huge return on investment for the funds spent on training.

As a training provider and as someone who has helped hundreds of people become better trainers through train-the-trainer programs, I wish the equation were that simple.

Unfortunately, it is not the case. It takes more than good training to ensure a good return on the money (and time) invested.

What organizations and individual leaders need to do then, is look beyond the single training event to find ways to increase ROI. They must assume some of the responsibility themselves.

Here are 6 ways to increase your return on that investment:

Align training investments with business needs. Some organizations use training as an advantage for good interpreters. This “training as reward” approach may motivate some people (especially if the training takes place in a desirable location), but overall it’s usually not the best way to invest those dollars. Have a plan that links the skills that need to be developed to the group’s strategic plan. Make sure the participant knows why the skills learned are important to the group and the organization as a whole. In this context, the participant has the opportunity to be more focused and will treat the training as a serious professional activity and not as a vacation.

Invest in good training. Once you’ve decided to spend money on training, spend it on the right things. While not the only success factor, review testimonials and materials to determine that the training focuses on important skills and imparts them effectively. This usually means training in small groups with more interaction and practice time, and therefore higher cost. In training like many other things in life, you get what you pay for. The cost increase is usually not significant compared to the possible improvement resulting from experience.

Facilitate pre-training conversations and set expectations. As a supervisor or manager, your job doesn’t end when training is identified or planned, it actually just begins. Sit down with the employee going to the training. Discuss why this training can be useful for them and for the company. Ask them to think about their goals for the training. Recognize that the first few times you do this, people are going to look at you like you’re crazy. They may not have an answer and that’s normal. Be patient and help them identify one or more goals for their participation and ask them to write it down and bring it with them to the training. Then schedule a meeting after the training to review what they learned and how you can help them achieve their goals.

Encourage partnerships. If more than one person is attending the workshop, encourage them to join when they return. A “learning partner” provides people with support and peer coaching and support when they return to work. It helps people hold themselves accountable for doing something with what they have learned. If you are only sending one person, encourage them to “make a friend” in the training and form this partnership with that person.

Organize a follow-up meeting. People should come back from the training prepared for their follow-up meeting with you. Sit down and review what they learned. If they haven’t yet developed a specific action plan for trying and/or using what they’ve learned, help them develop that plan at the meeting. Make sure this conversation ends with a set action plan with a timeline.

Wait (and inspect) the results. People now have a plan, and it’s your job as a leader to help them hold themselves accountable to that plan. Schedule follow-up meetings, check in, or do whatever you can to support them and encourage them to follow through on their plan.

Note that five of these steps require no additional monetary investment. The investment they require is time, thought and energy. These additional investments are the activities that will turn the dollars spent into real organizational improvement.

All of this is true because training is an event, but learning is a process. To maximize ROI, you need to invest in more than the activity or event, you need to invest in the learning process.

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