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Dominic Irvine

Member Article

Pricing success in Learning and Development

For years, as a provider of learning and development programmes, we have hoped for an organisation that would be prepared to link the remuneration of the programme with the change in performance delivered. Yet, to date, conversations on this topic have fizzled out after a cursory discussion. Fortunately, from a productivity perspective, we’ve been lucky enough to support teams delivering some outstanding results, although these were beyond the pre-agreed fees and none of the gains found their way into our pocket. Recently the topic once more emerged and wrongfully anticipating the usual perfunctory discussion we found ourselves discussing contractual terms as to how it might work. There is nothing like the power of a measure to focus your mind on what matters.

Since we last looked at the literature there has been a growing body of research examining the critical ingredients in the transfer of learning. The Annual Review of Psychology carried an excellent analysis of the benefits of training and development in 2009 and an excellent review in 2010 by Blume, Ford, Baldwin and Huang was converted into practical considerations in 2011 by Grossman and Salas. Ploughing our way through this lot led us to the inescapable conclusion that any contract had to be a three way agreement involving the delegate, the training provider and the line manager of those attending the programme.

The individual

Firstly, the participant has to want to learn the skills the programme seeks to teach. They also need to believe that they can apply the lessons learnt and that these lessons are relevant, useful and will make the difference. In applying them, they need to be prepared to give it a go and learn from the feedback. Part of engaging participants in the lessons is the responsibility of the trainer, but it’s also the responsibility of the participant to flag when the input seems irrelevant or inapplicable. Going through the motions pretending to learn is simply not good enough.

The learning and development provider

Secondly, our responsibility is to make sure the content is relevant and usable. Providing examples of what ‘good’ looks like along with the opportunity to practice the skills in as real a situation as possible helps too. A good programme will assist participants to set goals and also allow them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.

The line manager

Thirdly, the line manager has to support the fledgling attempts at applying the skills and provide appropriate coaching and support. Incidentally, peers can also make a big difference in the support they provide their colleagues. The line manager can also create the opportunities to practice the skills and so help embed them in everyday practice. In so doing the line manager can help them become good habits (of which we have written much about elsewhere).

How can we incentivise the learning?

In reality, the training provider is little more than a catalyst with the hard work being done by the participant combined with line-manager support. A typical training programme these days is often little more than a couple of days which is insufficient, in most circumstances, to develop competence in a new skill which can take far longer. Equally it’s unfair to place the onus wholly on the participant as changes in goals, line manager or organisation structure can negatively impact the application of the skill. The line manager has a significant role to play but, ultimately, people have to take responsibility for their own performance. Yet, the training provider can’t escape responsibility - a poorly designed programme is both ineffective and can even be destructive when inappropriate skills are taught. So what and who should be measured to determine effectiveness?

Skin in the game

After reflecting on the challenge we’ve come to the conclusion that we could spend all of our time negotiating the specific terms of the contract against which everyone is being measured. Instead, we prefer the pragmatic solution of targeting a specific business issue that depends on developing and improving the specific skills being taught and measuring success in delivering the objective. Participants, training provider and manager all sign up to the objective. This provides the clarity of focus that enables the question to be asked and answered “How will this help us achieve our target?” Success will come from agreeing what’s in scope and out of scope before starting, and an end date by which the outcome should be achieved. The rewards and sacrifices should be commensurate and appropriate. If the training provider is expected to take for example a 15% reduction in fees if the target is not achieved, then the participants and managers should feel a similar level of pain in their bonus. The reward the training provider can achieve should reflect the bonus participants and managers can achieve.

Whatever arrangement is made, the process of coming together to agree the outcome and the measure will in and of itself focus people’s minds on the task in hand and the importance of extracting as much value from the learning as possible. And that can only be a good thing.

Dominic Irvine & John Wilson © 2015 All Rights Asserted

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Dominic Irvine .

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