Many chief learning officers make the mistake of losing sight of their company’s business goals. The objective of training is to support the business operation, whether it is operating an airline, managing a nuclear power plant, selling technology or any other enterprise. However, as soon as an organization grows large enough to warrant an internal training department, many training organizations track training milestones without tracking direct improvements to the business.
There are three common errors in the training industry and each has the same result—limited evidence of any improvement in the business:
- Good training, wrong subject: A training department implements a series of courses on a subject area that is not problematic for the business. For example, an airline teaches 1,000 mechanics how to troubleshoot a problem that is not a major cause of failures. Although each mechanic gets a high score and the training department trains a large number of people, the training doesn’t have a material impact on the business.
- Good training, wrong tracking: A training department implements an e-learning program on how to make doughnuts using a new piece of equipment. They reduce the number of hours needed to train a new employee and cut the number of instructors, thus they show a reduction in training cost. However, they neglect to measure any impact on the business itself, such as the quality of doughnuts being produced, improvement in employee performance and job satisfaction, or most importantly, improved customer satisfaction and increased sales.
- Wrong training, wrong tracking: This training error is surprisingly common. The training department implements a new training program in a topic that does not impact the business, then measures its success based on internal learning measures.
To avoid these common training pitfalls and have a measurable, positive impact on business performance, CLOs and training departments must establish concrete metrics for evaluating workforce knowledge. In particular, there are three key business scenarios for measuring workforce knowledge through the use of a sophisticated learning management system and the application of intelligent management analysis:
- 1. Training to boost business operations performance.
2. Complying with regulatory requirements.
3. External channel-partner training.
Tracking Training to Boost Business Operations Performance
In managing training in any organization, CLOs must isolate specific problems and identify precise causes in order to have a direct impact on business performance. The first step is to identify a specific problem that can be solved through training. All too often, training departments wait for managers in other business divisions to do this for them and then submit requests for training. This method usually results in poor training and inadequate learning content.
To avoid this scenario, CLOs should use analytics to determine where operational issues exist that might be impacted by improved training. After careful analysis and the isolation of a specific task that has proven problematic, the analytic software allows a training manager to track the effectiveness of training to remedy specific problems.
Once a problem has been identified, the department manager must quantify how much money it is costing the business. This figure justifies the establishment of a targeted training program and keeps training tied to business goals. Lastly, the training department must select the audience and determine the most effective time and method to deliver the training. Without specific measures of who, when and how training is delivered, CLOs cannot measure improvements to the business.
As an example in the aviation industry, a certain aircraft model was plagued with loose ductwork beneath the floorboards. This maintenance problem was consistently among the top reasons for flight delays and cancellations for an entire year.
The airline maintenance department identified a solution to this problem that was rather complicated, but could be achieved through targeted training. There was some difficulty in repairing the ductwork because there are several different routing configurations, depending on the aircraft tail number and model. In each version of the aircraft, a different set of seats and floorboards must be removed to access the ductwork in need of repair. After opening the floor, a duct inspection is required, and if corrosion or other problems exist, additional maintenance must be performed, further delaying the aircraft’s return to service. To address the problem, the airline maintenance department took the following actions:
- a) Quantify the number of flights canceled as a direct result of this mechanical problem.
b) Refine the existing training on repairing the ductwork.
c) Identify the audience that must receive the training.
d) Deploy the training to sample groups of mechanics in various locations.
e) Track a statistical reduction in flight cancellations as a result of this re-training.
f) Calculate the cost savings to the airline in improved performance.
Using an advanced LMS in conjunction with its managers’ analysis, the airline training department was able to develop and deliver training to different groups of mechanics based on the tail numbers of the aircraft they worked on. Within a few weeks, the number of cancellations caused by duct maintenance dropped significantly.
For many industries, it is not enough to simply deliver, track and manage the deployment of training for the benefit of the business and the bottom line. For a vast number of businesses, maintaining accurate training records is both a regulatory and financial risk requirement. Workers’ knowledge must be tracked and measured to ensure quality in the manufacturing process and to certify employees’ ability to operate certain machinery. In addition, training records must be transparent, secure and accessible to protect against liability and stand up to government scrutiny.
Federal agencies that govern industries ranging from fast food service to medical-device manufacturing dictate the ways employee training records are stored, maintained and audited. If a batch of medical devices is pulled from the shelves because of a manufacturing defect, the training of every employee who worked on that product will be audited. If a utility company employee is injured on the job, proper training must be documented and verified to inoculate against costly lawsuits. In many cases, any changes or updates to an individual employee’s training record must be documented. The risks associated with non-compliance run the gamut from minor fines to the wholesale shutdown of a manufacturing line for days or weeks at a time.
The nuclear power industry is a highly regulated field that has recognized the value of electronic testing and records management to allow access for routine Nuclear Regulatory Commission audits. Every worker who sets foot inside a nuclear power plant must pass an annual general-employee-training course covering basic safety information. If an NRC inspector finds a worker inside a power plant with incomplete or out-of-date training records, the employee is immediately escorted out of the plant and the company might face penalties.
“Safety is the first priority of our operating principles,” said Bob Bartles, LMS coordinator and nuclear plant instructor at Southern Nuclear. “We make conservative decisions that never compromise nuclear safety and our training organization engrains this message into the workforce. Through the use of our LMS, we are able to track safety training for all employees and maintain a consistently high level of safety at our plants.”
Using an LMS at Southern Nuclear, Bartles and various division managers track all aspects of training by running weekly, monthly and annual reports. The company’s LMS provides automatic notifications alerting employees and their supervisors when training has expired or is overdue. In fact, several U.S. nuclear power companies have linked their electronic LMSs to plant security systems and access badges to prevent employees from entering the plant if their training has lapsed.
External Channel Partner Training
One of the most challenging aspects of measuring workforce knowledge today is tracking training and applying metrics to a workforce that is not your own. Many global corporations rely on large numbers of outsourced partners. Although these arrangements reflect positively on the company’s bottom line, they present unique challenges for CLOs seeking to align training with business goals and track learning metrics.
In particular, many companies rely on retail outlets to distribute products that require significant explanation to customers during the sales process. Cell phones, computers, home appliances and medical devices all involve complex technology that resellers must clearly and uniformly explain. For each one of these markets, the individuals selling the product at shopping-mall kiosks or retail outlets represent the branded company directly to the consumer. In order to close the sale and maintain customer satisfaction, it is imperative that this sales force understands the product and stays up to date on all new information.
Until recently, corporations have not paid close attention to training the sales force of their vendors’ employees. However, the rise of sophisticated LMSs and other tools have allowed corporate CLOs to do so with relative ease. Ultimately, companies decided it is better to have sales people who understand their products and business practices.
The Value of Measuring Training
Measuring employee training with the proper tools and analytics can yield tremendous business value. Assessing specific workforce training needs, delivering meaningful training and tracking results can lead to a profound impact on business performance.
Delivering and tracking learning in highly regulated industries allows businesses to measure employee knowledge to ensure quality and safety standards, and provides government regulators with transparent, verifiable training records. Similarly, an external learning system allows companies to deploy training to channel partners and observe the impact on sales.
The ultimate measurement of every CLO’s success is the impact of his or her training program on the organization’s business goals. Contributing directly to business success is the potential, and the responsibility, of every training department.
Ed Cohen is the chief technology officer for Plateau Systems, a provider of enterprise software that manages learning and organizational readiness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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