7 top tips for creating a small business learning and development strategy
Running a small to medium-sized business can, at times, feel as though you are navigating a minefield. In addition to the day-to-day running of the company, there are a whole host of policies, procedures and strategies that you need to familiarise yourself with.
A learning and development strategy should sit comfortably alongside your other policies and procedures. The strategy should meet objectives such as developing employees so that the business has a good supply of future leaders and meet the training and development needs of all staff.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are 7 top tips to help get you started.
1. Know your overall vision and strategy
You can’t train and develop others if you, or your senior team, are directionless. It is essential before you begin to map out your learning and development strategy and to communicate the following in plain language and include:
- The vision for your company/organisation
- A three to five-year business plan
For your learning and development plan to be effective, it is also vital that you take all staff with you on your journey and that they buy-in to your overall vision and strategy.
2. Ensure that your employees feel valued
As part of the evaluation process, it may be that you and your senior leadership team feel that there is a business need for training to which your employees are resistant. Doing the following will help to minimise the potential for disagreement or workplace tension.
- Consult and engage with your employees at an early stage
- Invite suggestions for learning and development either through 1-2-1’s or a quiz
- Suggest areas that you feel would be beneficial early in the process
- Communicate in language that is accessible and appropriate – avoid complicated jargon where possible
3. Embrace diversity
One of the biggest mistakes that many businesses make when embarking upon this exercise is to create a generic strategy and presume that it will be a success. While your strategy is still in the embryonic stages, it is worth doing the following to ensure that your learning and development strategy is a resounding success.
- Revisit employees’ original applications and note experience/skills/interests that aren’t currently being tapped into
- Speak to team leaders/managers about their teams
- Arrange a team time out/opportunity to get to know everyone as individuals
- Think about how these skills can benefit the business and whether they can be incorporated into the strategy
4. Fill any gaps in skills
Having consulted with your team and identified skills that aren’t currently being utilised, it is time to look at the flipside and figure out where any gaps in skills and knowledge may exist. Political uncertainty combined with advances in technology and globalisation means that the need for fluidity and agility is critical to competitiveness. In looking to identify gaps in skills, be sure to consider the following:
- Any training needs that you personally have (see this as an opportunity)
- Where you see the business in one year, three years and five years
- Will any political changes impact your ability to recruit in key areas and, if so, how can existing staff be cross-trained or reskilled
5. Don’t box yourself into a corner
Always remember that fluidity, flexibility and agility are essential. In a world where established conventions are rapidly going out the window, your learning and development strategy must meet the following criteria:
- Can be adapted relatively easily
- Factors in unforeseen circumstances, for example, a flurry of resignations from key personnel
- Isn’t so costly or niche that it is a barrier to change
6. Create a memorable learning experience
We all learn in different ways and to get the maximum productivity out of your employees; they must retain the learning that is being shared.
- Embrace technology and create training via podcasts, recordings, interactive material
- Play to the strengths of your team by buddying people so that they can support each other
- Encourage active participation
- Embrace all feedback (the bad as well as the good)
7. Stay true to your values
The essence of your brand and what your company stands for should underpin your learning and development strategy. Before you formalise the plan, take some time to consider the following:
- The core attributes of your brand
- How you wish to be perceived by both competitors and customers
- How this can be built into your learning and development strategy
By working through this step-by-step plan for devising an effective learning and development strategy, you should create a culture of continuous learning within the business. No-one likes to stagnate, and by giving your team a sense of purpose and the opportunity to increase their skills, knowledge and understanding, you will build a business that should withstand the test of time.