Return on Investing in People

I’ve always run my business based on our shared values. They really work. If I’m not sure how I should act on a particular decision I will often refer back to our values for guidance.

Our third value is generosity…

As such when any of the team has come to me to ask to attend a training course or seminar ? I have never refused them. When my HR leader joined some months ago and she reviewed our training and development spend ? she remarked that ‘per person it is very generous ? upward of what many corporation would spend’. That’s good I thought to myself. The question she posed to me was ‘And what is the bottom line return you are getting for that investment?’. I’d not really thought about it.

There are two things here ? one is relevance of the education and the second is how it is applied when the participant returns to work.

We have chosen as an organization to make available to every employee on commencement the Gallup Strengths Finder. This is a great way to get to know someone and to ensure that the new starters KPIs are set based on their strengths. The second program that we offer for each person once they complete their three months probation is the Landmark Forum and Advanced course. Both really operate in the area of personal development.

Then there is also vocational training ? and this is where I have the most challenges (and where I believe that there is a fine line between living our values and being taken for a ride).

One employee asked to do elocution lessons (speech training) she was in sales and on the phone a lot and she said she wanted to get rid of her broad Australian twang. Over a period of expensive one on one coaching sessions over many months this took place. She completed the course successfully, she had a new manager, whom she did not get along with, then one Monday morning she arrived and with out so much as a goodbye to her peers she cleaned out her desk and left ? taking with her my newly invested speech training.

I had heeded my technical people’s request to attend a technical development conference. My credit card statement had not even returned when one decided he had met an interesting organization at the event and he was off.

There have been many examples in the past year.

I spoke to my mentor about it and he said that he has had a training guarantee payback scheme in place for years. He ask a person to sign a document on the expected deliverables of the training for the organization and also that if they leave the company within 12 months a proportion (depending on the length of time) is repaid to the company.

My HR leader said that such a practice is quite common in major corporations. However when I presented the idea to my GMs ? one particularly was not pleased (saying it made us look stingy.) he said why ‘punish’ everyone for the selfishness of a few past people.

Well running a business is not a democracy and sometimes you have to make decisions based on commercial returns not just what people would like. Remember I am committed to the development of our people ? and always will be. But it has to be a two way street.

This entry was posted in Smart Company


  1. shaun houlahan
    Posted August 5, 2007 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi Naomi, this is the first time I have ever read one of your posts and found myself disagreeing. I understand your annoyance at your employees leaving after training. My own organisation has a similar problem but on a much larger scale.
    I recommend you resist the temptation to have your people sign a bond. In our company it has lead to feelings of resentment. It seems to me you will retain far more excellent employees with your attitude to their development than you will lose and the positive environment you have created will make Red Balloon more successful in the long run, even if you can’t immediately see the bottom line benefits. I am reminded of an anecdote I once read where 2 managers are discussing staff retention and training.
    Manager 1"imagine if we train all these people and they leave"
    Manager 2 " yes, but imagine if we don’t train them and they stay!!"

  2. Posted September 20, 2007 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    Great post, great solution. Thanks.

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