It pays to learn about training

Training is - to coin a phrase - like motherhood and apple pie. Everybody is so sure it's "a good thing" they do not always examine decisions in this field as rigorously as they might.

Huge amounts of money are wasted on training by normally parsimonious companies. "What happens is that people tend to buy too quickly rather than understand the alternatives," says Robert Fulmer, the author - with Albert Vicere - of Crafting Competitiveness, Developing Leaders in the Shadow Pyramid.

It is often assumed that organisations are spending too much on sending staff on courses at prestigious business schools. But while that may be the case, it is also true that they sometimes do not spend enough, claims Mr Fulmer.

Pointing out that he has experience on "both sides of the fence" through working in business before becoming an academic, he suggests that companies should "spend a bit more money understanding the market place".

He is suspicious of business schools' claims about customised courses. Such programmes are invariably variations on something that has been done for another organisation, which may be perceived by the academic staff to have similar problems or face much the same challenges.

Mr Fulmer, who was an executive at the US company Allied Signal, suggests that much of the problem is because customising involves adaptation. Johnson & Johnson, the world's largest healthcare company, has got around this by demanding real custom from course providers. "It needs somebody to start with a blank piece of paper," he says.

The problem with that, of course, is that the academic institution has to spend a lot of time and effort - and hence money - on preparation. But Mr Fulmer claims it can get a payback if the company that commissions the work signs up for an extensive programme.

In other words, it is all about negotiating an arrangement that suits both sides rather than one party seeing what it can get away with. At a time when management consultants are preaching co-operation over outright competition, that should be possible - if anywhere at all - in the area of executive education.

Crafting Competitiveness, Developing Leaders in the Shadow Pyramid, Capstone Publishing at pounds 18.99.

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