Today’s painful economic situation has highlighted some equally painful consequences for the HR professional.

Most FTSE250 companies have already dealt with the need for strategic cost-cutting: redundancies and delaying that move to the snazzy new corporate HQ are last year’s story. 2010-11 is the year for assessing operational efficiency, and this requires HR specialists to answer some challenging questions.

Here’s one which deserves to be near the top of the list. If you have already pared back to only the best and brightest staff, what can you do to further maximise their efficiency? And in a world where training remains expensive, how can the cost be justified when your employees are already working at full pelt?

If training budgets are being slashed, it’s worth asking why there is such a disconnect between the theoretical value of training (“it brings out the best in a workforce”) and the perception at board level (“times are tough – it’s got to go”).

In fact, skills training in many sectors has become all too cosy an industry. Here are just some of the problems:
• Box-ticking: where training is driven by policy rather than outcome, it becomes a box-ticking exercise – so long as staff have completed a process, the job is deemed to be done.
• CPD on autopilot: many professional disciplines require on-going development training as a non-negotiable to maintain qualification and the right to practice. That’s all very well, but because these training courses are mandatory, there is no incentive to make them genuinely engaging.
• Training at the top, nothing for the masses: perhaps most destructive of all is the fact that most training is only engaging for a thin layer of top and line management – people whose energies are already invested in a company and its objectives.

If training is to justify its budgets and translate not only into measurable outcomes, but also outcomes which visibly affect productivity and operational efficiency, HR Managers have every right to demand more from their training providers.

Here’s a checklist. Demand that your training offering is:
• Engaging: we can’t do much better than Lord Reith’s original specification of the BBC way back in the 1920s, when he wisely pronounced that the Corporation should “educate, inform and entertain”. Today, that means training which is media-rich, using video, audio, quizzes, demos and walk-throughs. If staff enjoy the learning experience, they’ll absorb the knowledge.
• Respectfully professional: employees don’t need to feel like they are back in school. It’s entirely possible to remain credible without being stodgy.
• Accessible and relevant to all: training platforms should allow a degree of customisation, personalisation and granularity so that everyone from the post-room clerk up to the CEO receives a learning journey which precisely meets their needs and aspirations.
• Instinctive: the days of multiple logins and clunky interfaces to online training platforms must be gone. Online learning should be natural and intuitive, even for those with low computer literacy.
• On-going and durable: one-off training yields results for a matter of weeks at best. Effective training systems engage employees in an on-going pursuit of excellence – which translates into their daily operations.

All of this must be achieved without breaking the bank; but that is more than possible. Indeed the value of training ought to be going up, not down. In an environment of lower job security, staff are less likely to take your investment in their skills to someone else.

Tony Heyward

They are more likely to appreciate the long-term commitment you have made, and repay it in efficiency, expertise and loyalty. If you’re battening down the hatches, it’s worth reminding the FD that training is not a discretionary spend, but executed correctly contributes directly to the bottom line – and currently offers a better ROI than ever.

Tony Heywood,
CEO of YoodooMedia