A new vision for training groups in 2010: Focus on skills and opportunities to help contact centers grow the bottom line.Are you as happy to see the end of 2009 as I am? It was a rough-and-tumble year for U.S. businesses, and the workplace learning and performance (WPL) team certainly wasn’t exempt. We saw our budgets slashed, and struggled to help a disenfranchised and anxious workforce manage the burden of staffing cuts and diminishing resources.
As we contemplate what 2010 will hold for us, it’s clear that this year’s business downturn accelerated the emerging trends in workplace learning and performance, and will continue to influence how we do business for years to come. But things didn’t change overnight, and the economy alone didn’t drive these trends. For some time, training departments have faced growing criticism about how we support — or don’t support — the business.
The downturn has provided a particularly brutal wake up call for contact center training departments that measure performance based on learner evaluations and the number of training hours delivered. As Maggie Klenke, founder of The Call Center School, points out, when you consider that 65% to 88% of the contact center budget is headcount, where else can centers cut costs without hurting service levels? If training isn’t contributing to the bottom line, their resources are a natural target. Klenke adds that, for training groups, “it’s going to be a long road back. We’re going to have find ways to measure and justify our activities if we want to continue to exist.”
Where do you start? How can you position your training group to thrive in 2010? Keep reading for four high-level trends to prepare for in 2010. Embrace them and they’ll drive your team toward the critical business results that your senior executives expect.
Position the Bottom Line at the Forefront of All Training Activities
According to Klenke, there are a couple of critical questions that contact center training departments should be considering: “What are the things our people need to know or be able to do that will affect the business bottom line? What are the activities we should be engaging in that really make a difference?”
I’m surprised at how many training departments tell me that they are tasked with “supporting the company’s mission and objectives,” but they aren’t able to demonstrate this in practical terms. The following are a few suggestions on how to make that happen.
Review your training catalog
Do you maintain courses — classroom or Web-based — that are nice to have, but are not closely related to validated job competencies, strategic business objectives or the mission of your organization? If your answer is yes, invest some time in the trends mentioned in the next two sections (establish mechanisms to measure training function performance, and facilitate transfer of learning). This will help to ensure that you’re adequately justifying the cost of your courses and the time it takes to maintain them (and the time it takes employees away from their productive work to complete them). Recently, a training manager proudly told me that she offered her employees access to more than 200 Web-based courses and 20 classroom courses. Does that sound a targeted training strategy focused on results and reducing waste?
Identify opportunities to drive revenue or cut costs
Training departments that support the contact center in evolving “from a money pit into a revenue generator” are the ones that will able to protect their resources and thrive, says Klenke.
You don’t have to wait for the operations team to approach you with their ideas. Identify ways for agents to be more efficient in their jobs and contribute more value to the contact center, and offer to contribute to those efforts with performance support. Congratulations — you’re now a business partner, and you’ve increased your value to the organization.
Cut development and delivery costs for everything else
If a particular training topic or course doesn’t drive revenue or improve operational efficiencies, figure out how to do it as quickly and as cheaply as possible. For example, imagine that you’re required to create Web-based privacy training for all of your employees each year. You could commission a slick, Flash-based presentation that’s a stellar example of interactive, appealing and captivating e-learning. But would a narrated PowerPoint presentation with a quick post-test — which costs half as much to produce — achieve the same results? Remember, the time your staff spends developing this content is time they aren’t available to support activities that affect the bottom line.
To boil down this trend: If you’re a training department leader, you should be reminding everyone — your staff and those requesting your services — that your role is to position the company to be profitable, and that your time is best spent supporting your internal partners in the activities that will do this.
Establish Mechanisms to Measure Training Function Performance
How many training hours did your employees complete last year? How many new-hire classes did you conduct? What were your evaluation ratings? All training leaders know the answers to these questions. This data is easy to compile and usually makes us look good: “Look how much we did. And look how much employees enjoyed it.”
These types of measures are not enough to justify training budget. The training group has to do “a much better job than we have historically in demonstrating return on investment and following up after training events to measure whether it impacted the bottom line,” says Klenke. Where do you start? Consider targeting the following three areas to measure your training function performance.
Development time per course and delivery time per course
Make sure that your instructional designers and trainers maintain time logs so that you can identify how long it takes to develop and deliver instruction. This will help to focus your planning. For example, last year, our annual privacy training required 150 hours of development time. Do we have those resources available this year? How can we adjust development to accommodate the resources we have?
Time and scope creep are rampant in the training function, so it’s important to have a solid foundation to determine how long each critical activity will take.
Training event objectives
You spend thousands of hours training employees on a system upgrade. How do you determine whether the training was effective and the costs associated with delivering a course were worth it? By building observable objectives and your plan for measuring them into the design of the training. Communicate the objectives and plan to trainees and managers. And, have a mechanism in place — observation, a comparison test group, self-reporting — to close the feedback loop and prove that the training was worthwhile. It’s important to be creative and consider all of the results that you’re looking for. For example, “We will train agents to complete transactions using the new system features without increasing handle time or reducing call quality.” Now, that’s something that’s worth measuring!
Justify delivery method and course length decision
Why is new-hire training three weeks and not two? How do we know the classroom is the best environment to train staff on system changes? When you make these types of decisions, you’re asking others in the organization to trust you. You can build your repository of trust and goodwill by gathering data from both inside and outside of the organization to justify training decisions, as well as showing the results when you make adjustments to training processes.
Facilitate Transfer of Learning
Most WPL professionals are familiar with Donald Kirkpatrick’s four-level model for assessing training effectiveness. Kirkpatrick surmised that each successive evaluation level — 1) reactions, 2) learning, 3) transfer, and 4) results — builds on information provided from the prior level, and therefore, becomes more accurate at measuring a program’s effectiveness.
The first level (reactions) is measured by course evaluation results and reflects the learner’s assessment of the learning event. In the second level (learning), the training team typically uses some type of test or assessment to measure content understanding and retention. Most training departments faithfully measure Levels 1 and 2 and proudly publish their results: “Our course evaluations are excellent and all of the students passed the test.”
The problem —and it’s a big one — is that “if we can’t determine whether what we’ve taught has changed the behaviors and has impacted the business, why would the business fund it?” Klenke stresses. “Training has to come to grips with the idea that a net positive effect as a result of a training event must be evident.”
Klenke is right. The fact that learners enjoyed the course and passed a knowledge test isn’t closely connected to their willingness and ability to apply what they’ve learned to their work in a way that makes a difference. In learning parlance, this is referred to as Level 3, transfer of learning to the job.
Few training departments measure Level 3, primarily because transfer of learning takes place outside of the classroom, where many trainers feel that their responsibility ends. To validly measure transfer of learning, trainers (and managers) need to partner to extend learning beyond the boundaries of the classroom. This includes setting clear transfer-of-learning expectations for employees, providing them with the post-training support they need to be successful and including transfer-of-learning evaluation as part of the extended training event. This requires a shift for many organizations to define the end of training as not when the class concludes but when transfer of learning has been validated.
Match New Technologies to Specific Learning Needs
In an article about workplace learning and performance tends, you may have expected a laundry list of hot new technologies that can speed and improve development and delivery — and, indeed, many have emerged. But beware of any vendor that claims, “This is the new technology that will revolutionize learning.” As someone who has gone through disastrous learning management system (LMS) implementations and bumpy e-learning tool integrations, I wholeheartedly agree with Klenke when she says, “There are relatively simple and effective solutions for delivering learning today, such as simple narrated PowerPoint presentations. You can go for all the flashy stuff, but at what cost?”
Learning needs should be matched with technology, not the other way around. Remember those senior executives who are evaluating your budget? They care about results, not that your department has deployed the latest and greatest tools that vendors have to offer.
Four Key Trends Driving Training
- Position the bottom line at the forefront of all training activities
- Establish mechanisms to measure training function performance
- Facilitate transfer of learning
- Match new technologies to learning needs
New Criteria for Success
While we’ve weathered a significant downturn and will continue to feel the pressure into 2010, the need for workplace learning and performance is not going to disappear. Use these trends as a checklist to evaluate your readiness to meet the needs of your organization and evaluate your department using the same criteria as you senior executives.
In 2010, our success won’t be measured in how many classes we deliver or how many people we train; it will be in how far we move the needle of corporate objectives and the bottom line.
is a workplace learning and performance consultant and Principal of Learning Currents. email@example.com
– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline, www.contactcenterpipeline.com