How Internal Training Functions Can Operate as a Strategic Business Partner

Employee development, improved morale and greater loyalty to the company are all benefits that training programs can bring to the workplace. Yet there is no reason why HR departments can't go one step further and turn internal training functions into a strategic business partner, offering a positive return on investment for the enterprise.

Recent research from Mercer found a huge gulf between the strategic functions HR departments believe they play and reality. Just 15 percent of activities undertaken by the departments were aligned with company's strategic goals, although 65 percent of divisions believed they were strategic partners.

However, Astik Ranade, a principal at Mercer and co-author of the report, said these figures could become much more promising in the future.

He said: "What we're seeing is a renewed interest across EMEA from companies keen to re-examine their HR function, its value to the business and how it can further influence its internal strategy and alignment. Slowly but surely, HR is making progress."


Using Training As A Strategic Business Partner

Indeed, the research from Mercer was not all negative. Some 38 percent of the 500 human resources directors in Europe, Middle East and Africa who took part in the research said their department was a strategic business partner which was directly involved in corporate decisions.

But even if they're not directly involved in the strategic decision making process, HR departments will be expected to action the results, through developing a human capital strategy and implementing this within the workplace.

HR departments were also shown to be keen to develop themselves in this area, with 14 percent citing an awareness of their own imperfections as the reason behind transformational changes, defined as "improvements in efficiency, effectiveness, training and strategic input."

A similar shift is being seen in the United States. Research from Bersin & Associates revealed investment in training increased in 2010, alongside a growing awareness of the importance of integrating key business strategy within development.

AutoNation was named as one business which did this, focusing on teaching in-depth and specialized knowledge to boost business performance, boosting productivity by 24 percent. The company was said to have sold 9,500 more vehicles through its ecommerce platform, even though it received fewer leads, as a result of the initiative.

Reviewing Training Functions

To truly transform internal training functions into a strategic business partner, companies must conduct a thorough review and determine what it is they wish to achieve, addressing both the staff needs and corporate strategy.

Figures from the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's (CIPD) Talent Development Survey found one in six organizations do not fully evaluate their training activities and only half said they regularly assess if staff would benefit from training exercises before they conduct them.

In the next 12 months, leadership development activities in particular were largely said to be focused on helping managers achieve operational goals, and Dr. John McGurk, learning and talent planning adviser at the CIPD, said staff will be judged "on how well they support organizations as they aim to gain competitive advantage through their employees."

Some might question how such aims can be achieved when the economy is still recovering and budgets have been slashed. However, research by XpertHR recently suggested this has in fact boosted the efficiency of training operations, while not reducing the quality of development on offer, Personnel Today reported.

Charlotte Wolff, XpertHR's training editor, explained in an effort to cut the money being spent on outside training providers, companies provided more of their learning opportunities through line managers, which "not only cut costs but have also improved the engagement and morale of the managers themselves."

She added: "Some also say that the courses devised or delivered by managers are more relevant and tailored to the organisation's needs, as managers have a good understanding of its culture, structure and language."

Over two-thirds of those who participated in the research said they had not seen a reduction in the efficiency of their training operations because of budget cuts.