Why is training and development important for small businesses?
When budgets are tightened, it’s so often learning and development funds that get cut first. In practice, however, that may be one of the worst things that a small business can do.
Why invest in training?
There are several reasons. Firstly, recruitment is an expensive process; therefore, you want to retain your staff for as long as possible. While it can be argued that some turnover is healthy, you need to balance that against the size of your organisation, the effects on your business, and how much you need new talent. Developing your people will help to retain them because most staff want to be able to grow professionally. As they grow, their capabilities will improve, and you can use that to your advantage.
But my people were already trained when they joined
It’s great that you recruited the right people with the right skills, but one area that seems to be universally lacking is that of soft, interpersonal skills. These are important across the whole of the business because we all need to engage with other people. And they are portable, so if that individual moves laterally or vertically within your organisation, those skills are still applicable.
Sometimes managers struggle at providing employee feedback and unfortunately may expect HR teams to provide the feedback. Ironically, it’s perhaps the most crucial aspect of an appraisal. Yes, it is hard to hear that someone doesn’t like it when you do x, y or z, but none of us can really develop unless we understand those hard-to-learn facts about ourselves. Training your people in soft skills can help with this.
There are numerous theories about learning styles, but most of them have some similarities and overlap. Learning styles are more Neuro-Linguistic Programming styles, such as:
- Visual – for those who prefer pictures and prefer to read things for themselves
- Auditory – for those who wish to hear what they are being taught
- Verbal – for those who prefer to use words, both speech and writing
- Physical – kinaesthetic, relating to the sense of touch and feelings
- Logical – relating to reasoning
- Social – people with this learning style prefer to learn in groups
- Solitary – these people prefer to study alone
None of these styles is right or wrong; they are just different, but you must understand them to be able to develop your people. The correct learning style can be used to great advantage where soft skills are concerned.
How can I make it cost-effective?
It is essential to bear in mind the potential range of learning styles and to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. This is true not only for soft skills but for any additional training that your team may require. That said, face-to-face training is almost always more expensive so think laterally.
Consider encouraging staff to engage in self-directed learning, wherein people take responsibility for their own learning. It may require a mind-shift, but it means that they are more in control. It also ensures that they can give some direction as to how they learn.
Let’s get digital
Technology is a key enabler for self-directed learning. It can help learners find what they need and how to practise it. There is also some evidence that using self-directed learning tools can improve efficiency and productivity, which has to be a bonus for every employer. It is worth doing some homework; start with checking with your employees as to what they need, as well as what you think they may need. There is always room for compromise. There are numerous online tools to help you to develop a quick (and free) survey upon which you can base your plans.
Gamification is not just becoming a hit in schools; it is gaining traction in the corporate environment. Used properly, you can achieve specific learning outcomes from it as part of a wider learning strategy. What makes it a success in learning is that it not only engages a learner’s attention, but it retains it, engages them while (hopefully) entertaining them. Psychologists have known for years that having fun is a great way to learn. You can use it for a range of hard and soft skills training.
Another benefit of gamification (and many other online learning tools) is that they can be used on mobile phones or tablets. Take advantage of this. The truth is that younger members of workforces routinely demand this and you must respond to that requirement. If you don’t, you run the risk of them thinking that you are behind the times and they may resign.
Cost will always be an issue for any business and in particular small businesses. However, if you can afford to have a workforce, you need to think long-term about retention and what you need to do to ensure it. Learning and development can help and, in the final analysis, what is important is that when someone ultimately leaves your organisation, they do so with a positive attitude about the company.