Using a Training Advisory Board to Guide and Promote Your Training Group

The training director for a large manufacturing company told me about her organization's advisory board: "It's pretty worthless. When I started in this position two years ago, my manager, the vice president of human resources, recruited the ten business unit vice presidents to serve on the advisory board. The first couple of meetings were pretty good, but today we're lucky if five of them show up for any given meeting. We haven't seen several of them for more than a year."
"Can you tell me something about the meetings?" I asked.
"We meet on the first Monday morning of each month. We're supposed to start at 9:30. This gives the members a chance to get in early to check on important messages and such before coming to the meeting. By the time we have everyone here -- everyone who is coming, that is -- it is usually a little after 10. The afternoon subcommittee meetings are a joke. Half the time, one subcommittee or another has nobody there, and another will have only one person. For all practical purposes, the subcommittees no longer exist."
"What happens at a typical Monday morning meeting?"
"We start off by presenting the statistics for the past month: student hours, ratings, budget data, and so on. Then we talk about any new programs that have rolled out in the past month and any new ones scheduled for the next month."
"Is there any discussion?"
"Once in a while, someone will ask a good question about a new program. Most times, the questions focus on trends in enrollment. They also pay a lot of attention to the budget data -- how much we are spending and why. Once in a while, someone will pass along a comment about a particular program from one of their employees."
This company's advisory board (AB) is basically useless. I don't blame the no-shows, and I wonder why the others bother to come. But is doesn't have to be this way. The AB can be a vital strategic tool for any training director, whether managing a one-person shop or a company-wide function with dozens of employees.
Why Have a Training Advisory Board?
If training is to play a key role in helping the company and its employees succeed, it must endeavor to fully understand the company's business -- strategic business directions, core competencies, competitive challenges, new strategic business initiatives, etc. Whether training has one or dozens of employees, it is difficult to keep up with everything that is happening in the company, to understand all aspects of the company's various businesses, to understand all the competitive issues and pressures. A properly selected AB can provide key insights and understanding for the training group.
At the same time, the AB can act as key advocates for training activities throughout the company. AB members can become sponsors and champions of key training initiatives, and can provide pointers to key knowledge resources inside and outside the company. The AB can provide key linkages throughout the company, helping to ensure that the company's training resources are being utilized to maximum advantage.
Recruiting Members for your Advisory Board
Who should sit on your company's Advisory Board? In the earlier example, the AB had a very high-level membership -- the vice presidents/general managers from the company's ten major business units. Membership in some ABs tends to be focused more on functional lines -- representatives from sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, etc. In other companies, there is a mix of functional and business unit representation. Some companies recruit AB members, others call for volunteers.
Too often, business leaders consider it merely a matter of corporate citizenship to have a representative on the AB. "Sure, a training Advisory Board is a good idea, and I'll appoint someone from my group to be on it." After making this "commitment," the leader asks his staff, "OK, who has some time available to sit on this board," without really considering (or caring) who the best representative would be.
In several cases where I have been asked to do a training session for a corporate training advisory board, it became obvious that the people in the room were there because their managers had told them to be there, and not because of any great interest in the work of the advisory board, or even in the general topic of human resource development. An AB with the wrong membership is, at best, not useful and, at worst, a detriment to the achievement of the training group's goals.

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