IMAGINE that you are conducting a final interview with a candidate, and it is going very well. After an exhaustive three-month search, countless interviews with Mr or Ms "Unimpressive", you are finally onto a winner.
The final candidate has all the requisite technical qualifications and several years of experience working in the industry, including with your biggest competitor. When you check the facts through informal channels, the feedback is even more impressive.
It is hard keeping the excitement from your voice as you ask if he has any more questions.
"Just one," he replies. "What is my annual professional development budget?"
You sit back in your chair and squirm. Your company's training budget is a regular source of grief, as you and your peers tussle over the meagre amount the company allocates for staff training.
"Um, well" you stammer. "There are a number of training programmes run regularly. The HR team looks after these."
You see from the candidate's raised eyebrows that this is a less than satisfying response.
If elements of this story sound familiar, you are not alone.
One of the catch cries of Generation Y is: "If I'm not learning, I'm leaving!"
So, more and more switched-on executives are demanding that employers allow them a big say in the style of training they want to enhance their careers.
With the demand for executives on the increase outside the local market, employers are spending greater amounts of time and money trying to attract the best candidates and get them up to speed as quickly as possible.
Then there is the challenge to retain the quality executives they already have. There is a saying in sales that "your No. 1 client is your competitor's No. 1 target".
The notion applies equally to top-shelf executives. In a dynamic international hub like Singapore, high-performing well-skilled individuals are quickly identified through formal and informal networks.
The top recruiters know them, your management counterpart at Company X knows them. And don't think for a moment they are not listening to the promises of grandeur being flung their way.
On the occasions where I run into one of my former course participants in a new company, rarely does the answer to my question "Why did you move?" have anything to do with money.
Most frequently, the response is along the lines of "I felt the development opportunities were better here".
But we train them!
In most organisations, funding for staff development is held either at the department level or within a centralised human resource (HR) department.
This budget is the pool from which every training activity is drawn and once it is spent, the purse is empty until next year.
As part of the budget planning activity, the HR department works with the management to develop a list of what they believe to be the important skill development areas.
Occasionally, the staff are asked about their development goals, but at the end of the day, all requests are thrown into the same pot, and the decision as to what programmes get run, why and by whom, is left to the management.
The programmes that are run are sometimes met with mixed levels of enthusiasm from the very individuals they are meant to be "helping".
Pick the best path
A large part of the facilitator's and coach's role is to provide a stimulating learning environment that gives the participant the best possible path to achievement.
It can be an uphill battle, however, when a participant is there "because he has been told to be there".
To create the best learning experience for experienced senior executives, it is important to have a prescribed development programme that takes into account their existing skill levels, urgent role demands and professional goals.
Show them the money
Several organisations I have encountered recently have tried a different tack to the funding and management of their professional development activities.
In one company, there is a central budget for mandatory vocational or technical skill training - essentially the technical and basic training that must get done.
Where this company has stepped out of the box in its thinking is in how it supports individually driven development activities. In its case, every employee is allocated a percentage of his annual salary for his own development.
Depending on the employee's role and seniority, this ranges from 8 to 10 per cent for new hires to 20 per cent or more for the top, most senior executives.
This may seem a bit high, but when you consider the statistics on the cost of replacing a senior executive, it is a worthy investment.
In this particular instance, the company realised a 5 per cent reduction in key employee turnover in the first six months of the programme being implemented. And that was no small boon to the bottom line!
Give them a say
Whether you choose to reallocate your entire budget or a portion, giving your executives greater say in what they learn, and how and when they learn it, will result in a better outcome for all.
As a trainer and coach, I do love "self-funded" students. They turn up on time, have a real interest in what we are teaching and participate more fully.
A key sign of success for me? The Blackberry stays in the jacket pocket.