Unless your organization has adopted a culture of learning from the top down, training can be seen as an afterthought and only as a cost center. It can be regarded as difficult to measure, and a challenge to attribute business growth to training initiatives. This sometime leads to a trainer's role being questioned or the role of training itself not having a central place in the organization. As trainers, part of your job may be to justify what you do, why it's necessary to align programs with external initiatives, and what learning metrics impact the organization.
Julie Dirksen has a long career in the Learning & Development industry spanning over two decades as training consultant and instructional designer. She is an expert in the principles of designing courses for maximum learner engagement and author of the seminal book Design for How People Learn.
She notes that when employees in an organization are assigned training roles, they can struggle due to the following reasons:
- Many companies approach training as an add-on at the end of a product development cycle but not as a strategic investment in a specific business outcome from the beginning. When product training is asked for afterwards it puts the training person in the position of being an order filler rather than a partner in creating outcome-focused training in tandem with the product, marketing, and sales teams.
- Many people who take up an instructional design role in an organization are "accidental" instructional designers. They may have a talent for it but have just not had formal training. To find out how to do it well without formal training is challenging. The instructional design field doesn't have a lot of mature guidelines on how practitioners should approach their work, and is instead structured as a step-by-step process model.
- It is challenging to determine all of the outcomes of training. For example, ad campaigns are measured by how much more product is sold. Product training can be measured in a similar way (though there can be many other factors that influence product sales too). But if you're doing something like diversity training you don't necessarily have a clear-cut number that shows it was effective. This makes it hard to establish value as a trainer, especially when education can encompass a variety of programs.
Metrics and numbers can help justify budget allocation and be the proof of success as a trainer. Corporate trainers can struggle for budget allocation if ongoing education is not prioritized in the company. It's often a catch-22 where without the budget, it's difficult for trainers to produce results, and without results, the budget isn't allocated. Dirksen points out that in justifying one's role (and securing more budget), concrete data needs to be shared:
- A/B testing for establishing value of training efforts
- Clear sales numbers for sales training or product training, both before and after applicable training courses
- Surveys for more qualitative data, like call centers using customer service satisfaction surveys deployed both before and after training
- Employing Brinkerhoff's Success Case Model (a broad survey of audience + qualitative interviews, user testing, and smaller cohorts to measure results)
"For organizations to strategically embrace training better," she says, "There should be more emphasis on performance improvement, and training/learning is always part of that. Does management see you as a necessary evil? It's clear when there's no training that that doesn't work very well. But when training is doing its work well it can be somewhat invisible. You're not always able to demonstrate your value, or show the value of the things you're building. But finding that feedback loop for your own professional development and for your organization is important."
If you are a one-person training team, then you will experience challenges particular to being on your own. Enders advises the training professional to set boundaries about certain things like what's achievable, what's measurable, and what's realistic for an initiative. It's also important to set aside time to do your due diligence to uncover what metrics truly align with strategic objectives - and what metrics you should use as benchmarks for programs. Incorporate these approaches into your day-to-day and you will find that it becomes easier to overcome organizational challenges to your role.
Julie Dirksen recommends these further resources to help justify your seat at the table and improve your skillset as a trainer:
- Bryan Chapman's studies that establish good benchmarks for learning initiatives
- "How Long Does It Take to Create Learning?" for better time management
- Ruth Clark's articles and online courses to improve your training skillset
- Karl Kapp's eResources, templates, and Kapp Notes for strategy and actionable tactics
- Scientific American Mind for articles on cognition and L&D theory