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January 21, 2004 - How to Increase (or at least protect!) Your Training Budget - Part 3

It's January, and unfortunately many of you are still in Continuing Resolution limbo. At this point you're pretty much going to get what you're going to get, so now is a good time to conclude this three-part series of Training Officer Tips by considering a few more ways to fashion a favorable budget situation for your training office. If you missed last month's Tip or would like to review it, you can read it at tips0007.html.

The following suggestions, combined with your own good ideas and best practices might breathe some life into your training plans:

1) Find examples of standout performers in your agency or department who have benefited from training. Hold them up to decision makers. Scan your brain for and ask your colleagues to identify your standout performers. Then, ask these winners what kinds of training programs and coaching arrangements have positively impacted their performances. Make sure they are specific about which topics helped them and why. Ask them to state the exact benefits that they derived from their training, and then ask them for recommendations for future training. Three things will happen when you do this: a) You'll learn which topics work and why. b) You'll learn the best way to sell these benefits to budgetary decision makers. c) You'll be giving the top performers a role in the process. Since many top performers have influence in your organization, you'll be more likely to get their endorsement for the training dollars you request. This outcome can only help your chances of being taken seriously.

2) Compile training evaluation data in a purposeful and creative manner. A seldom used, but tremendously valuable tool at your disposal are the evaluations of training programs and instructors. A couple of important pieces of information can be gleaned from them that can help you make a case for increased training dollars. a) Direct quotes and testimonials from participants. By compiling the best critiques into justification documents for each program and instructor, you can help justify your training requests. Try to write the evaluations in such a way that the participants will write specifically about the benefits they've received from the training. The best quotes should say why the training is effective and how the skills learned in the program can be taken back to the office and be used in a positive, productive manner. b) Compile "averages" of the program and instructor effectiveness. Even though it is not the most scientific way to write evaluations, the easiest way to get general feedback about programs and instructors is to have the participants rate the content and delivery on a scale of 1 to 5. Average out the ratings from each course and compile the data. Assemble the averages in the same document as the quotes, and you'll be creating a comprehensive look at the value of the program and the popularity of the instructor. What's known as the "Hawthone Effect" holds true with your training evaluation. It says that things that we monitor and measure tend to improve over time. So, by diligently compiling your evaluations, you can experience a double-whammy: You're employees will get better at their jobs and you can better justify running the courses in the future.

3) Institute a Mentoring Program in your agency or department. If you are not currently running a mentoring program, or if you think you can run a better one than you currently have, make sure you inquire about Benchmark Training's experience in this important employee development and succession planning tool.

In general, mentoring programs do three things: a) They enhance organizational performance, b) they develop emerging leaders, and c) they enhance the effectiveness of the established leaders. These are all very positive outcomes. And, they can help you increase your training budget. How? In at least two ways. Good mentoring programs have training components which are aligned with the employee development goals of the organization. And since many organizations see the budgets for mentoring programs as being separate from training, you can train many employees within mentoring program without putting a dent in your regular training budget. The second way mentoring programs can help to increase your training budget is to leverage the fact that the mentors are usually GS-15s and SESers. These employees have influence throughout your organization, so mentoring programs in which they participate will generate positive buzz in the upper echelons of your organization. You can get them to be advocates for your cause and point to the success of the mentoring program as a justification for increased training dollars in the future. In order to achieve this result, remember to build evaluations into the mentoring program, and always tie the goals of the program back to your agency's workforce plan and human capital goals. Keep your agency's goals at the forefront of your program, and budgetary decision makers won't be able to ignore the return on investment (ROI) of all of your programs.

4) Spend all of the money you have, and then ask for more. Often, we'll get training requests in July, August and September from training officers who are trying to spend everything from their budgets so they can receive comparable budgets for the next fiscal year. While this practice makes sense, if you take it a step further, you might be able to get more than what you got in the previous year. Instead of waiting until the eleventh hour to spend your money, try making these "final" requests in May or June. Then, try to find more money to schedule training at the end of the fiscal year. Even if you don't get it, you'll be demonstrating a need that is greater than in year's past. By demonstrating this need, you could be setting yourself up for an increased budget in the next fiscal year. Which brings us to the final tactic.

5) Ask for more training dollars than you think you'll be satisfied receiving. Your budget request for training and employee development is one huge, complicated negotiation, so always keep that in mind. When people negotiate salaries in the private sector, the smart ones ask for more than they'll be satisfied receiving. If someone is currently earning $40,000 per year, and she's up for a raise, it makes sense to ask for more than she needs. She might ask for $52,000 plus more vacation days when all she really wants is $45,000 and the same amount of vacation days. Since she is valuable to the organization, her boss might grant her request. But even if she doesn't get it all, she'll probably get at least the $45,000. When you ask for more than you need, you'll often be surprised with getting at least what you need.

The same theory can apply to requesting a new training budget. Let's say you currently have a $225,000 training budget. If you think you need a bit more and will be satisfied with a $250,000 training budget for the next fiscal year, it might benefit you to request $400,000. What's the worst that can happen? If you've prepared valid reasons for your higher request and you can defend these reasons with solid evidence of the value of the training, you'll probably get at least $250,000. If not, you almost surely won't get less than $225,000, and you'll have positioned yourself for more money in the future. Plus, if one of your higher-up advocates complains that his or her employees aren't getting enough good training opportunities, you can show that you sought more but were denied it. It's a win-win for the training office.

As we've said before, none of these strategies are fool-proof. Every organization has its quirks. All you can do it give them a shot. Maybe your budget personnel will surprise you. And then you're off to the races!

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