Learning Pays!

There is a strong correlation between investment in learning and development and the returns on such an outlay. When it comes to returns on investment in learning, the results are astounding and at times unbelievable. In fact the percentages defy imagination. For example, a procurement manager in a reasonably large local company recently attended a 2-days workshop on negotiation skills. He invested Rs 12,000 from his own resources, as his company did not sponsor him, thinking it was a waste of time. At the time, he was managing a budget of Rs 500 million per annum. The insights he gained in the learning program helped him save the company Rs 7.5 million annually which is a mere 1.5%. The following month his performance was appraised favourably and he got a raise of Rs. 30,000/pm. As a result, in that financial year, he earned Rs 180,000 on top of his usual pay. Even though this example does not seem far-fetched, his personal ROI worked out at a whopping 1,400%! Where on earth can one find such handsome and outlandish ROIs??! And yet, such events are silently happening in pockets all over the world, every day. 

The manager in this illustration believed in himself and consequently chose to make an investment in building his professional capability. Not only did he gain, but his company won also. It is only when organizations start believing in people and in their infinite potential to learn, grow and contribute, do they begin to see phenomenal results in top lines and bottom-lines. It remains a fact that the more individuals learn about themselves and others, their role and responsibility in life, their job and its larger context, the better they are able to perform and contribute as empowered associates in their organizations, or as inspiring entrepreneurs in their own businesses. People who complain about the high cost of education or training, need to be reminded of the quote: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. Human energy can only be channelized towards constructive ends through greater awareness, which comes not only through acquisition of knowledge, but also from its correct use. This implies the need for character development, which is an essential ingredient in the learning process. Lack of integrity makes knowledge dangerous. The global economic devastation and social upheaval being witnessed these days, point to this fact. 

To treat learning, training and education as a mere cost item in the budget is a travesty. I fail to understand, why this mindset continues to prevail amongst the educated in many organizations, more notably in public sector corporations. Pakistan International Airlines (PIAC), Pakistan Railways, OGDCL, Pakistan Steel and many other entities are either making huge losses or wasting resources. Could it be willful neglect and/or a deep sense of insecurity? There is no excuse for poor governance and lack of investment in people, particularly when it is known that people make the essential difference in making their organizations profitable, growing, sustainable & admired or otherwise. None of the bodies mentioned here need to be in the dire straits they find themselves in. When will common sense ever become common practice? What stops us? There are examples of organizations in other parts of the world also, in particular in China, Brazil, Russia, India, Nigeria and other economies that are growing rapidly. Here too, there are examples of people being treated as machines and made to follow their superiors blindly to accomplish an unvarying succession of mind-numbing motions. Such approaches that play on fear to extract compliance instead of commitment, and apply the carrot and stick approach, may work in the short term, but ultimately fail. 

Education of the kind that opens minds and encourages people to think independently yields high returns. This comes from a deep sense of ownership which can only truly be instilled, if you care for your people’s well-being and their development with the intent of seeing them flourish to the best of their abilities. No amount of money spent in developing our people will ever be wasted if we leverage such investment wisely. However, to unleash human energy without planning its utilization is counter-productive for the sponsoring organization, but not the individual. All too often, potential benefits from training programs are lost because of the absence of an encouraging environment which ensures that the new insights and tools gained in learning programs are applied in the workplace. It is important to keep in the forefront of your mind that the aim of training is to somehow positively impact an individuals present or future ability to add ever greater value to your organization. To this end, the edict: Management is measurement helps. Let us explore some approaches that can help you get the maximum returns from your investment in developing people. This can be achieved when the desired changes in workplace practices are implemented as a result of greater involvement and participation that follows any learning experience. 

To start with, you need to integrate all the trainings being imparted through your internal and/or external resources with other management systems in your organization. This means ensuring that all training decisions and actions are carried out with reference to your organization’s performance management systems, strategic planning processes, and career development initiatives. Training must therefore be carefully planned and should be clearly linked to measurable workplace outcomes. It is futile to provide training opportunities where it is simply used as a reward and its goals aren’t clear to all concerned. Consequently, the process of training and development must follow a well thought out sequence. First, a thorough training needs analysis (TNA) needs be carried out involving HR and the line functionaries. Second, you must see to it that the trainer is adequately skilled in imparting knowledge to audiences selected for training and that the contents and exercises are carefully tailored to meet the learning objectives established in the TNA. The third, and often neglected component, is follow-up. Mechanisms must be in place to provide reinforcement to the learner for his or her efforts to implement what has been learned. 

All of the above come to naught when continuous support and encouragement is not provided to the employees/associates to see application of what has been learned in the workplace. For example, if people have attended a workshop on project management, the training will only add value if appropriate resources and coaching is provided on an on-going basis to the teams engaged in quality improvement or other projects of choice. In short, getting value from training and other learning initiatives requires a strategically integrated approach, which needs plenty of planning and pre-work, and, above all, follow-up. It’s a shared responsibility on the part of attendee(s) and their manager. In this regard, the line plays a critical role in helping to create the conditions under which training will be useful and its impact enduring. Expectations from the planned training programs need to be clear from the outset and these must be documented.

These can include: a) how you expect them to apply what they will learn. b) how the trainees are expected to share what they have learned with other members in the organization. c) what the trainees need from you so that they can effectively apply their learnings, And d) when you plan to meet them to discuss the training and how it can be applied to your workplace. 

During the planning phase of any training, it is also worth asking your people who have been selected for the learning program whether there is anything that is likely to hinder their ability to apply what they are going to learn. Ask this question again after the training. It is only you and your managers who need to take an active role in the decision-making and follow-up of trainings that is necessary to achieve desired ROI’s. Not to so will breed frustration and cynicism amongst your people, and this will lead to poor performance overall. To avoid this pitfall, meticulously link training initiatives to both individual and organizational needs and help remove barriers to the application of learnings. Of course, training is not a solution to all problems. Performance gaps can occur for many reasons, for example, inappropriate staffing, outdated policies and procedures, flawed business strategy and/or unavailability of resources that can include necessary funding, technology etc. Therefore, remain open to the possibility that other solutions may be more relevant for your organization.

Make the difference between training that is just cosmetic and training that brings forth the spiritual powers of your people for perpetual growth and expansion on your enterprise. Develop a culture in your organization that encourages people to learn from their mistakes. Propagate the value of experimentation; while at the same time insist on obtaining impeccable service delivery to internal and external customers. As leaders and managers in your organizations, it is your prime responsibility to create a corporate culture where learning is celebrated and where people dare to live out their dreams that are also aligned to your vision, values and corporate strategy. This will not be easy, but it is your challenge. Embrace it.