Establishing an environment conducive to learning is a critical aspect of starting a training session off on the right foot. Akankasha Dewan identifies the elements HR leaders need to master in order to choose the right venue for their training sessions.
In the early years of the learning and development (L&D) industry, training sessions were stodgy affairs with limited options in terms of location and capability.
Today, ample innovation has been made when it comes to the depth and variety L&D leaders offer staff in their corporate training sessions, but it is the choice of venues – the meeting site or destination – that has truly made a big impact on the industry.
In fact, the excitement, anticipation and expectations that surround a training session are quite dependant on the choice of the training venue.
Why venues are so important
“If you ask anybody in the learning profession, you will know that our emphasis is very much on learning effectively,” says John Augustine Ong, the Singapore learning lead at ANZ.
He adds the choice of the learning venue has a huge role to play in making learning effective because it impacts the learners’ ability to be engaged and to retain newly acquired information well.
“The environment of the training venues plays a very important role in helping put the learners’ in an optimal state of mind, so that optimal absorption of knowledge and transfer of skills can take place.”
Susan Chen, director of HR for APAC at Visa Worldwide, adds the choice of the training venue is also crucial because if the setting is a distraction or the centre is ill-equipped for the agenda, the training goals simply cannot be met.
“People do want to feel this learning is something they want to be focused on, and not be distracted by daily deliverables and answering their emails,” she says.
With so much at stake, it becomes integral to be aware of the elements HR leaders should look out for when choosing a learning venue.
Deciding on which features are required
“The features of the room have to match the learning (requirements). Do the training facilitators need space for activities, do they need breakout areas – or is it just a short get-together to download information?” Ong says.
He adds that when it comes to leadership development, or skills transfer training, he selects areas that are brightly lit and rooms with open windows and natural scenery, amid a bright colour scheme.
“Next, the seating arrangements and technical equipment such as sound systems also play an important part in producing a conducive environment for discussions and other activities if needed, depending on the type of programme that is being delivered,” he says.
Even olfactory elements – such as how the rooms smell – should be considered as they make an impact in how well learners assimilate information.
“This is why we make the effort to go down and have a recce session beforehand so that we can put ourselves in both the learners’ and facilitator’s shoes and see if this is somewhere where we would like to spend a couple of hours learning or even a day or two. You have to play out the whole learning scenario in mind,” Ong says.
Chen recounts an example of what happens when such elements are not taken into consideration before deciding on a training venue.
“I remember about four years ago, I had brought regional heads for training to a venue which was right next to a kitchen. The whole time we were talking, we heard loud noises from the kitchen,” she says.
“This is a perfect example of an instance where the relationship between companies and training venue providers is not a partnership – they are not considering my needs.”
Building a solid partnership with training venue providers
Echoing Chen, Ong says that establishing a good partnership or relationship with training venue providers is key as it helps enhance the overall customer and client experience.
“Companies have got to think about building a long-term relationship with training venue vendors. More often than not, I have found that if firms approach the training venue providers for a long-term contractual relationship, they are more than willing to support those firms, in terms of fulfilling their ad hoc requests, or providing additional services when required,” he says.
“It is not about squeezing every dollar out of every single session from a learning vendor, but it’s really about how do we create a win-win situation.”
Chen adds that along with companies approaching training venue vendors with the right attitude, the providers themselves should be asking the right questions before they offer or suggest a particular venue.
“The conversation should be much more oriented around the outcome of the session, rather than the practical ability,” she says.
“It should go beyond the L&D leader saying we need space for 25 people, for instance. The conversation should start with both sides discussing what the optimal shape of the room should look like, instead of the training vendor selling the only room he or she has left.”
She reveals, however, that in her company, it is not necessarily always herself or a senior HR member which makes such excursions to the venue – but often someone from the administrative or operational services department, for example.
But she mandates to that person a clear understanding of what is required and expected from the chosen training venue.
Her warning is justified, because as studies suggest, HR and operations teams work quite differently from one another – interacting only when they have to.
One study by Cornell University identified that “operations management and human resources management have historically been very separate fields”.
“In practice, operations managers and human resource managers interact primarily on administrative issues regarding payroll and other matters,” it stated.
That is precisely why HR leaders should instead play a more active role in deciding which type of training venue to go with, according to Ong.
He explains one of the biggest mistakes leaders make when choosing a training venue is choosing the cheapest option – purely because it is the easy way out.
“If you haven’t done your homework, that can be a recipe for disaster.”