How to get the best bang for your training bucks

As a business leader, you have many competing demands on your budget. Although you can easily justify spending money on training and developing people, and connect this with beneficial effects on your company’s performance and culture (can’t you?), you do of course have to keep costs as tightly managed as possible and get the best possible value for money.

The quick and dirty solution to getting training needs met would appear to be to book a course – and there are hundreds around to choose from. But is this always the way to get the best value for money?

What are the options available if you have, say three or four middle managers who, while very technically experienced, lack experience in the job of management itself?

Read on for our breakdown of the options available, each with its own pros and cons:

  1. You could of course have each of them coached individually. This is an effective approach, but will be expensive for you. The participants also do not get the benefit of mutual support in learning, and of bouncing ideas off others during the process.
  2. You could send them on an external management programme – they would meet managers from other companies and thereby broaden their experience. On the other hand, all learning would be ‘classroom’ and there would be a learning gap between the classroom and the real work environment. This happens with the best of training courses.
  3. You could have a trusted local provider devise and run a training day or two for them – this would enable them to learn together, and consolidate the learning together in their own working meetings and environment. If run as conventional training days, maybe offsite, there would still be a training gap, but this would be less evident, as they would have each other to ask for support and coaching afterwards, and could call each other to account. The provider would also get to know the participants and your organisation well and could provide additional advice and coaching where necessary.
  4. Or you could opt for a solution which we are increasingly offering our clients. This is a coaching/training hybrid, in which the training content is introduced at the beginning, followed by three or four half-day follow-ups at approximately six-week intervals (the number of intervals and the extended period are very important to the effectiveness of this approach). This has the merit of requiring the participants to set repeated management and behavioural goals for themselves, with the impetus of the review sessions to help keep them on track and the support of the group and the coach in achieving more than they would achieve without this structure. The organisation also gets the benefit of four enthusiastic managers trying out new projects and ideas, with the support they need to ensure that they are immediately as successful as possible. The training content is much more relevant and useable when dropped in as and when the need arises, the participants have the chance immediately to try out things for themselves, and the coach is available at the end of the phone if anyone gets stuck.

Regarding content, options 3 & 4 give you the opportunity to work closely with your provider to match the programme to the precise training and development needs of your organisation and the individuals concerned. This should at the very least be a mix of a) key management concepts/mindsets relevant to your business, and b) management skills in at least the two areas of managing yourself (time management, setting goals, overcoming limiting behaviours) and managing others (delegating, communicating expectations clearly, holding others to account, giving feedback).

Courses which contain skills alone can be interesting and fun, but tend to remain a bit of an intellectual exercise. It’s harder for adults to change entrenched habits than one would think. Focusing on challenging and shifting limiting mindsets sometimes releases startling levels of ability in more mature people, who often already have many of the skills needed – they just aren’t applying them effectively in the new situation.

For comparison, here are some ball-park figures for 4 people attending in the southern UK (London rates would be higher):

  • Personal coaching: rates vary. Anything from around £250-£300 per person per session – a minimum of 3-5 sessions would be needed. Total 4 x £1,500 = £6,000
  • External course: rates vary. Perhaps about £500 per person per day – probably at least two days for better results. Total 4 x £1,000 = £4,000
  • Coaching/training hybrid: For an introductory day followed by three half day review/coaching sessions in a group: £750 per person. Total 4 x £750 = £3,000

We now always recommend some version of the coaching/training hybrid. For this purpose, it’s more cost-effective than personal coaching (though this also has its place), more engaging for the participants, and by far the most effective way of embedding learning quickly while ensuring that all the benefits of new management goals and behaviour are immediately available to the company.