Less PowerPoint, More Power - An approach to more effective employee development

The success of any organisation, large or small, is down to the efforts of its people. Leaders are responsible for ensuring those people feel supported, rewarded and have opportunities for personal and professional growth. Research by learning analysts Towards Maturity has shown that 95% of learning leaders want to deliver greater value for money, and 88% want to reduce time spent away from the job, but with limited resources, increasing workloads and a constantly changing environment, how can small organisations make sure they get the best out of their people?

Working for a huge company can sometimes come with benefits that small organisations just can’t commit to – like expensive talent development programmes, massive travel budgets and invites to high profile conferences and events. The approach to employee development in small organisations is different, but it doesn’t have to be any less effective. In fact, many small organisations are brilliant at finding innovative ways to provide development opportunities that would rival some of the most expensive courses on the market.

Agility is an advantage

Large companies with big HR teams are striving to become more flexible and in tune with the business, recognise challenges and skill gaps and respond to them at the point of need. The larger and more complex the organisational structure, the more difficult this can become. Small organisations have an advantage in that they can often consider new ways of doing things more easily, with less of a hierarchy to break through.

Employees must be able to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn in order succeed in today’s workforce, meaning that on the job training, picking up stuff as they go, social learning, taking on extra responsibilities and volunteering are all key. Formal training needs to be more responsive and adaptive, and employees are no longer prepared to wait months for a space to become available on the next leadership course – they need to have access to development as close to the point of need as possible.

So, what can you do?

Creating a culture of learning isn’t easy, and it certainly won’t happen overnight, but here are 5 suggestions that will help get you started.

1. Use data and insight to solve real problems

Financial investment in people development is always essential, but any employee development budget will be spent pretty quickly if it’s used to send people on generic courses that ‘might’ be helpful. A much more informed approach ensures that time and money is spent on making a real difference. Finding ways to identify the challenges employees face that prevent them from getting the results you need is key. Conversations with employees, observations, focus groups, customer feedback, engagement surveys, absence and turnover stats are all helpful in understanding these problems.

2. Talk about personal and professional development

Ask people to tell you what they’ve learned recently. What proactive steps are they taking to develop their skills? Celebrate and reward those that continuously invest in themselves. Empower line managers to support self-directed learning, and help employees to set stretching development goals and create actionable plans that set out how they will go about meeting them. The GROW model is a powerful coaching tool that can give line managers a structure for doing this effectively.

3. Maximise your resources to provide low-cost tools

People are your greatest asset. Not only do they have knowledge specific to the organisation and its context, but they are present for team meetings, staff conferences, performance reviews, one-to-ones, coffee breaks and chats by the vending machine. Upskilling your subject matter experts and leaders to be able to have great coaching conversations and facilitate memorable learning experiences saves money, provides an additional development opportunity for those involved and is an important step in inspiring a culture of learning, high performance and creativity. It’s important that these employees get the right support and investment to make sure that what they do is meaningful and has impact, and some initial investment in developing skilled internal training facilitators is bound to save time and expense in the long run.

4. Curate content

In a world of information overload, we have access to an infinite amount of information across multiple devices. The average employee can spend nearly 10 hours a week just searching for information. By sharing interesting and useful content (including TED Talks, podcasts, infographics, blogs and webinars), you can help staff to access valuable information, when they need it, without the hassle of searching for it.

5. Share the wealth

Encourage people to share what they’ve learned. I was reminded this week of a wonderful quote by literary great George Bernard Shaw that highlights the undeniable power of knowledge sharing: “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

An employee joining a workshop, completing a project or even reading a book has the perfect opportunity to give a 15-20 minute presentation to colleagues on what they’ve learned. We regularly recommend that our clients make this a regular thing by setting aside a portion of their monthly staff meetings for employees to share a key piece of learning from the last 30 days – demonstrating the organisation’s commitment to celebrating and making time for growth and reflection. Other great ways of encouraging collaborative learning include introducing breakfast networking groups or lunch and learn sessions, book exchange schemes, online social learning communities (I love Microsoft Teams for this), and peer mentoring schemes.

There are clear benefits for small organisations investing time in their approach to internal learning and development. Not only are there fewer travel expenses and external course fees, but it can be more accessible to those working flexibly, promote continuous learning and most importantly, is created and delivered completely on your terms.

Are there talented people in your organisation that could help you create and deliver impactful training for your staff and volunteers?

We know that being a great trainer is about having the skills to be able to create meaningful experiences and bring content to life, making sure what’s learned has an impact back at work. Our 2-day Trainers’ Masterclass is designed to help people in your organisation do just that. Participants will discover and practice the skills needed to create and facilitate memorable training that is designed to address real challenges and empowers people to make a difference to their work. Click here to book or contact us for more information.

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