When it comes to investing in education and training, there are a lot of options out there. And while smart organizations offer budgets to support those efforts, trying to determine the smartest spend for your organization can be daunting. Here are 7 tips to help you allocate those all-important dollars intelligently — and make the most of your company's training budget.
1. RESEARCH THE SPEAKER/TRAINER
I remember getting an invitation to a training-based seminar, but nowhere on the invite did they mention who would be conducting the training. When I reached out to the organization to get that information, they never responded. Major red flag there. If you're not given some kind of trainer or speaker bio with the offering, it’s probably best to rethink your investment.
In instances when you are given a bio, spend a few minutes doing a quick search to find out more about them. You want to be sure that they have the subject matter expertise that matches your goals. The last thing you want to do is spend money on training conducted by someone who does not have the credentials to deliver on what they’re selling.
2. KNOW THE BENEFITS
Make sure the session being offered clearly delineates the key takeaways. They should be providing a solid promise to you — committing to exactly what they will deliver for your spend. If the snapshot is broad and vague, that should be a watch-out.
I recall attending a session at a larger conference about “The Secret of Great Storytelling." It came with very few additional details, but I was intrigued, and since it was part of my “track,” I decided to attend. (Plus, who doesn’t want to know some secrets, am I right?) Instead, the presenter shared two examples of his past work. But guess what? Zero secrets. Zero insights. Zero inspiration. Honestly, it was 50 minutes of my life that I will never get back. So look for a detailed list of bullets that define the experience, and make sure that those align with at least 75% of your training goals. (No session will ever deliver 100% unless you negotiate a customized experience. More to come on that below.)
3. GO FOR SHORT- AND LONG-TERM IMPACT
Training sessions should carry immediate and lasting value, not just give attendees a “recess” from work. (Save that for your holiday party or summer outing.) When preparing your training plan, you want to be sure you’re getting two types of integration:
1. Quick-wins you can bring back to the office and implement immediately. This helps you to prove instant ROI and validate your recommendation to attend in the first place.
2. A process for ensuring true integration well into the future. Several years ago, I attended a 4-day training session on the topic of "fostering collaboration" through the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Yes, it was a lot of time out of the office, and it was not cheap, but it was a powerful session. One of the best tips was all about retaining what we've learned. Our instructor, the inimitable and brilliant Leigh Tompson, suggested choosing a fellow attendee as your “training buddy.” Share what has worked well since the training and keep each other honest about continual integration. That suggestion brought the idea of collaboration to a whole new level, while turning what we learned into an important part of our daily processes.
4. MAKE SURE IT FITS
Consider who would benefit most from the training. Is it an executive-level offering, better for middle management, or perfect for staff who are new to their roles? Or is there something in it for multiple skill sets? And finally, does it offer any added benefits?
For example, one training session that I often conduct is on the topic of writer’s block. On top of providing some easy techniques that any corporate communicator can leverage, it’s structured to include both singular and group activities. The reason? Some people work better alone, and some better as a team. Though the topic is writer’s block, the opportunity to have comfort (and discomfort) zones for both types of learners allows for greater impact, better education, and some terrific team building.
5. CHECK THE FORMAT OFFERING
There’s something to be said about a full- or half-day training opportunity. Usually, you’ll get a lot more meat in the presentation, plus more time to actually practice new techniques. Those two time frames are ideal for gaining knowledge that really sticks. But often, organizations cannot afford to have an entire department out for a day. So don’t be hesitant to inquire about different options. Can they do a condensed version for your team? Can they deliver it via webinar so you can maximize everyone’s time? There are some sessions that simply don’t work as well when not in-person, but if you’re excited about the content, it never hurts to ask if there’s a way to make it happen in a way that works best for you.
6. ASK ABOUT CUSTOMIZED TRAINING
If you come across a session that you know your team can really benefit from, but you have identified challenges that are very specific to your industry or to the personalities within your team — inquire about a customized session. It may cost a little bit more than the boilerplate version, as it will require some additional homework from you and the instructor. But when specific needs within your team or industry are addressed, attendees will sit up and take notice. The benefits will be even more relevant and impactful.
7. TALK TO THE FACILITATORS
Last but not least, there are a lot of “training farms” out there. If you’re still on the fence after doing your research, email the organization or give them a call. (They should be offering you myriad ways to contact them.) By doing so, you may uncover training opportunities that aren’t even listed in their curriculum, plus you can get a feel for the facilitator’s style to ensure that you're a good match. And while you’re doing that, be sure to ask for references. A valid organization will be able to give you the names and contact information of people who have worked with them before.