Training is NOT Optional

Failure to invest in training is business-life threatening

Saul Yeaton

Date Published:
February 1, 2022

Imagine that you’re new in town and about to walk into a recommended doctor’s office for a checkup. You’re inclined to trust the doctor; after all, their coat is white and their stethoscope is shiny. You casually inquire about the scope, and they proudly reveal that it was a graduation present after medical school – 25 years ago. The doctor adds that there’s no need to keep up with “modern“ medicine or attend “time-wasting” conferences. Rather, the focus has been on meeting patients for 25 years. “Isn’t there some sort of continuing education requirement?” you ask sheepishly. “Not in this state” they reply with relief, as you slowly back out of the tiny exam room to bolt.

Fortunately, there ARE continuing education requirements for medical doctors, since “The medical field is constantly changing and evolving with new technologies, practices, and innovations.”

Why is it that many businesses act as if education is nice to have but optional?
Why do they invest so little time and resources?

In the 1990s’ General Electric followed Motorola in adopting Six Sigma practices and education. Eventually, GE invested over $1 billion in training, and expected all employees to be green belt certified while senior members became black belt certified. As a former GE employee, I can attest that Six Sigma certification was both a badge of honor and a topic which elicited groans. Making time to study as well as allocate project-based learning time was a challenge not universally appreciated.

Fast forward over a decade to 2008, the financial crisis, when GE has already reduced focus on training after Jack Welch’s tenure ended. Jeff Immelt changed GE’s focus from learning Six Sigma to “Simplification.”

We can’t blame this change in focus alone for the fall from glory, removal from the Dow Jones and being split into smaller units. But, we can say with certainty that the culture of learning created under Jack Welch was much more financially successful than the culture of simplification under Jeff Immelt.

I see training as an investment in the future of your organization, and your organization’s long-term success will directly hinge on your investment.

Consider these points before you decide NOT to invest in training:

Does your business need to evolve due to changing market conditions and customer needs?

Do you want team members to improve their productivity and/or job satisfaction?

Is your competition training?

It’s hard to answer “no” to all of these. Clearly, failure to invest in training is business-life threatening.

Create a roadmap of skills and competencies for job functions.

Team members want to be very clear on the skills they need to be most effective and that are associated with other roles, including promotions.

This training roadmap should closely align with
an overall organization mission and vision.
It will guide team members to understand
WHAT they need to learn and WHY.

Measure progress of team members against the roadmap.

How many new hires are being trained within their first six months on the job?

Understanding organizational growth will serve as a strong predictor of your organization’s ability to deliver today and adapt for tomorrow. Check these measures at least annually and ensure there are personnel who are accountable for progress. We recommend a short- and long-term view of training. Are team members doing well at training to optimally perform in their current role? And, over their career, are they progressing through more advanced training and experience?

Protect your budget.

Put your training bill right next to the electric bill. With both, if you stop paying the lights will eventually go off.

Your budget will likely need to be 5-10% of revenue. If your organization is growing, the number and complexity of skill challenges will increase proportionally.

Beware that when budgets get tightened, training can be an early target.  If you find yourself cutting training budget, think of this as a loan that eventually needs to get repaid. A general rule of thumb is that 2-6% of annual salary expense is needed for training.

The training roadmap will reveal continual value as it guides investment in training throughout your team-members’ careers.