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How to increase roi on people development investments

How to Increase ROI on People Development Investments

Organization X brought in an outside seminar company to «give the supervisors and managers a little boost.» The seminar company suggested the executive group attend a preview as a way to support the development, to become aware of what was going to be presented, and to customize the message to meet the unique needs of the organization. They were all too busy. OK — how about a 4 hour overview ? Still too busy. The CEO ended up telling the seminar company to «Just give the people your message — so and so at (biggest company in town) said it was a great program.»

And so they did. They delivered an intensive 5 day, 4 hour per day leadership skills seminar to all the supervisors and managers in the business. They focused on trust, communication, self development, goals and objectives and using teams as a key means to deal with the businesses challenges. They discussed ways to overcome the adversarial relationship that existed between the people who did the work and their bosses. Homework and on the job assignments were developed; action plans formalized; personal skill requirements identified. At the end of the seminar, the attendees were fired up. They interpreted the messages coming from the seminar leaders as coming from their management — there was no reason for them to feel different. Bad assumption.

When the seminar participants returned to work the following Monday, they did so with an enthusiasm that had been missing for some time. When the CEO asked them about the seminar, they were positive and enthusiastic and thankful they had the opportunity to attend. The CEO and his staff felt good — everybody seemed motivated — money well spent.

And then the managers and supervisors started to use their newly acquired behaviors, beliefs and skills. And the trouble started. The leadership wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but they knew it wasn’t what they expected. They reacted with their «business as usual» approach, and the managers and supervisors became frustrated and angry.

Things were back to where they had been before the seminar within two to three weeks, except all the seminar attendees had developed a layer of cynicism that they had not had before. Whatever trust there had been in the organization disappeared, and the leaders were puzzled that what had started off with such high expectations had turned to negative before their very eyes.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it happens every day, in all kinds of different organizations. It happens because the purchase of a service — a potentially very valuable service — is done when leadership sees the need for change, but the activity is not leveraged by internal design and development dedicated to ensuring the message and outcomes are what the leadership wants. The result is unintended consequences and frustration for all involved, including the development organization. They became event managers — not contributors to identifying and developing change and growth strategies and actions.

How to ensure your own critical people development investments are effective and carry a high ROI?

Ask yourself these seven questions. The answers will help define the best way to go about developing the skills, expertise and abilities of your people while increasing your ROI on development investments.

1 — How much time will be spent on customizing this seminar to meet out unique requirements? Are we trusting to a third party to represent our interests to our own employees? Focused time spent on development and customization of programs to fit your organization ensures that the objectives of the effort will be consistent with leaderships needs and expectations. Never trust to a third party to represent your interests to your employees without your extensive input — they can’t.

2 — How many people should be sent to public seminars? When a public seminar appears to meet your objectives, send a team of at least three people. Why at least three? To paraphrase what Peter Senge says in his 2008 book — «The Necessary Revolution» — one person, even the CEO, can’t make change happen by themselves, two people can have a conversation, but three or more can make change happen.

3 — Are we expecting this activity to improve individual poor performance? Don’t use seminars to attempt to improve poor individual performance. It’s not gonna happen. That’s a subject requiring one on one work, with the manager of the poor performer leading the way.

4 — Have we reviewed the content and objectives of the development? Do we support the objectives and message? For seminars to be successful, the leaders whom the participants will look to for support must be fully acquainted with the objectives, and sign up to support the participants. When the leadership says it’s too busy to spend the time necessary to get conversant with the content, spending money and effort on the content is a waste.

5 — Are our actions consistent with the message we are sending? Realize that action from the leaders within the organization speak louder than any words from even the most accomplished speaker or celebrity. Action speaks so loudly that what is said cannot be heard.

6 — Can we accomplish the same objectives using our own people? Who do we have that can teach others? Who do we have that can learn by teaching others? The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. Use that principle to develop the people in your organization. Make your own people your best meeting and seminar and meeting leaders — and your champions of change. Use outside services to train your own leaders.

7 — Are we using this activity to meet our needs, or are we trying to squeeze our needs into the goals of the seminar? Use third party seminars and development activities to advance the goals and behaviors identified by the organization. Don’t let the tail wag the dog.

It’s tempting to look for answers and silver bullets in the literature provided by professional development organizations. And their expertise is valuable. But its value is so much greater when blended with the unique needs of your organization. Plus, there are no silver bullets.

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