The ROI of Cheap Training

Mar 17, 2009
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Co-written by Shally, Maureen Sharib, and Glenn Gutmacher.

Have you noticed a slew of emails lately for free or cheap training? Is it tempting, when budgets are being cut back, to say that having everyone pick some of those and/or sending a handful of staffers to a conference and report back to the group, is how your team will fulfill its training goals this year? Exactly what goals will you fulfill that way?

Maureen Sharib
Maureen Sharib

We in recruiting can learn something from sales training programs and organizations — a near-ubiquitous category. The good ones from major firms like Miller-Heiman to boutique firms like High Probability Selling (Jacques Werth), and tons of programs ranging from specific skills (negotiations, closing, communication) to entire approaches (customer-centric selling, target account selling) are promoted as means to help salespeople identify the right prospects and ultimately close more deals. The effect should be more revenue to the firm than the cost and time devoted to learning, justifying the training’s ROI.

But training is only a support mechanism — a means to an end. It is a way for managers to identify high performers, those who adapt to training and a way to remediate poor performers — it also can be a way to justify the team leader’s performance. Talk to most salespeople and they will rattle off a series of training programs they attended. Training is usually part of most annual sales/marketing corporate meetings. Even for technical folks, training is the norm because it is the way that they keep up on the latest technologies and don’t become as obsolete or un-marketable as the Commodore 64.

Top 5 Reasons Why Recruiting Managers Avoid Training

It mystifies us as to how many staffing leaders brush off quality training as a major expense that no one has time for. We offer a sample of the actual, lame excuses and objections received for your amusement:

  1. “I have the most seasoned recruiters/team”: Considering that we hear this one constantly — then everyone has the most seasoned recruiters and team. This means that ultimately no one has the most seasoned recruiters or team. Define “seasoned.” Is it someone who has been recruiting the same way for 20 years with some modicum of success? Or did they work in agencies and had to produce? We know marketing people with 20 years of experience who were so behind that they lost touch with what was going on in marketing. We don’t mean performance measures in terms of length of service, but rather in terms of results. We buy the fact your recruiter can fill a position in less than six weeks consistently and has an 80% fill rate; we do not buy the fact that s/he is “seasoned.” That type of thinking means there is likely no real measurement of performance in the organization; all the more reason to have metrics and training.
  2. “I have no budget for training”: Money is allocated, meaning that with the proper business case, it is possible to obtain funding for training. What talent managers are really saying is: a) they have no power in an organization and are not strategic assets; b) they don’t understand or are incapable of developing a business case; and c) they are not invested in the performance or betterment of their own people. If the motivation exists, the money will be there. Training is an investment with the end result of affecting the top or bottom line. If you train recruiters and sourcers well, the result is faster hires, more strategic fit, and enhanced competitiveness — at a lower cost.
  3. “I already know all that stuff that so-and-so teaches”: Well, if you knew everything that Shally Steckerl, Maureen Sharib, and the other “gurus” knew, then you would be teaching instead of working for someone else to pay your bills. Plus, the “gurus” are focused on the R&D needed to consistently improve and do not do anything else except participate in the cycle of teach-learn. Without that laser focus and talent, it is impossible to hone a skill to that level. Plus, truly intelligent and confident people will benchmark against others as a measure of their true performance. In fact, they enjoy the challenge and look for their own areas of strength and weakness.
  4. “I am the team leader; I should know and impart everything”: The job of a team leader is to understand the strengths/weaknesses of the team and provide the best available resources to help them succeed. A team leader who feels this way is someone who is not developing his people and is in need of management training and coaching.
  5. “There’s a lot of free and cheap training in this economy, why pay more?”: Look at the source of the free webinars and inexpensive workshops from these self-proclaimed experts. Where did they come out of the woodwork? These are people who were contract recruiters yesterday and would jump back tomorrow if they could land a steady gig. These “overnight gurus” are looking for quick cash in the meantime to cover their bills. That’s a big difference from the dedicated recruitment training and consulting organizations that invest heavily in R&D (see #3 above) to innovate and share best practice methods. The industry leaders are tried and tested, offering true research, proven by experience. You can see the passion and enthusiasm in their presentations, and the same from their huge fan bases. But there is a cost to maintain that kind of world-class operation. You get what you pay for.
Glenn Gutmacher
Glenn Gutmacher

We recently spoke to a recruiting manager who claimed “no budget,” “seasoned recruiters,” and “I know everything.” As we listened to her, we got the impression that she was quite unmotivated to do anything more than what she currently did, even though it was costing her organization more money. No doubt the minute her boss comes across someone who is a little more motivated, this person will likely be gone and — without keeping up — obsolete.

Training Works When Linked to Metrics, Processes

By linking specific goals such as increased productivity per recruiter, compressed fill times, or enhanced sourcing outcomes, training can demonstrate ROI as tangible, measurable increases are noted. With reinforcement of concepts and proper implementation, an adaptable recipient can immediately begin demonstrating observable behavioral and productivity changes.

Training is a means to an end — an investment in self-development. According to Lauri Bassi, CEO of McBassi & Company, “the single most powerful predictor of stock price is a firm’s investment in training.” If that isn’t compelling enough for you, consider this. Continuous learning is the hallmark of the top performer, because only a top performer recognizes that it is needed to always stay ahead and mitigate threats. There is no excuse — zero — for not doing it.

Quality training starts with an evaluation of the team, its strengths and weaknesses, and a comparison of the team’s performance actively benchmarked against current industry or internal performance metrics. Without defining success and comparing it to external yardsticks, understanding the true performance of the team or individual is impossible.

How the Virtuous Cycle Begins, Takes Hold

What we often find is that every team is comprised of a wide range of ability and aptitude. For larger teams, whether the training is held onsite or via webinar, full group attendance trainings are not enough to achieve meaningful goals. Post-training exercises can reveal who has done their homework if the company management reinforces the importance.

However, smaller groups allow the trainer to address more specific needs (e.g., how to source Finance requisitions vs. Information Technology) while also allowing team members to open up. A strong trainer can be more interactive and draw out questions, comments, and learn who “gets” it on an individual level.
Who the manager thinks is the rockstar often ends up falling to the middle of the pack once you get past the basics. Others previously deemed average are suddenly motivated and end up becoming subject-matter experts. Of those, inevitably at least one surfaces who can be coached to become the internal lead for train-the-trainer initiatives. This insures ongoing learning that reinforces the gains from the official instructor(s) and creates a virtuous cycle.

The opportunity for people to specialize (e.g., particular tools or subject matter) and share what they learn as a group in a recurring format can evolve into what is called a “Community of Practice” or “Center of Excellence.” Don’t be surprised if others outside your team hear about these and ask to attend! Now you have the core for special project committees that can start to institute new, more productive processes and systems with metrics behind them.

The accomplished trainer/consultant does not lead these groups or sessions, but rather counsels recruiting management and/or project teams from behind the scenes as a trusted advisor. Such leaders have the expertise and experience to recommend tweaks along the way to optimize systems as well as avoid bad surprises. And when the occasional major problem arises, they can draw upon similar experiences to confidently suggest ways to address it.

If all this isn’t happening in your organization, maybe it’s time to look at an organization that provides quality training and consulting, and has proven its value repeatedly for companies like yours.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.