Employee Development on a shoe string

I often hear SMEs, and particularly charities, say that they are too small to be able to afford any valuable employee development. Development doesn’t have to be expensive though as time is the main investment for many activities.  This is obviously not cheap in itself, but the rewards of focused time can be much greater than you may think.

When we think about employee development we often remember irrelevant “What do you want to do in 5 years time” discussions, or days spent in board rooms looking at slide after slide, while taking away one 5-minute nugget of information. It can also be seen as vague goal-setting or feedback conversations that are forgotten the moment the ‘real’ work starts again.

The key to successful employee development is ensuring development activities are specific and centred on real needs. Building the strengths of your organisation and of the individual.  That way they are much easier to objectively justify, make time for, and see a return on that time for all involved.

When you think about your business needs do you consider skill gaps in terms of your growth plans? Do you talk to employees about their current strengths and what they could really do with those both personally and professionally if they developed them further? Do you engage with managers about trends in their fields? There are many different angles to take, being an SME however does give you more scope in what can be dealt with quickly.

Identifying business needs can sometimes be a simpler place to start that identifying the personal needs of your employees. You may need employees to fulfil certain roles and a future skills shortage could prove costly. Perhaps you are going to need a someone familiar with a new form of technology that companies in your field are gradually moving toward, or perhaps there is a new trend that you need an expert to lead as a project. Whatever is coming your way these are necessary, but highly exciting, opportunities that you can pass to your current employees without investing externally.

Where there is new technology or trends in the workplace it could work well to appoint an interested employee to research. As well as only paying the employee for their usual working time, bringing this new knowledge into your business and enhancing the engagement that the employee has with their work, you will provide them with a valuable development opportunity.

Hidden throughout your organisation will be untapped pools of knowledge which are invaluable resources for development. Have less experienced employees learn from those with more knowledge. Vague ‘shadowing’ adds little benefit, but focusing a specific skill or part of their role makes it more practical.  “I’d like to attend these sales meetings with Marie and reflect and discuss the way she responds to uncertainty.” This approach can be highly tailored to the individuals involved and allows for as much discussion as necessary. It could be a development opportunity for both employees as one gains skills and experience while the other develops their coaching while being more conscious about their strengths.

Another great way to develop your managers particularly, is to offer Action Learning sessions. Usually lead by an HR person or other facilitator these are a great way for managers to confidentially discuss things that they are currently dealing with.  The facilitator ensures that discussions centre around reflecting and learning from and with each other, rather than getting trapped in operational matters. Again, this is a very cost-effective way for your people to use each other to develop, grow and collaborate.

If you invest in training courses for your employees, ensure that the focus is on how they will transfer what they learn to their work.  A few 10 minute conversations about how they are succeeding in putting it into practice, will have much more impact than a stand alone course itself. Consider bringing the training in house to save costs, or pooling with other businesses in your area. Look out for relevant networking events that may be a good source of both information and conversation, with a much lower fee.

For charitable organisations there are also many sources of free or reduced cost courses and support available.  For example, voluntary organisations in Bracknell or Wokingham should speak with Involve, and there are similar options in many areas.  Part of the challenge for these types of organisations is in marketing courses.  So even if you are not aware that your local support organisation runs courses, it is always worth checking or seeing if they can put you in touch with someone who’d be willing to offer a discount.

This is just a snapshot of what could be achieved on a lower budget and still provide real opportunities for employees to develop. Why not start by identifying likely business needs for the future, be honest about the effectiveness of current discussions with employees, and start to implement focused, low cost, effective activities.

See our previous news posts for 5 considerations to make mentoring successful.

If you’d like to discuss creative new ways of digging out development opportunities that exist within your organisation, why not get in touch.