By Bill English, CEO, Mindsharp
The rapid development of technology means employee training is more critical than ever to ensure that employees have the right technology skills to keep businesses operating at peak performance. If employees are behind the times when it comes to technology, a business risks losing its competitive edge. And while technology is developing more rapidly, it also is becoming more complex. Organizations are investing in complex, enterprise-wide software platforms, such as SharePoint, but often do not receive the expected return on investment (ROI) due, in part, to a lack of employee training.
In addition to keeping up with the pace of rapidly developing new technologies, businesses are faced with additional training challenges as a result of increased globalization. Worldwide employment by U.S. multinational companies reached 34 million in 2010 (U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis. April 18, 2012: http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/international/mnc/mncnewsrelease.htm). With so many businesses establishing locations across the globe, businesses must learn how to train a global workforce efficiently and cost-effectively without sacrificing quality. This means companies must face the daunting task of evaluating the quality of training and establishing consistent training company-wide despite language and cultural barriers, all while keeping the training budget in check.
The Demand for Training
Despite economic woes, employer spending on training is up. According to Training magazine’s 2011 Industry Report, total 2011 U.S. training expenditures—including payroll and spending on external products and services—jumped 13 percent to $59.7 billion. With the overall demand for technology training increasing, the demand for e-learning is expected to increase globally, as well (Global Industry Analysts, Inc. “Global E-Learning Market to Reach US $107 Billion by 2015, According to New Report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc”: http://www.prweb.com/releases/distance_learning/e_learning/prweb9198652.htm). According to a 2011 report by Ambient Insight, the worldwide market for self-paced e-learning products and services reached $32.1 billion in 2010. The five-year compound annual growth rate is 9.2 percent and revenues are expected to increase to $49.9 billion by 2015 (“Ambient Insight Worldwide eLearning Market Forecast,” Ambient Insight. July 15, 2012: http://www.ambientinsight.com/News/Ambient-Insight-2010-2015-Worldwide-eLearning-Market.aspx)
Although computer-based e-learning has been established as the most efficient and cost-effective way to train a large group of employees spread across the globe, not all computer-based e-learning is created equal. In the end, bad training can end up costing more than good training when you calculate the time, resources, and opportunity cost wasted on training that does not provide the desired ROI.
Here are seven best practices, as identified by Mindsharp, to help your organization provide high-quality technology training for your global workforce efficiently and cost-effectively for maximum ROI. Mindsharp is a member of the World Education Alliance, a global SharePoint education alliance comprising Combined Knowledge Ltd. (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) Combined Knowledge Asia Pacific (Australia and New Zealand), and Mindsharp (United States). The best practices are based on Mindsharp’s real-world experience in providing computer-based and instructor-led SharePoint training for more than 58 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
1. Measure Training Results
The No. 1 element that affects training ROI is measurement. Training without measurement is an endless black hole that forces employers to make training decisions based on assumptions instead of on concrete data. For instance, employers have to decide if the training was effective. But without tools in place that measure comprehension, employers have no way of knowing if employees retained the information and learned new skills or how much information and skill development they retained. Without measurement, tracking whether or not employees developed the desired skill sets as a result of the training becomes more difficult. Lack of measurement also means employers cannot easily identify potential gaps in employee knowledge and skills to know if more training is needed.
To avoid the training black hole, look for training that includes certification programs that test comprehension and track progress. Training with certification programs should include quizzes throughout the training to help employees identify gaps in knowledge during training. Certification programs also should include final tests to evaluate overall comprehension at the completion of a training session. With certifications, you can quickly track which employees have obtained the desired competencies and which employees need additional training. Human Resource and Training departments also can track how much they have enriched each employee’s development, as well as track how much is invested in employee training. In addition, employees can measure their own growth and development, which increases employee satisfaction and reduces turnover (Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2011 Job Satisfaction and Engagement Research Report: http://www.shrm.org/research/surveyfindings/articles/documents/11-0618%20job_satisfaction_fnl.pdf).
2. Evaluate the Quality of Training
The time to evaluate the quality of training is before you implement a new training initiative. Unfortunately, with the low cost and accessibility of video and recording technologies, subpar computer-based technology training has flooded the market. To evaluate the quality of computer-based training materials, consider the following:
How closely does the training company work with the technology manufacturer?
Look for technology training companies that have an official partnership with the manufacturers of the technology. For instance, is the training company a member of a testing program of the beta software? Does the manufacturer hire the training company to provide training on its own products? Is the training company called upon to write guides on behalf of the manufacturer? Does the training company have access to new products before they are released? A close, mutually beneficial relationship between a technology manufacturer and a training company often results in high-quality, cutting-edge training.
What credentials do course authors and instructors have?
When evaluating the quality of computer-based training, check to see if the course authors and instructors are identified. Where there is identification, there is accountability. Look for course authors who have partnered with reputable publishers to produce training books on the technology. Look for legitimate industry designations obtained from reputable educational institutions or industry associations.
Is the course material professionally produced?
Beware of poorly recorded audio and unprofessional voiceovers, which may distract learners and diminish learning. Look for professional voiceovers recorded in a studio. Also, look for training that is self-paced so employees can return to content when necessary to make sure they learn a concept completely before moving on to new content.
Courseware that is peer-reviewed also is more likely to be accurate and complete than non-peer-reviewed content. Technology develops rapidly, so be sure to research how up to date the courseware is. Even a small difference in version can cause significant frustration for users trying to learn new software.
3. Provide Long-Term Access to Training
Short-term training sessions are valuable, but what happens when an employee forgets how to complete a specific function or a new employee is brought on board after a training initiative ends? These situations highlight the need for long-term access to training materials. Look for training programs that provide computer-based access to materials on a long-term basis to supply employees with resources for continued learning and technical support for maximum ROI.
Providing long-term access to training also may help your company save money in the long run. When it comes to technology training, licensing for on-demand computer-based learning can help reduce the need for robust help desk support. Tracking help desk calls can be one method for measuring the effectiveness of a training program. Consider tracking the number of help desk calls before and after training to evaluate if there is a decrease in frequency and volume of calls.
Computer-based training that requires a flat licensing fee for long-term access also helps you increase your ROI by allowing you to train more employees over a longer period of time. With traditional training, the more employees you train, the higher the cost. With e-learning licenses, the more employees you train, the lower your cost of training is per employee because the cost of training goes down per employee as each additional employee uses the content. To further reduce costs, look for training programs that have transferable licenses that can be passed from exiting employees to new employees.
4. Preserve Consistency of Training
One of the greatest challenges in training employees across the globe is to preserve the consistency of training for all employees being trained. If you hire a different local training company in each location, employees will receive incongruent training. To avoid this problem, employees must be trained from the same course content. Instead of hiring local training companies from each country, look for a global training company that can provide the same training for all employees across the globe. When employees receive the same training and learn to use a technology using the same processes and terms, employees in multiple locations are better equipped to communicate with each other effectively. Consistent training also ensures that employees are using the same processes, which then can be replicated and repeated in any part of the globe.
5. Train Multiple Levels of Stakeholders
Traditional training methods involve taking employees out of the work environment and requiring them to attend formal, in-person seminars. With traditional training methods, the cost of training increases with each employee being trained, which means organizations had to be selective regarding which employees to train. Now, with computer-based training, employers have to shift their way of thinking to realize that the cost of training per employee actually decreases as more employees use the content. This allows you to train employees at multiple levels, boosting the skill set of your entire organization.
By training multiple levels of stakeholders that use a new technology, you also are reducing the amount of lost productivity at each level of the organization. For instance, if employees are not provided sufficient training on a new technology and only learn how to use 30 percent of the technology’s functionality that relates to their role, your organization is potentially losing 70 percent of the technology’s capabilities for that role, not to mention lost productivity as employees fumble through learning how to use a new technology. Employees also might passively resist using the technology and utilize old methods for completing job tasks—a scenario ample training should overcome.
Fortunately, effective training doesn’t mean every employee has to be trained on every function of a new technology. Instead, zero in on the training that specific stakeholders need to do their job more effectively, without wasting time training employees on functions that do not apply to them.
6. Integrate Training Into Company Culture
With computer-based training, ongoing training is now more affordable than ever for companies that want to develop a highly skilled workforce. However, employees are not going to invest time in training if ongoing training is not a top-down initiative from the executive team. Training must be integrated into the everyday culture of your organization for maximum ROI.
Set an expectation that employees should dedicate a specific amount of time each day, week, or month for completing computer-based training, and then give employees a compelling reason to engage in the training. For instance, consider taking cues from what drives social media. People love to brag about what they’ve accomplished, win recognition, and compete. Consider establishing a company currency where employees can earn company points for completing certifications. The points later can be redeemed for a bonus, time off, or other rewards. Create a leader board to encourage employees to set goals and compete with their peers. Integrating training into your company’s culture also means choosing a training platform that can be deployed into your existing learning management system (LMS) to make it possible to easily track and manage.
7. Provide Technical and Business Training
Some technical training courses are just that—technical. While employees need to understand the technical side of a new software program or system, they also need to understand how it relates to the larger picture of overall business goals. Training on a new technology should include more than instruction on how to perform a certain task or function. It also should help employees connect the technical skills they are developing with the larger business goal. For instance, the larger business goal may be to increase productivity. The training then should not just show employees how to use a function that will increase productivity, but they should be made aware that the skill they are learning will help them increase productivity. The course material also should be tied to real-world business situations and not just focus on the features of the technology. It also include should best practices and not just functional processes.
Bill English, CEO of Mindsharp, is an industry leader, author, and educator specializing in SharePoint training. As a former psychologist, English uses his knowledge of human behavior to help companies implement change through software platforms. English is the author of 14 books on Exchange and SharePoint products, including the “Administrator’s Companion for SharePoint Server 2010,” published by Microsoft Press. For more information, visit www.mindsharp.com.