This may not be the first time that your CEO has sliced your training budget and I am sure it will not be the last. If you already run a lean and mean training function, then congratulations on your efforts. You may find, though, that your previous good management will not slow the CEO from asking you to shed some more expenses. Whether you have already optimized your training function in the past or you realize that you have a long way to go, here are ten practical steps that you can take to weather any financial storm.
1. Provide more self-help workbooks and on-the-job aids.
Replace some of the high cost training sessions with materials and aids placed where people do the work. Laminated procedures, checklists, tips'n'tricks, lists of shortcut keys, ready reckoners, and so on, may be effective replacements for full-blown training sessions. If somebody is having difficulty handling angry customers or using Microsoft Excel, check out your local training publishers for self-paced workbooks.
2. Conscript local experts or coaches to take the place of some training sessions.
If people have some knowledge and skills about the subject, identify one or two local experts in each area to act as a central point for all questions. Make sure that the experts and coaches you nominate have the required communication and interpersonal skills.
3. Cut training sessions that do not add value to the organization.
Does your organization really need that assertiveness skills training course? What tangible benefit did your organization achieve from it? Drop courses that do not show a demonstrable advantage to your organization.
I'm not saying that these kinds of courses are never worthwhile. During difficult periods is the time to review whether they are of real benefit to your organization now.
4. Reduce participant contact time for face-to-face training.
If you outsource some of your training or hire outside contractors, trimming contact hours can save you direct costs. If you pay salaried in-house trainers, having participants spend less time away from their work will save on lost opportunity costs. Save upfront time by sending out preliminary materials for participants to review before they arrive. Save trailing time by placing job aids in the workplace, setting up on-the-job coaches or conscripting participants' managers to oversee workplace assignments and exercises.
5. Review and rationalize your list of training suppliers.
Where you use more than one training vendor for a course or a range of courses, negotiate a better deal based on increased volume. A shorter list of suppliers also means that you are able to develop a better quality business relationship with each. For your other suppliers, use your best negotiating skills to drum down rates. Do your homework and shop around.
In tough economic times, suppliers will be well tuned to not wanting to lose existing clients. If possible, do not compromise on quality.
6. Review material costs and printing practices.
Find a more cost-effective printing house and consider using recycled, lighter weight or less fancy paper. Print on both sides of the paper, if you are not doing so already, for all learner and trainer materials. Send out softcopy versions of learner materials, if at all possible.
7. Replace original graphics with stock images.
If you pay for the services of expensive graphic designers or spend a lot on licensing copyrighted graphics, consider using stock images. There are a number of free and low cost stock image websites available now with an expanding range of quality images.
8. Enroll employees on courses at local colleges and universities.
Some learning institutions provide high quality learning. Find out what is available in your locality and compare with your current offerings. Federal and state governments subsidize some courses provided by such institutions, making such courses very cost effective.
9. Relocate seminars held at off-site convention centers.
This option may not prove popular with the executive, but everyone needs to tighten their belts. You can save significant amounts on travel and accommodation by hosting the seminar more locally or in-house.
10. Demonstrate how your training courses help achieve solid organizational objectives.
Gather reliable and convincing data that shows how the achievement of course learning outcomes lead to real benefits to the organization. How exactly do your training programs contribute to lower error rates, more satisfied customers, higher turnover, or whatever it is that your executive team considers important? In some cases, you may need to calculate the Return on Investment (ROI) of a training program to prove bottom-line worth.
The suggestions above are not prioritized in any order. Which activities you focus on will, of course, depend on your circumstances. I do want to point out that the first nine suggestions above go along with the idea that everyone needs to tighten their belt in tough times and that the training function is not sacrosanct. When you are asked to cut costs, you and your training department will be more respected if you replace a 'Yes, but …' response with a 'Yes, and this is what we are doing about it.'
The final suggestion uses a different approach. It says that if you cut these training programs, the organization will actually lose money or some other much valued benefit. The two approaches, of course, are not mutually exclusive and can in fact work in tandem. And don't forget, we don't need to be in the middle of a financial meltdown to be asked to trim down our training expenditures. Keep the ten pointers above in your bottom drawer, ready for the next time your CEO comes to you with that pained looked on her face.
© Leslie Allan. All rights reserved.
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd. He has been assisting organizations for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager, process consultant and trainer. Visit his company's web site at http://www.businessperform.com for a rich source of information, advice and tools in a variety of management areas and to download trial versions of products, free templates and introductory chapters.