Most of my activities in the area of consulting involve training managers from the United States and Mexico. The people I generally work with to organize and prepare these kinds of activities are Human Resource managers. The Human Resource (HR) division has traditionally been a very weak unit in most companies, with little true power to affect company policies. In recent years, however, we have seen an emergence of HR in the United States as an important and powerful division.
A number of reasons explain this new importance attached to HR. In the United States, relatively recent laws and regulations regarding discrimination, harassment, and similar matters have given HR units decision-making powers on hiring, firing, and even promotions. Finally, in the areas of Information Technology (IT), which are essentially going through a labor-shortage stage, HR efforts to successfully recruit and retain the right people have given the division added responsibilities and importance.
The new-found power of HR divisions in the United States and Canada has been accompanied by a heightened awareness by managers and bosses that training their staff is key.
Training and research have always been considered priority areas in North America, and finding the resources to pay for the best training possible is an accepted way of doing business. In Mexico, however, as is typical in Latin America, training has been viewed as either a legal obligation (which, in the case of Mexico, ends up as cheap training in areas such as language-learning), or in response to a specific request-but always at the lowest possible cost.
In my experience, Mexican companies, even Mexican subsidiaries of large multi-nationals, push too hard for low prices, are not able to plan their training activities in advance, and often cancel or change their minds at the very last minute.
These companies are not seeing the big picture. The simple fact is that the revolution the business world is undergoing requires quick and radical changes from managers and workers. To achieve this, there must be on-going training so that managers and workers can adapt to these changes in a timely manner. Take, for example, cross-cultural training. This is a subject that simply did not exist a few years ago, but now has become a “must” for most managers, as the expanded globalization of economic activities as well as the increased diversification of the workforce have made it clear that cultural obstacles can get in the way of productivity and job satisfaction. IT, as another example, requires constant training just to keep up with fast-changing technological changes. Stated another way, training is now key to successful operations in all areas of a company.
There’s a famous quote that underscores the consequences of stressing savings over quality in training: “I don’t have enough money to buy the cheapest.” When training activities become “low priority,” you get poorly-equipped workers and poor company results.
When I speak about this problem to the appropriate HR people in Mexico, they tell me that it is not their fault, but rather that the company does not give them enough authority to make training a priority. The result: Managers from other units feel free to cancel previously approved training programs, and allow their people to treat training as an afterthought.
Mexican companies, if they truly want to succeed in the globalized world and increase productivity, will have to heed the advice of their HR divisions and start taking training seriously. Saving on training can be the most expensive mistake they ever make.