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CIOs fail to show value in training, lose budgets

Few IT organizations actually measure the value they get out of training their employees. Without proof, CIOs are at risk of losing their training budgets, as well as their employees.

Your training budget is low-hanging fruit when it's time to trim costs. But experts say that if businesses made a more consistent and solid business case for training, holding onto that money would be a lot easier.

It's a no-brainer for me that people, especially people in the incredibly fast-paced IT industry, need to keep honing their skills and learning new technologies and techniques.
Jim Prevo
CIOGreen Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.
The best way to make a business case for training is to offer metrics on the value it provides to the organization. But, unfortunately, most IT organizations lack a comprehensive approach to measuring such value, according to Andrew Walker, a research director with Gartner Executive Programs, a division of Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

"Very rarely do they look at whether they are getting value from these training programs," Walker said. "You can tell training is not valued if it keeps getting cut. It's the first point of cuts for most finance people because no one is able to do a good business case to keep it in there. That sends a message to people that you don't value training."

In a recent study, 69% of those IT managers polled claimed to not have enough money in their budgets for training.

Walker said employee retention becomes a problem for CIOs who struggle to keep a training budget.

"Those employees who go a long while without learning know they're getting stale," he said. "They start to feel that it may be time to move on. Then you start to lose your most valuable people."

Vincent Fattore, director of IT at Senior Lifestyle Corp. in Chicago, said he has to go back to management every year to "remind them that we need this, that if we don't have people who understand their field we'll never get anything done."

But Fattore said it is very difficult to measure in dollars whether training is adding value to the company.

"It really has to show in their work," he said. "A couple years ago we bought a SAN, and of course we needed the right training for that product or we couldn't really purchase it. If you have the product, obviously you need someone trained on that product It can range. It may be someone who already has a little knowledge, but maybe needs a little more to provide more value to the company."

Walker said his research group has spoken with 40 organizations in-depth during the past year. About 30 said they make some efforts to demonstrate the value of training, but only two had a comprehensive strategy.

Walker said tying the value of training to projects is one of the best strategies for demonstrating value. For instance, if training is 10% of the project cost, then presumably training can be attributed to 10% of the project outcome.

"It's so useful to integrate training into a project because a project has an up-front business case," Walker said. "This is the value we're going to get or these are the things we are going to be able to do as a result of this project."

Walker said there are other systematic ways to measure value if a CIO can't find a way to tie it to projects. He said regularly scheduled customer service surveys about the IT organization's performance, for instance, can show results.

"Is the help desk giving better help than before its staff was trained?" Walker said. "Most IT organizations are doing customer surveys anyway. Include a question that looks at whether learning opportunities are impacting customers. It isn't too difficult. Then look to continually improve on that because then you've got a process in place. It's not so hard to do. It just never seems to hit the top 10 of CIOs' important concerns at any time."

Walker said many organizations determine the value of training through "smile seat." That's Walker's phrase for those post-training surveys that ask attendees to evaluate the session. For instance, asking them to rank the content and the presentation on a scale of one to five. But Walker argues that they're too subjective and don't really measure what the employee retained. Two weeks later, they've forgotten most of what they learned.

Measuring challenges

George Bock, senior director of IT at Sole Technology Inc., a Lake Forest, Calif.-based manufacturer of sports apparel and footwear, said measuring the value of training appeals to him, but finding time to figure it out is a challenge.

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"It might be something I'd like to be able to measure, but I have no thoughts on how I could do it," Bock said. "It's part of a maturation process of IT. It might be easier to do in larger companies. It's less easy to do in midsized companies, which are doing a lot of firefighting with no time to move forward. We've made a huge investment in infrastructure and we were able to focus more on training beginning about two years ago."

Jim Prevo, CIO of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. in Waterbury, Vt., downplayed the importance of measuring the value of training. He said his company intuitively understands the value of "sharpening the saw."

"While I think that measuring the value is a plus, I don't think it is a requirement," Prevo said. "As I said, it's a no-brainer for me that people, especially people in the incredibly fast-paced IT industry, need to keep honing their skills and learning new technologies and techniques. Success starts with corporate purpose and values and is expressed in the corporate culture. If your culture is one that naturally values people, then investing in them is as essential as breathing."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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