Trainer Talk: Positioning Training

It takes hard work and moxie to tie training to corporate strategic goals.

By Bob Pike

I’ve been privy to a spirited debate lately in my travels to conferences and seminars around the world. While some trainers and training directors continue to complain about the old saw that “training is the first thing to be cut,” others are telling me the status of training in their organizations is stronger than ever. Is training enjoying newfound respect and support inside the corporation, or is it still expected to survive on budgetary “leftovers” while top managers give priority funding to other areas deemed more crucial to corporate survival?

The answer often is influenced by one factor: the initiative and moxie of those in the training department. And that goes beyond ensuring that training programs have a lot of power, punch, and pizzazz. It is the rare executive—unless he or she has a training background—who gets training “religion” without the influence of the training and performance improvement function. More often, it is a result of a well-planned, relentless—and yes, courageous—lobbying effort on the part of a training function that delivers on its promises.

Take Sandra Merwin, for example, a consultant who several years ago was involved in an organizational development project with a major company. Top managers there didn’t view training as a key player in accomplishing corporate objectives. Merwin convinced the Human Resources team to ask the CEO and vice presidents some tough questions to force them to reexamine their own opinions.

Once granted an audience, they peppered the managers with questions such as: What is the organization teaching mid-level managers now that is preparing them to lead the company in the future? What experiences formed your
current belief system about training’s value? What is the responsibility of managers in getting their employees equipped to perform at higher levels? Do managers (including you) see training as an investment—or a cost? Why aren’t managers/
supervisors more involved in supporting trainees in the post-training environment?

Today, the training programs of that firm are tied—for the first time—to key strategic objectives of the organization. Every evaluation of a training program in the company now carries some variation of the question, “This training program was designed to fulfill XYZ key corporate objectives. To what extent did the program help fulfill these objectives for you?” The CEO and his direct reports review the responses regularly.

Skeptical trainers often scoff at such examples, saying, “If my top managers were as open-minded as that, I could get a lot more done, too.” But top-level support at the aforementioned company didn’t happen by osmosis. The trainers involved didn’t wait for it to happen; they were proactive in making it happen. It took personal courage, and a real commitment to the value of needs-based training.

Even the most energizing, thought-provoking, and technologically dazzling training programs do little good if they are not tied in some way to pressing business needs. That will only happen if we work with line managers to ensure training is moving people in the direction the organizational compass is pointed. Training is a process, not an event. And the purpose of training is to get results back on the job. But training’s contribution is most powerful when those results move the organization from where it is to where it wants to be. And that can’t happen until managers and trainers alike can view training as an investment, not a cost. Let’s get the conversation started.

Let me close with a question for you: What books have been most influential to you in your training career? Please send me your list at I’ll share the results in a future column—and give you my list of the top 10 training books that should be on every trainer’s bookshelf.

Bob Pike is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.