Budgets, budgets, budgets – unless you are lucky enough to work with sales or marketing (and their big coffers), your training organization likely struggles to be effective within the constraints of a small budget. Having been a training professional for over 15 years, I am a veteran when it comes to developing training and learning events on a shoestring budget. Although my main passion is developing a workforce through well-designed training and ongoing learning development support, I have long realized that to be effective, training professionals need to first gain audience (and management) buy-in. Learning is more effective when it is “pulled” vs. “pushed,” with learners coming to you ready to take advantage of what you offer. That takes marketing – which is very challenging with resource constraints, but it is NOT impossible. You CAN market training on a shoestring!
A case study in shoestrings – ASTD National Employee Learning Week, 2012
When my group, the IT Training Team at CNO Financial Services, learned in late November 2012 that the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) National Employee Learning Week was coming up on December 3-7, we immediately saw an opportunity. We could leverage the week as a platform to broadcast messaging about what learning and training opportunities our team brings to CNO IT associates and to engage with our audience in a fun, informative way. Instead of letting our budget (or lack thereof) hinder us, we decided push ourselves creatively to take advantage of this opportunity.
So how did you do it?
Looking back after the event, our team identified several key activities that helped us move past the frustration of limited resources and into action mode.
Assessing the challenge
We started by looking at what we had, and what we didn’t have, to ensure that our creative ideas could work within our constraints. The list of our main hurdles (budget, short turn-around time, audience in several locations) provided parameters for event brainstorming.
CNO team members from left to right: Beth Hopewell, Nikki Brummett, Stacy Wasson, Katie Hettmansberger, Nancy Wulff, Adrienne Hall
Identifying our strengths
Next, we evaluated our strengths. Time was short for us to plan and execute, but the early December timeline for ASTD’s learning week matched up well with our team’s light project load. We leveraged this fortunate timing along with the high interest and enthusiasm from our team to participate, to plan activities.
Setting realistic goals
Keys for us were to set realistic goals, to identify quick, inexpensive, and effective methods of engaging IT associates, and to execute enthusiastically and thoroughly. We decided it was most important for us to get the word out about our new team, to focus on key areas of learning and training that we’d developed for the IT staff over the previous year, and making it easy, convenient and inexpensive for staff to participate.
Planning and execution
To meet our goals, we brainstormed about ways to kick-off the week and keep momentum going all the way through to Friday. Our winning ideas included:
- Daily open houses with teleconferencing.
- Daily themes and colors to organize our topics by day, and to generate participation by asking staff to dress in the color of the day.
- Invitation of a VP-level speaker to discuss project success and the role training plays in that success.
- Decorating our previously plain IT Training room to create a more learning-friendly environment. To do so, we framed learning-related posters we’d created through our company print shop, covered an old corkboard in our room with fabric, created trainer profiles & pictures to post in the room, and added a poster of baby pictures of our team members on the wall outside of the room to grab passer-by interest.
- Pairing up team members to develop content for each day:
- A game or challenge related to the topic.
- A summary of the topic, including documentation of where to find relevant materials.
- A presentation or plan for what to project onto the large screen in the training room during each day’s open house hours.
- An email communication to be sent on the assigned day.
- Snacks and sweets to be in our training room for that day (donated by the team members).
So, how did we do? With increases in training questions, an immediate 10% increase Skillsoft usage, and general interaction with IT associates, our team considers our efforts a big success. We do have some ideas for improvement, including traveling to other locations for a day each to better connect with that audience, and creating less complicated games. Our Executive Leadership team was supportive of our event, but we’ll work to secure a specific VP-level sponsor next year to up our visibility.
As minor as our plans seemed to us during the planning stages, the full experience was a very positive one for our team and for our IT audience. We leveraged what resources we had, and we received great, positive feedback from IT and from other internal training teams who now will plan their own events with us for next year. We hope to have at least some budget for 2013, but it will be more like a longer shoestring than a full shoe. And we can’t wait!
By Stacy Wasson, Senior IT Trainer