The ROI of Cheap Training

Co-written by Shally, Maureen Sharib, and Glenn Gutmacher.

Have you noticed a slew of emails lately for free or cheap training? Is it tempting, when budgets are being cut back, to say that having everyone pick some of those and/or sending a handful of staffers to a conference and report back to the group, is how your team will fulfill its training goals this year? Exactly what goals will you fulfill that way?

Maureen Sharib
Maureen Sharib

We in recruiting can learn something from sales training programs and organizations — a near-ubiquitous category. The good ones from major firms like Miller-Heiman to boutique firms like High Probability Selling (Jacques Werth), and tons of programs ranging from specific skills (negotiations, closing, communication) to entire approaches (customer-centric selling, target account selling) are promoted as means to help salespeople identify the right prospects and ultimately close more deals. The effect should be more revenue to the firm than the cost and time devoted to learning, justifying the training’s ROI.

But training is only a support mechanism — a means to an end. It is a way for managers to identify high performers, those who adapt to training and a way to remediate poor performers — it also can be a way to justify the team leader’s performance. Talk to most salespeople and they will rattle off a series of training programs they attended. Training is usually part of most annual sales/marketing corporate meetings. Even for technical folks, training is the norm because it is the way that they keep up on the latest technologies and don’t become as obsolete or un-marketable as the Commodore 64.

Top 5 Reasons Why Recruiting Managers Avoid Training

It mystifies us as to how many staffing leaders brush off quality training as a major expense that no one has time for. We offer a sample of the actual, lame excuses and objections received for your amusement:

  1. “I have the most seasoned recruiters/team”: Considering that we hear this one constantly — then everyone has the most seasoned recruiters and team. This means that ultimately no one has the most seasoned recruiters or team. Define “seasoned.” Is it someone who has been recruiting the same way for 20 years with some modicum of success? Or did they work in agencies and had to produce? We know marketing people with 20 years of experience who were so behind that they lost touch with what was going on in marketing. We don’t mean performance measures in terms of length of service, but rather in terms of results. We buy the fact your recruiter can fill a position in less than six weeks consistently and has an 80% fill rate; we do not buy the fact that s/he is “seasoned.” That type of thinking means there is likely no real measurement of performance in the organization; all the more reason to have metrics and training.
  2. “I have no budget for training”: Money is allocated, meaning that with the proper business case, it is possible to obtain funding for training. What talent managers are really saying is: a) they have no power in an organization and are not strategic assets; b) they don’t understand or are incapable of developing a business case; and c) they are not invested in the performance or betterment of their own people. If the motivation exists, the money will be there. Training is an investment with the end result of affecting the top or bottom line. If you train recruiters and sourcers well, the result is faster hires, more strategic fit, and enhanced competitiveness — at a lower cost.
  3. “I already know all that stuff that so-and-so teaches”: Well, if you knew everything that Shally Steckerl, Maureen Sharib, and the other “gurus” knew, then you would be teaching instead of working for someone else to pay your bills. Plus, the “gurus” are focused on the R&D needed to consistently improve and do not do anything else except participate in the cycle of teach-learn. Without that laser focus and talent, it is impossible to hone a skill to that level. Plus, truly intelligent and confident people will benchmark against others as a measure of their true performance. In fact, they enjoy the challenge and look for their own areas of strength and weakness.
  4. “I am the team leader; I should know and impart everything”: The job of a team leader is to understand the strengths/weaknesses of the team and provide the best available resources to help them succeed. A team leader who feels this way is someone who is not developing his people and is in need of management training and coaching.
  5. “There’s a lot of free and cheap training in this economy, why pay more?”: Look at the source of the free webinars and inexpensive workshops from these self-proclaimed experts. Where did they come out of the woodwork? These are people who were contract recruiters yesterday and would jump back tomorrow if they could land a steady gig. These “overnight gurus” are looking for quick cash in the meantime to cover their bills. That’s a big difference from the dedicated recruitment training and consulting organizations that invest heavily in R&D (see #3 above) to innovate and share best practice methods. The industry leaders are tried and tested, offering true research, proven by experience. You can see the passion and enthusiasm in their presentations, and the same from their huge fan bases. But there is a cost to maintain that kind of world-class operation. You get what you pay for.
Glenn Gutmacher
Glenn Gutmacher

We recently spoke to a recruiting manager who claimed “no budget,” “seasoned recruiters,” and “I know everything.” As we listened to her, we got the impression that she was quite unmotivated to do anything more than what she currently did, even though it was costing her organization more money. No doubt the minute her boss comes across someone who is a little more motivated, this person will likely be gone and — without keeping up — obsolete.

Training Works When Linked to Metrics, Processes

By linking specific goals such as increased productivity per recruiter, compressed fill times, or enhanced sourcing outcomes, training can demonstrate ROI as tangible, measurable increases are noted. With reinforcement of concepts and proper implementation, an adaptable recipient can immediately begin demonstrating observable behavioral and productivity changes.

Training is a means to an end — an investment in self-development. According to Lauri Bassi, CEO of McBassi & Company, “the single most powerful predictor of stock price is a firm’s investment in training.” If that isn’t compelling enough for you, consider this. Continuous learning is the hallmark of the top performer, because only a top performer recognizes that it is needed to always stay ahead and mitigate threats. There is no excuse — zero — for not doing it.

Quality training starts with an evaluation of the team, its strengths and weaknesses, and a comparison of the team’s performance actively benchmarked against current industry or internal performance metrics. Without defining success and comparing it to external yardsticks, understanding the true performance of the team or individual is impossible.

Article Continues Below

How the Virtuous Cycle Begins, Takes Hold

What we often find is that every team is comprised of a wide range of ability and aptitude. For larger teams, whether the training is held onsite or via webinar, full group attendance trainings are not enough to achieve meaningful goals. Post-training exercises can reveal who has done their homework if the company management reinforces the importance.

However, smaller groups allow the trainer to address more specific needs (e.g., how to source Finance requisitions vs. Information Technology) while also allowing team members to open up. A strong trainer can be more interactive and draw out questions, comments, and learn who “gets” it on an individual level.
Who the manager thinks is the rockstar often ends up falling to the middle of the pack once you get past the basics. Others previously deemed average are suddenly motivated and end up becoming subject-matter experts. Of those, inevitably at least one surfaces who can be coached to become the internal lead for train-the-trainer initiatives. This insures ongoing learning that reinforces the gains from the official instructor(s) and creates a virtuous cycle.

The opportunity for people to specialize (e.g., particular tools or subject matter) and share what they learn as a group in a recurring format can evolve into what is called a “Community of Practice” or “Center of Excellence.” Don’t be surprised if others outside your team hear about these and ask to attend! Now you have the core for special project committees that can start to institute new, more productive processes and systems with metrics behind them.

The accomplished trainer/consultant does not lead these groups or sessions, but rather counsels recruiting management and/or project teams from behind the scenes as a trusted advisor. Such leaders have the expertise and experience to recommend tweaks along the way to optimize systems as well as avoid bad surprises. And when the occasional major problem arises, they can draw upon similar experiences to confidently suggest ways to address it.

If all this isn’t happening in your organization, maybe it’s time to look at an organization that provides quality training and consulting, and has proven its value repeatedly for companies like yours.

Shally is a globally recognized leader in Sourcing, Recruitment Research and Recruitment Marketing. He is a professional Speaker (NSA Professional member) often requested to speak about sourcing strategy and recruitment marketing. He is the founder of JobMachine, Inc. now EVP of Arbita, Inc. the premier provider of Sourcing Consulting Services and Research Training. Shally has built and/or advised sourcing organizations at over 200 companies like Microsoft, Google, Coca-Cola, Cisco and Motorola. He is Instrumental in modeling centralized recruitment organizations and has a reputation as an authority in Internet search, pioneer in recruitment research. Shally is frequently a contributor to top industry forums and often headline at leading conferences.


14 Comments on “The ROI of Cheap Training

  1. Training has different levels as well. It’s like a massage. There’s the “got a problem need it worked out today,” there’s the “constant maintenance to prevent problems,” and there’s the deep tissue massage to dig out the rot and get you back to health.

    Or maybe it’s like physical therapy. Sometimes it’s about relieving pain, and sometimes it’s about rebuilding to let you function correctly.

    Ooh, a blog post idea!

  2. Good article. Recruitment changes constantly, really from all perspectives. I find that training differentiates us from our competition. Training your recruiters sets a cultural expectation of improvment and progress while demonstrating a willingness to invest in your people. Tactically, you’re ensuring ‘best practices’ from sourcing to on-boarding. Also, I agree that “cheap” has negative connotations, but good training is such a cost effective way to positively impact your recruiting.

  3. I sure enjoyed and profited from the training from Steckerl, Szary, Hudson, and LaDouceur last week. If any of you are looking for a “steady gig” please contact me.

    BTW, when will I receive the bill for that training?

  4. This is one of those articles that gives me pause. I instinctively understand that, by responding with my true thoughts, there may be a price to my personal brand. That being said, my personal brand is one of truth, honesty, and “keeping it real”, so I’ll take that chance. Here she goes:

    I understand listing the typical objections here – in every selling arena, there are objections; some real and some perceived. I get that. As salespersons, it’s part of our game.

    However, I would be remiss not to mention 2 things:

    a. I don’t buy into the argument that one organization’s training is better than another’s in all circumstances. If you’re not performing a gap analysis, then the truth is that you’re simply broadcasting the ‘best practices du jour.’ In some cases, these practices will work; in others, they won’t. It’s all about customization, otherwise that same objection (“We’ve seen that content several times this year”) will continue to resurface. In my humble opinion, audiences and organizations wanted to be talked ‘laterally with’, not ‘down to’.

    b. Disparaging competitors with lines like, “self-proclaimed gurus”, “Where did they come out of the wordwork?”, and labeling others as “people who were contract recruiters yesterday and would jump back tomorrow if they could land a steady gig” is extremely unprofessional. Truly, I mean this professionally and not personally, but I don’t understand how bulletpoint 5 made it through multiple authors and was not corrected or removed. I’ve personally attended Shally’s & Glenn’s training – in fact, I’ve presented at some of the same venues . . . and I can tell you it’s amazingly powerful information in the right hands. This is why I’m slightly surprised to see the anti-competitive comments – you’re the best because others say you’re the best, not because you say you’re the best yourself. In fact, this very mode of thinking makes it difficult for new personalities and fresh concepts to hit the airwaves – we should be embracing new voices, not stunting them. What happens? A scenario we all know too well – the same people presenting at the same conferences each year . . . and ultimately, mark my words that this diminishes ticket sales more than any other objection (including lack of budget, etc.)

    Ultimately, this article would have been more impactful if the blackballing of competitors was minimized. Yes, I do understand this article is an advertisement, and I respect that . . . however, I humbly and respectfully ask to keep the negativity and unprofessional disparaging from making the final draft next time.

    By providing my thoughts here, let me be explicit in the fact that I’m not looking to create any enemies here whatsoever – I’m simply stepping forward to humbly state we need more collaboration and positivity in these times. Recessions are not the time for monopolistic banter. I can see competitors bludgeoning themselves with clubs during up-markets, but not to this same degree in down-markets.

    P.S. To reiterate, no I am not a trainer – instead, I do this job and live in the recruiting trenches, all day, every day. And yes, I understand that by calling a spade a spade, some will not like it and I may wind up on private emails and in a Twitter stream. Such is the price of having a voice in our space, so all I ask is to please keep it clean and remember that my goal here is to shift the anti-competitive paradigm at a high level, not move any personal agenda forward (because trust me that I don’t have one – I’m just an Exec Recruiter trying to make things happen for my Clients).

  5. One small comment back to you Josh, I do not think Shally meant those comments as anti-competitive rantings or put-downs, I believe he meant it in the respect that there are many people who are “fly by night”. And, new ways of doing things are truly appreciated – in fact, I bet a guru on the rise who is proven could easily become a part of the JobMachine consulting staff in the future.

    I will provide a perfect example to support his commentary. A salesguy joined a company where he is leading lead generation efforts. However, this person when employed as a salesguy rarely picked up the phone and was not happy about doing prospecting. Uh, he was let go because he didn’t fill the pipeline. I know of a person who created one of the worst deliverables in the history of the company, caused a major problem. This person is now offering the same deliverable as part of her own company services. They are third class, but people will work with them for whatever reason – cheaper, better sales personality, desperate for help…

    A lot of independent “consultants” will emerge and quickly pack up shop the minute the six figure job is available again – leaving a lot of destruction in their wake. What do they care? they needed money…they don’t really have concern for their clients, a mission, or desire to help.

    Some, however, true entrepreneurs and opportunity graspers will become the next INC 500. Can’t apply to all across the board.

    The point here is that the value of training is diminished for a variety of reasons and talent acquisition executives need to be aware of the “snake oil” that pervades among the real thing.

    Consider this: A lot of those “seasoned recruiters” and “experienced, know everythings” are now on the unemployment lines. Best in the world departments, skinned to the bone. Possibly having a competitive edge would have helped?

  6. Rachel, I understand where you’re coming from. I took these published comments at face value as a reader.

    I believe we could have an outstanding, at-length discussion as we are in both agreement and disagreement the more granular we get on this issue.

    For example, I hesitate to use the term “snake oil” – however, what I will say is that the true deception lies in the growing disconnect between the thought innovation being spurred on by the academic world in our space . . . and the constant broadcasting of social media as being the ultimate recruiting solution. It’s as if our space is becoming a muscle magazine with tons of colorful ads and marketing hype about the next great vitamin or bodybuilding supplement . . . as people continue to lose focus on the core fundamentals of proper diet and exercise.

    Due to the ephemeral tenure of the average recruiter, too much focus lies on tactics and (short-term) reactive metrics, as opposed to creating true organizational and shareholder value through strategic architecture and decision science (largely being spearheaded by John Boudreau of the Marshall School of Business, Richard Beatty of your alma mater, and ERE’s own John Sullivan).

    This is my true passion and above all things, linking organizational performance to Talent Acquisition (and O/D) is the long overdue focus at the C-level. What pains me is the continued conversations on tactics coupled with a reactionary recruiting mindset . . . while the Exec Roundtable is having a completely different discussions about what really matters.

    So while I do understand your concern about the “fly by night” trainer, the bigger issue is that our conversations are missing the boat because they’re too tactical to be of any significant value at the Exec level. As each day goes by, I scratch my head as to why we’re talking about the same things we’ve been talking about for years while the Exec Roundtable is demanding much more. The jig is up, and in my humble (yet serious) opinion, the future of our country’s competitiveness in the Global Economy is at stake.

    P.S. And for a comical touch, I’d recommend that next time a Talent Acquisition Director (or Recruiter) is asked to attend a high-level meeting on enhancing organizational value through mobilizing talent, don’t mention Ning or Twitter. Trust me on this one. 🙂

    P.S.S. If I could have one wish granted regarding the improvement of our space, it would be that Recruiting and Talent Acquisition starts having more intelligent discussions about the things that really matter.

  7. Josh,

    I didn’t take Shally’s column as a cheap shot, and he easily could have been talking about me, as I am a recruiter who has added training to my work, and I’m a social media marketer to boot!

    But Shally wasn’t talking about me – he was talking about people who think training is something you can just wing. And like social media “consultants” with no experience backing up their claims, they muddy the water with low cost and low value solutions. The industry does fine in creating new voices – but those new voices have to prove themselves over time, and they have to offer something tied back to hiring as a metric. Many don’t.

    I see where you’re going about competitiveness, but talent acquisition isn’t training and management. Finding the right kinds of people is just a portion of the process, and with the new tools available, that portion can be more effective, giving recruiters the time and the knowledge to focus more on the personal relationships. Shally and other trainers make recruiters better at their jobs. It’s not possible for us to make other people better at theirs as well.

    Learning to source early adopters and top executives with strong networks quickly is a competitive advantage, and can be used in tandem with phone sourcing, assessments, and any other number of tools to find the right talent quickly.

    As for Twitter and Ning – I’d disagree strongly with your suggestion not to bring them up to executives. In fact, I’d make sure they executives knew the value of the sites before they go off to a marketing conference and come back asking why their company isn’t using Twitter for recruiting. What you’re missing is that the value in social media is the connections made by the individuals inside companies. The research into how we communicate is pretty darn valuable too, and that research is concluding that social networking is improving the value of the best companies and the best employees.

    Yes, there is a lot of dead weight, but that’s a feature, not a bug. Dead weight is quickly bypassed in company networks where social media use is widespread. It would seem that a company that uses social media to recruit, or who sources from social media, is hiring people who are proving to be the best employees.

    That’s research recruiters don’t get to access, but I’d say the evidence is pretty strong and growing. I’d be happy to showcase some of this with you on another forum.

  8. James, our conversation has veered slightly from my initial comment, however that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s the ongoing discussion that is the true benefit. You and I should talk physically because text communication is too one-way and it’s easy for things to be taken out of context (myself included).

    Overall, We agree on quite a bit here. For example, I am in 110% concurrence with the following statement of yours: “Finding the right kinds of people is just a portion of the process, and with the new tools available, that portion can be more effective, giving recruiters the time and the knowledge to focus more on the personal relationships.” I also agree with you that a large majority of our market has become “social media consultants” – 9 times out of 10, if the Recruiter or TA Professional is on Twitter, they likely claim to consult on Social Media . . . and here is my hypothesis on why:

    1. Because the tenure of the typical Recruiter or Recruiting Manager is normally less than 36 months (short-term), most on the “line” do not embrace long-term measures of performance.

    2. Because those same Recruiters and Recruiting Managers are wow’d and wooed during business development meetings by pointing to social media. If those Managers have little to no concern about the firm’s long-term performance, and their focus is short-term metrics, we’re simply feeding them the dog food that they want (Sales 101) versus the dog food that will truly move our profession forward.

    3. Because Recruiting Mgrs (on the “Line”) are not having the same types of discussions that Sr Execs are. There is a disconnect between hiring today (short-term metrics) and those metrics that point to long-term performance of the firm. This perpetuates the issue of HR not being respected – sure, maybe HR has a “seat at the table”, but it matters little if nobody cares to hear what that seat has to say.

    Let me also suggest that I disagree with the following: “What you’re missing is that the value in social media is the connections made by the individuals inside companies.” I get that, and as I’ve said before, I respect that. “What you’re missing” has a somewhat negative connotation, which is not my intent . . . so I’ll simply state that the questions Top Execs are asking do not involve why TA isn’t using Twitter to recruit. Top Execs don’t want to talk about tools, technologies, and channels – they want to talk about performance and how TA is creating value for the organization long-term.

    Ultimately, it takes all of our perspectives to progress, and luckily, we all have a voice. I believe we should put our minds together, not our bludgeoning clubs as a result of competing for the same staffing spend. The only thing I’ll ask you to keep in mind is that I am not a trainer or ‘social media consultant’ . . . so my agenda is not to improve my position as a provider of those services. I’m outside the bubble of these offerings and am simply communicating in an objective manner that it appears as if top brass is having and demanding different discussions of us than we’re currently having. As you well know, this is a very unpopular stance – markets resist change and will fight vehemently to maintain status quo.

    Fortunately, I’m not in the minority on this – I’ll be attending Aberdeen’s Human Capital Summit next week in Atlanta and the impetus there seems to be much different than the buzz I see floating around in our space on a day-to-day basis in early 2009. Let’s have a more active conversation – give me a ring.

  9. I agree with Josh re: the disconnect between the tactical and the strategic. It seems wasteful to train people beyond a basic-user level on sourcing/recruiting skills which can be eliminated, automated, or outsourced at low cost- An Argentina-based recruiter/sourcer paid $1000/mo can learn to recruit using phones, the internet, blogs, Twitter, etc. as well as a U.S.-based one paid $5,000+/mo.

    IMHO, what training should concentrate on would be high value-add skills not susceptible to the “E, A, or O Triple Play” described, such as learning how to be:
    1) an effective Executive- or Niche Recruiter,
    2) a world-class closer, and
    3) an effective and strategic-oriented project manager between the client and the outsourced sourcers/recruiters.

    These are the skills we need to thrive under the “New Recruiting Paradigm”.


    Keith “Can Use Fancy Words, Too” Halperin

  10. Joshua, you are absolutely 100% on the organizational disconnect issue. But, that is because there is a disconnect..pardon me if I am off from what you relate. I view it thusly, tactics are a way to improve the overall PROCESS which is linked to strategy. We can tie this into other discussions on ERE about HR and “passing the buck” too.

    Two key areas for HR:
    1. Employee Acquisition: best talent, greatest productivity, acquired least cost
    2. Employee Retention: retain employees, increase productivity, keep overall asset cost down

    Lets focus on Acquistion. Goal acquire the best talent for each position available. Talent Acquisition’s focus is to strategically map markets, identify candidates, use available channels – least cost.

    Training focused on tactics (ie LinkedIN) is merely an avenue to create sourcing and recruiting productivity. Tactical training that Shally ( provides is merely one part of contribution to recruiting “candidate targeting” and recruiting efficiency. How the department is managed from a PROCESS perspective is the next level up, and my opinion is that is consulting, not training. Training is more about increasing productivity on an individual level, consulting is about process mapping and organizational upleveling – many more moving parts involved. I really don’t think you can teach stuff like that. Strategy formulation is highly dependent on multifactors, big picture analysis, and is very individualized to the company based on ITS positioning to the market, competition, and economic factors.

    To your point, YES, Strategy leads to tactics, but it is a multilevel issue. Business Strategy to HR, HR to Acquisition, HR to Retention, Acquisition to Candidates – tactics effect execution. Recruiters/sourcers are executing a candidate acquisition strategy.

    To Keith: Even outsourced recruiters or sourcers need training. In fact, its precisely those who need it most because they are not up to speed on social networking and passive candidate search techniques. Even RPO’s bring in experts and have internal trainers. Whether outsourced or not, the resources must be in alignment with the organizational needs and perform equally in using the maximum channels to find the best fit candidate. The process is slightly different, the strategy is the same for the organization.

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