Sequester, budget pressure, politics and conference scandals are leading many agencies to make cuts to their travel and training budgets. Cutting “T&T” is not new. Anyone who has worked in the training field knows one of the first line items to get cut is training. Why is that? Is training so undervalued that budget cutters think there is too little return on investment to justify the cost?
Sadly, the answer is usually yes. HR and Learning professionals have not done enough to show the returns investments in training are generating. Sometimes that is because they really do not know the ROI. Other times it is because there is none. More often, we simply have not done enough to make the business case for training. Absent a compelling business case, training can and does suffer during budget drills. Leaders who constantly say “people are our most important resource” will cut the dollars that might deliver a better-skilled and more engaged “most important resource.” Is there a solution?
Yes, but it is not easy, and it may require some tough decisions. Here are 4 things you should do if you want to keep training dollars in the budget.
- Make a mission case for the training. A mission case, much like a business case, clearly demonstrates how the training dollars will support the agency’s mission. If there is no mission case to be made, find a better use for the money before someone else does.
- Build support for the program. A big training program that has the full support of the Chief Learning Officer (CLO), Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) or Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and no one else has a target painted on it. In particular, focus on the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or equivalent. If the CFO is on your side, you have some support when the tough budget calls are being made. Those decisions are often made in one-on-one meetings between the agency head or deputy and the CFO. In addition to the CFO, the training program needs a champion. The people who lead the mission or support area that benefits from the program have to be its champion. If they are not, the program is vulnerable and will be cut.
- Establish discrete line items for key training programs. It is easy to give the order to cut a percentage of training dollars when the dollars do not have a program face. It is harder to cut training for the agency’s core mission workforce, or for the acquisition workforce, or for the leaders who will help move the Agency forward and get the workforce more engaged. A budget that is simply for “training” that will be parsed out during the year as needs arise is a target. It can and will be cut.
- Establish credibility by eliminating waste in training. I have been told (no joke) “all training is good.” No, it is not. Some training is feel-good or boondoggle training that is used to reward good performers or get poor performers out of the way for a while. In today’s budget climate we simply cannot afford to spend training dollars that way. The CLO/CHCO/CHRO and everyone who works for them must take the lead in cutting waste out of training. That does not mean cut your own budget. It means doing the hard work of ensuring training dollars are being spent on the real needs of the organization. I have never seen an organization that had more training dollars than it needed. Cutting the waste means you have dollars to apply to the pressing learning needs of the organization.
If you go to the budget battle armed with a mission case, a team of strong supporters, and a budget that shows clearly where the money will go, and with credibility you earned by making tough decisions on spending, and you are far better equipped to come away with the dollars you need. If any of those are missing, the budget sharks are circling and you may be chum in the water.
Excerpt from my interview on In Depth with WFED’s Francis Rose