I had a great meeting with a training company today. We discussed many topics but one of the points that really hit home with me was when they stated that companies want to measure training ROI during economic downturns. Many times training gets cut much like marketing and the investment in the future opportunity is lost.

TrainingI’ve worked for many companies in my career and only one sticks out in my mind that got training right. I was the Marketing Director for Huffman Corporation a small manufacturer in Clover, SC, about 30 miles southwest of Charlotte. Huffman made multi-axis, superabrasive machinery that made parts for aircraft engines, turbines and other heavy metal parts. Huffman had a training policy that allotted and required each employee to take 40 hours of training each year.

At prior employers training was only mandated if there was a new product or service purchased and no one knew how to use it. Usually it required so much approval to get funding for training that either the dates passed or you got tired of explaining 17 ways to Sunday why it’s important for you to take the training. So when I heard that my company would give me a week of training I was ecstatic and a bit skeptical. However there were no tricks to this gift. The training had to be relevant to your work.

So I took two classes that year, one in HTML and the other in Microsoft Access. Both classes gave me the basic understanding of the technology and applications that I needed to build new tools (remember this was 1998 and web sites and CRM were new). Within a few months I had built a ROI database to measure all of my marketing leads and redesigned some pages for the company site. The training was not expensive, probably around $600 total.

My excitement came when I showed the company president my lead tracking reports generated from my database. He asked where I generated it from and I replied that I created the database using Access after my training. His eyes lit up because this was exactly why he created the training policy in the first place. The ROI was right in front of him.

Now many people view training as time to get out of the office. I’ve even heard it mentioned as vacation by some. These are the people who will end up asking you how to use the new technology once it’s implemented since they did not embrace the educational opportunity. These are the people that are checking email and surfing the web during training.

Other times I’ve had company management ask me to take training and then come back and train the rest of the team. This usually fails due to several reasons. I’m not a corporate trainer and I tend to get frustrated when people don’t learn as fast as me. With software I tend to quickly grasp the concepts and dive into the tools features and functionality. Those who are slower will drown in my wake!

Another reason it failed is because I usually don’t have time to customize and prepare training materials. Having examples to demonstrate how the tool works is vital to showing users standard approaches and best practices. Either way going cheap on training will cost you in productivity, quality and important customer engagements.

Therefore you’re ROI in training for important tools and technology is the same as your ROI in marketing. It’s an investment in your people; infrastructure and processes that managed correctly will pay dividends for years to come. If you expect a quick return on training you are only looking at half of the picture. Yes your staff comes back from training ready to use the new tool but initially there is some time investment in starting or changing the process.

How do you measure ROI for your training? Do you have to approve staff training or does it go through HR? Does your company have a training policy?

Brian McDonald

Brian McDonald started Square Jaw Media to document strategies and techniques he had used over his experience working in marketing and communications since 1990. During this time Brian wrote about many of the exciting Raleigh social media events where great knowledge was being shared and tries to share some of the tips and tricks. . Read Brian's full bio.