Managing Training Programs and other Professional Development Activities
Murphy's Law #456
The longer the title, the less important the job.

Employee retention is sometimes a direct result of great training and professional development opportunities, which a company provides to its staff. While many may believe, "If I train and develop the 'good ones,' they'll just turn around and leave or demand more money," that isn't necessarily so. More and more company executives are realizing there is a great ROI – return on investment – in training workers to increase the ability of their current skills and to develop new ones.

A. Training and Development Activities
Staying current with developments in the business world is no small task, especially if a company is involved with technology or industrial management. New products, services, and devices are introduced daily to the marketplace these days, and in order to succeed in a competitive market, employers must provide their employees with the tools and knowledge to stay ahead of the curve and rising trends. Typically supervisors do the majority of the training, using their own knowledge to cultivate that of others. However, using outside trainers, coaches, and consultants is another way to train employees – bring the experts in to the company to develop leading-edge departments. For example, makers of technical and mechanical equipment will come in to the company to train employees on software and hardware or new equipment, and also provide information about the best practices that are evolving in the field. Local schools and colleges also offer courses to assist in training in particular skills, like Excel or Power Point software, accounting basics, and business practices. Whether it is a simple course, a semester of courses, or the opportunity to work toward an advanced degree, employers will find unique educational opportunities for training, through traditional classroom settings.57

There are many techniques and tools that managers and supervisors can use to train staff, depending on the level (entry-level, middle management, etc.). Training is an investment in an employee, however, and shouldn't be done carelessly. Good training is well thought out and has a developed plan behind it. Managers should work with their human resources department to develop appropriate training materials to meet specific jobs. For instance, someone who is new to an entry-level position, or perhaps young or fresh out of college, may need to have training broken down into basic steps – preparing to do the training, presenting the task at hand to the employee, setting the employee free to complete the task, and then following up to ensure that the job was done correctly. Training manuals are another good way to help teach, especially in large groups. They make the training process easy for both the trainer and trainee as you can always refer back to them when you're in doubt about something. They also work well with people who work independent in a positive way and don't require a lot of hand-holding. For those who do better with a hands-on one-on-one approach, training manuals might not be the answer, however.58

With the boom in technology, and the fact that technology is here to stay as part of our day-to-day work lives, there are many ways employers can offer professional development through interactive computer training, computer-based training, education online with the Internet, and teleconferencing. Service companies can develop software specific to the company's goal, and then offer specialized interactive computer programs specific to whatever the training needs to be. These interactive resources allow employees to go at their own pace instead of "keeping up" with the rest of the class. Employees are also able to refer back or repeat a lesson, if need be. CDs and DVDs also offer a way to learn. There are courses on business management, marketing, accounting, office skills, and even labor-intensive jobs – all on CD or DVD. Employees can then use these in their office or at their desk, or take them home for more in-depth studying. Lastly, with search engines like Google and Yahoo!, it's never been easier to learn online. Employees can simply search for what they need to know and then read on from there. Employers can partner with online universities to offer online courses to their employees, with opportunities for earning advanced degrees.59

Evaluating case studies and using role-playing are excellent ways to create interaction between employees and management, all while acting out or reviewing situations that specifically apply to the company's business. For instance, if an employee works at a service counter for a large retail chain, that person must know how to handle different customers' needs, from the return of an item that is defective, to knowing where to find an item quickly in inventory, to handling the irate customer that received terrible service from another employee. By role-playing and talking through these scenarios, employees are able to ready themselves for the real situations if they occur.60

B. Management Trainee Programs
There are still some companies out there that have traditional management trainee programs, where they hire some "kid" right out of college and put them on a fast track to becoming a manager. That new employee may have shown some special talent for leadership or academia in college, but chances are the "old" way of training, where this new employee would spend a few months in each department of the company and then be deemed a manager, probably isn't the most efficient. Today, more and more companies are realizing that anyone can have the potential to be a manager and by offering the right tools and opportunities, those who were destined to excel, will do well on their own, versus being pigeon-holed into one particular program. Like most programs, those that can be measured are the best ones to implement, simply because top managers and human resource departments can then evaluate the trainee that much better. Donald L. Kirkpatrick, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, developed this model for measuring the effectiveness of training programs:61

- The traditional trainee evaluation form: a standard evaluation form that trainees fill out at the end of a class or session to give feedback to the company about course content, instructor effectiveness, whether it met the trainee's expectations, etc.

- Determination of what the trainee learned: a test, plain and simple. A written or verbal quiz or test at the end of training will help determine what the trainee absorbed from the course.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Human Resources Management course?

- Evaluating behavioral change and how learning information is applied to the job: This is a great tool for determining whether the trainee has absorbed his new-found skills back in his daily job and tasks. Does his performance increase? Does the manager see a significant change in the productivity of the trainee? This method works for tangible factors but is tough to measure skills like leadership development, employee relations, and communications.

- Tying training to organizational impact: using this method helps determine if there was measurable improvement in the overall company goals and focuses on the actual results attained by the trainee because of specific training.

- Return On Investment (ROI): did the monetary value of the results exceed the cost of the program? Dr. Jack J. Phillips added this last level of measurement. He believed that it is just as important to measure the monetary value as it is to measure satisfaction.

C. Leadership Development
Take part in an interview with a new recruit and chances are you're bound to hear something to the effect of, "I would like opportunities for growth." Many people don't want to do the exact same thing over and over again for their professional career, which these days could span some 50 years. Employees are looking for ways to be challenged, whether directly or indirectly. Challenge staves off boredom and also helps with employee retention. Keep your employees engaged and learning professionally and personally and chances are you'll have a happy and productive employee that will stick around for awhile.

Offering employees opportunities for advancement comes in many shapes and sizes, including managerial advancement, personal growth, and leadership opportunities. Developing great leaders happens on both small and large scales. Companies need leaders to take charge of a team of 20 line workers. Companies also need top executives to lead the business successfully into the future with a well thought-out plan and team in place. To put it simply, "leadership development is an effort (hopefully, planned in nature) that enhances the learner's capacity to lead people … leading is setting direction and guiding others to follow that direction."62 Good leaders have the ability to manage their own learning. Good managers will sit down with employees who are eager to develop their professional skills, and create a plan for training that will bring them closer to becoming a leader. While not 100 percent, most leaders are self-motivators, so chances are this type of employee will seek out advancement and create their own plan for success. As a manager or human resource supervisor, your guidance, plus providing the right tools, will help this employee succeed and only add value to the company along the way.

Managers can assist employees with developing their own plan for leadership training. Here are a few questions managers can pose to potential leaders:63

- What are your goals? What overall results do you hope to attain by implementing your program?

- What will you be able to do as a result of learning the initiatives in this plan?

- What will you do in order to achieve these objectives?

- What evidence will you have that you've learned through this plan? What are the results that someone can see?

- What type of assessment will you use to conclude whether you've achieved your goals, or if you need more training?

Leadership training is really an individual journey into self-discovery that companies can assist with. Forward-thinking companies that take pride in cultivating employees to succeed – both for the company and for personal professional goals – play an important role in the success of great leaders.