THE good news is that companies are spending money on training and executive coaching. The bad news is that some of that money is paying for haphazard and poorly planned training or coaching activities, with little to show in terms of enhancing the quality of the company's workforce and their performance.

This is due to a gap between what an organisation's management want training to achieve and its execution by training managers, trainers, consultants and executive coaches.

Management generally want to get clear and straightforward answers to one question before they agree to invest in training: "How do we get business results or improved performance from training or coaching?"

The emphasis is on business results, and not on just having done "20 programmes this year", which is how one training manager responded to a question on his achievements for the year. The focus should be on results, not activities.

So, what is the relationship between an intervention (such as coaching or training) and business performance? Mr Neville Osrin, a consultant in Hewitt's Talent and Organisational Change Practice says, one also needs to look at intervening variables, such as the quality of leadership and employee engagement.

Business results occur when skills taught during a training activity or goals set during a coaching session are applied on the job, thereby improving job performance.

Here are some tips to ensure that the organisation gets business results from its investment on training or coaching:

Relevance

Training and coaching activities must be linked to business needs and not just to the latest and hottest fad in town.

Interventions must originate from business needs - for instance, a bank's need to increase revenue by getting the tellers to cross-sell more - and not from simply responding to intermittent training requests without sufficient analysis to determine the reason for that request.

For example, a request like "Can you send the telephone operator for a telephone techniques course?" is not a need but a suggested solution. The real business need could be to reduce customer complaints about having to wait a long time for calls to be picked up.

If that operator has to answer 2,500 calls a day, the problem is not necessarily a lack of telephone techniques. It could be a situation of work overload, and training alone might not help.

Another example is the need to help top sales performers move to the next level of performance. In this case, what may be needed is not another sales training programme but possibly to engage executive coaches to work with them individually.

Performance-based

Once business needs are identified, the next step is to identify what specific performance needs to be improved to either overcome a business problem - for instance, too many rejections from customers - or to fulfil a business opportunity, such as enabling staff to sell a new line of products.

Proper training identification (TNI) must be carried out to provide valuable inputs to ensure that the training programme is designed to improve performance.

Proper support

Too often, training or coaching results in the person going back to a working environment that does not support the learning experiences he or she has just gone through.

A typical example is the employee who goes for a seminar on motivation, gets "excited" and returns to a working environment that regularly demotivates her. In six months, she is back to her original self.

One reason could be that the training programme was designed without sufficient pre-analysis. This would have enabled some customisation of the programme, where the learning would be related to actual work situations.

The same goes for coaching - the employee must be empowered to take the action needed to achieve performance goals set together with his coach, otherwise the whole exercise is futile.