Leveraging the Value of Training: An Interview with Author Ed Trolley

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Edward Trolley

For many years, training and development has been important for organizations. And as the HR function has transformed from administration to more of a human capital management function, training and development has become critical for the survival of internal clients and the overall business.

Ed Trolley, the author of Running Training Like a Business, shares his development of the training outsourcing industry and how he has coined training a valued asset to any organization.

You are widely recognized for creating the training outsourcing industry. What was your mindset behind the whole operation?

I had a belief that:

  • developing people was critically important to companies, and therefore, their training needed to be world class;
  • training was not a core competency in most organizations and therefore would likely never get the kind of support and attention that core business activities got;
  • training was underperforming in terms of the amount of value being realized from the investment being made, and therefore, the focus from the C-suite was always on cost and not value;
  • having large organizations with high fixed costs was not a good thing because it wasn’t easily scalable (up or down), wasn’t compatible with how business people thought about paying for services, and did not provide an appropriate level of access to outside expertise;
  • and finally, that there was a better way that would focus on dramatically improving the effectiveness (value) and efficiency (cost) of training by creating a service delivery model that focused on all elements of the training value chain.

What did spearheading the training outsourcing industry entail?

We were fortunate that the first comprehensive training outsourcing deal was with a well-known, successful marquee client (DuPont). It received a lot of attention in magazines, newspapers, editorials and conferences globally. And the fact that opinions were mixed on whether or not this is a good thing to do added to the drama. There was even a cover story in HR Executive Magazine titled "Can You Outsource Your Brain" that was written as a result of what DuPont did. All of this certainly helped on the business development side as it caused other companies to begin asking themselves if this is something they should consider.

But you must be able to deliver what you sell, so being in this business required developing capability, defining key processes, understanding the corporate environment, and defining a service delivery model that delivered value consistently and took costs to acceptable levels, including variablizing more of the investment and implementing impeccably.

We used to say to clients that taking an outsourcing decision was "not for the faint of heart." It was hard work, required dramatic change, demanded executive level support and attention and it had to deliver value, early and consistently.

Given today’s economy, training must be regarded as its own business operation. What advice, based on your experience, would you give HR professionals?

First and foremost, training and learning leaders and their organizations need to understand that it is not about training—it is about results. Training is not the end, but it is one of the means for achieving business results.

Secondly, we have to be business people in training, not training people in business. We need to talk the language of our customers, understand the business challenges they have, determine if and where training can play for them in a way that helps them move the lever positively on their challenges, bring them insight (not just about training but about business), have the same level of urgency that they have, move at the speed of business and do work that positively impacts things like profitability, productivity, earnings, customer satisfaction and retention and employee loyalty, and measure ourselves by the impact we make on the business.

How did you become involved in the HR industry?

My first time in HR was at DuPont when I was asked to lead DuPont’s training globally and transform it in 1992, and I have been connected to HR ever since. What intrigued me most was how the activities of training and HR had the potential to deliver exponential value to the business but were consistently underperforming. I believed there was a serious need to transform what appeared to be a "soft" function to a sharp-edged business enterprise intimately connected to the business and delivering measurable business results. I wanted to be part of moving it "from the backroom to the boardroom."

What has been your career path and what is your most valued memory?

For all [of my jobs], except my first year of employment, I have been in leadership positions. I have had the opportunity to work in many areas—IT manufacturing, customer service, operations, strategy, diversity, employee development, outsourcing, business building and executive management.

My most valued work memory is probably the day Running Training Like A Business, a book I co-authored with my friend David van Adelsberg, was released. Writing a book was something that was never on my radar screen, so having the opportunity afforded me by The Forum Corporation was something I will be forever grateful for. And the fact that the book has remained relevant over the years and sits on many bookshelves makes it all even more rewarding.

What have you learned throughout your career that you stand by today?

I remember years ago when I was a very young DuPont supervisor, my boss said to me, "You have to get value into your head and your language." That has stuck with me over the years and I know today that creating value is what we are all being hired to do by our employers, and we must never take our eye off of that ball. And then we can leave at the end of the day satisfied that we have made an impact. This is why I so strongly believe that we need to transform how we do training and development as the opportunity for value creation is exponential.

Interview by Katherine Mehr, editor