The Answer is Accountability


A good training program isn’t about how much money you invest in training; it’s
about whether you have a solid implementation strategy guiding that investment.

By Frank Sarr

To be a highly effective person, you need to begin every project with the end in mind. Unless you have your ultimate goals and objectives in place, you can‟t develop a solid master plan for achieving them. To create a highly effective training program, you also need to begin with your training objectives in mind.

Unfortunately, many companies skip this simple but critical step. New programs are rolled out, only to quickly vanish again with little to show for the time and cost of development. Slick training materials are produced, only to languish used. Elearning replaces classroom training, webinars are held, and the training staff is augmented, but nothing changes. Why not? It‟s because no one took the time to develop a vision of the overall training implementation strategy.

Why an Implementation Strategy is Important
The impact of today‟s economy on training budgets creates an opportunity for organizations to take time out to step back and define their training implementation strategy. Here you can determine the:

  • Phases of your training
  • Competencies you want your trainees to possess at the end of each phase
  • Characteristics of the audiences who will participate in the training

This critical task is not as monumental as it sounds, yet sets the stage for important decisions about:

  • The appropriate methods for training delivery
  • The resources needed, and in which form (paper-based, interactive media, etc.)
  • The pros and cons of building vs. buying these resources
  • Whether to use internal vs. external human resources (based on the expertise needed)
  • The total expenditure required to obtain the desired results

The pressure is to do something quickly, but it‟s often counterproductive and leads to disappointing results. There‟s little or no change. The trainees are still hungry for training, and their supervisors are still concerned about how poorly trained their people are. Ironically, when the expenditures for this pressure – cooker method are added up, they amount to a significant investment.

“Ready, Fire, Aim!” has never proved to be a winning strategy, whereas investing a relatively small amount of time to develop a training implementation strategy can avoid building on existing “baggage” and can do a much better job for the same — or even a lower — cost.

Which Comes First, the Resources or the Implementation Strategy?

Many organizations feel they have little in the way of training materials/resources, but they‟d be surprised at the amount and quality of resources that they actually do have. It boils down to knowing what you‟re looking for, and you can only do this if you‟ve put the effort into establishing your training implementation strategy. The strategy determines who needs to be trained, what you want to teach, when you want to teach it, why you want to deliver the material at this point, and how it will be delivered.

Your company may already have excellent programs available for enhancing selling skills, presentation skills, customer service, and telemarketing. If not, there are many training companies that also offer programs in these areas. But first, you need to know (1) what you‟re looking for, and (2) whether what you already have is still able to meet your current needs. The program that‟s right for you will be determined by your implementation strategy and the philosophy driving this strategy.

Another bonus is that if you‟re outsourcing your training or resource development, having a solid strategy positions you to negotiate for what you really need, as opposed to the “package” that might come with a given  rogram.

The Critical Need for Accountability

In his book, Working Without a Net, Morris R. Shechtman pinpointed the answer to why training results are seldom what they should be: “As much as we may like to think that accountability exists in our marketplace, we usually have nothing of the kind. Organizations give the concept lip service, but they do not hold anyone truly accountable.”

When accountability is lacking in a training program, bad things happen. No matter how good the training materials and other resources are, the people who deliver the training and the trainees typically provide the same negative feedback: “… no consistency…”, “…lacked structure”, “…took too much time…”, “…too much material to wade through…” “… didn‟t really apply…” “…more important things had to be done instead of the training…” and so on.

When accountability is enforced in a training program, these criticisms are often dramatically reduced. In addition, the trainers, management, and other overseers of the training are better equipped to discern between legitimate criticisms and smoke-screen rationalizations for a lack of achievement.

Existence of Accountability
When there is accountability for the training results, management of the organization can answer the following questions with very little hesitation:

  • Was the trainee truly and demonstrably trained?
  • Was the “trainer” fully engaged in the training?
  • Was local management made aware of the training quality and results?
  • Was regional management aware of the training quality and results?

The Need for a Performance System

To hold someone accountable for achieving a particular result, that result must be well-defined, measurable, and clearly communicated to the person(s) expected to achieve it. In training, there needs to be a process that establishes each “measureable” result and the steps by which to achieve it. Built properly, this process becomes a performance system. This way, anyone involved in the training, whether directly or indirectly, should be able to understand, monitor, facilitate and/or reinforce what is happening—or should be. In other words, they should be able to answer the questions listed above.

In addition, a performance system enables the decision-makers and participants to get feedback that helps them to continuously improve upon what is being accomplished, and/or set a course of action towards solving any core problems. That is preferable to getting “feel good” feedback about the training, only to eventually have to ask oneself: “If the training was so „great,‟ why haven‟t our results improved?”

Integrated with a solid implementation strategy, the performance system will provide the basis for accountability by:

  1. Positioning each person to be accountable for a successful outcome
  2. Clarifying the areas in which each person will be held accountable
  3. Setting expectations in a specific and clearly differentiating manner
  4. Defining how these expectations will be measured, in terms of quantity, quality and time-frame
  5. Empowering the trainee and trainer to achieve the desired results by visibly placing the success for the result in their hands.

The Irony

Even though developing an implementation strategy and establishing accountability doesn‟t require a big investment of time or money, as Morris Shechtman points out, this kind of accountability doesn‟t exist.

The expensive part of training is not beginning with the end in mind. The expensive part is developing or purchasing the wrong program or materials or not receiving the maximum value and benefit even from the right resources, because you can‟t make the best use of them with the right audiences at the right times throughout their growth phases within your organization.

The Bottom Line
It takes a lot of discipline to implement an effective training program, beginning with (1) determining the Implementation Strategy, (2) establishing Accountability and (3) installing a Performance System. But for organizations that want to maximize the productivity of their people, have a positive impact on profitability, and deal with today‟s budgetary restraints, the ROI will come from:

  • Accelerating the productivity of top performers. Your top performers would probably do well even without formal training. But giving them the structure and tools to become peak performers faster will have a positive impact on our ROI.
  • Early identification of poor performers. This brings the greatest return on your investment. In his book Top Grading, Bradford D. Smart spells out the cost of mis-hire. The sooner mis-hire is identified, the better it is for the individual, the company, and the company‟s ROI.
  • Utilization of your existing and new resources. The real genius isn‟t in building the training materials; it‟s in getting them used. In today‟s eLearning culture, webinars are used so frequently that from a learner‟s perspective, the novelty may have worn off. This can result in diminished enthusiasm and motivation. For some learners, webinars serve as an “enabler” for them to become distracted from the information being presented and focus on other activities while technically “participating” in the Webinar. Methods that will ensure forced engagement by every participant will get your resources used and maximize your ROI.

Frank Sarr, CLU, is president of Training Implementation Services, a company founded in 1990 to develop performance systems for sales and other positions that impact on bottom-line results.