Training - How to Make it Pay

by Stephen Newton

Selection of training courses and suppliers

In order to select suitable courses and suppliers of training, it is essential to start from the clear statement of the outcomes you seek to achieve and the resulting benefits.

Alice: ‘Which way should I go, please?’

The Caterpillar: ‘Where do you want to get to?’

Alice: ‘I don’t much mind, Sir...’

The Caterpillar: ‘Then it really doesn’t matter much which way you go...’

Lewis Caroll: Alice in Wonderland

A five-step process to assess requirements

If you do not already operate a competency-based recruitment and appraisal system, you will need to put in place some of the key elements, so that you can decide more easily exactly what is needed. The following five steps will provide the basics:

  1. Assess what elements/functions go to make up the given role
  2. Write down a short description of the ‘perfect’ employee and the skills they would exhibit in each element of that role (a two-column table with the skill descriptions in one column and two or three bullet points outlining ‘what good looks like’ for each of them in the second column will suffice)
  3. Assess each potential trainee as objectively as possible against each of the criteria you have outlined (use a simple one-to-ten scale or a traffic light (red/yellow/green) approach)
  4. Identify, at the individual level, in what areas a change or improvement needs to be made
  5. Write down in concrete terms what specific changes you seek from the individual and how you will measure success.

Selecting suppliers

Selecting suppliers may not be open to you as a line manager, but may instead be the responsibility of your firm’s HR or training department. If that is the case, the more specific you can be in terms of the desired outcomes, the easier it will be for them to select the most appropriate course or other activity and the best supplier for your needs.

If you are to select your own suppliers and there is no guidance available from HR people in your firm, you can start by using Google to identify possible suppliers locally or approach the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) for suggestions.

You must interview each supplier on your shortlist in order to ensure that not only do they have the relevant skills to offer at a reasonable price, but that you essentially ‘like and trust’ the person you meet. Where possible, always select the supplier based on ‘chemistry’ with the individual trainer and not just on basic competence and price. Those on the receiving end of the training will take away far more (and retain it for longer) if they like and trust the trainer and have fun on the course. That does not mean that the course is necessarily easy – far from it.

If you do not like the supplier, avoid selecting that firm. Experience indicates that to use people you do not like and trust instinctively is likely to lead to problems.

So far as you can, you should also involve the employee in the selection of the actual activity and the supplier. The more that the individual feels this is ‘their’ decision, the more likely it is that they will seek to justify the decision by making the most of the training and gaining maximum benefit.


Make sure that the supplier/trainer is aware of the specific outcomes you (and hence the trainee) seek from the training event. Even if the event is run for a group, it may be possible for the content to be adjusted to fit your needs more closely. (Few other managers will bother to talk to the supplier before the event about outcomes they are seeking, so you may gain a degree of tailoring at no cost!)