Continuous employee development in the face of budget cuts


When Michael Griffiths talks to business leaders about their company’s professional development goals, one of the first questions he asks is, “Do you know what you’re spending on learning?” And how do you know that? “

As the lead manager of Deloitte’s learning consulting practice in North America, Griffiths saw the impact training programs can have on a business’s success and how investment helps motivate and retain the employees.

But lately he’s seen business leaders questioning how they can afford critical training while dealing with financial pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a lot of customer questions around this space,” Griffiths said. “I think the mandate is there for development. The challenge is how to do it.

Griffiths and Susanna Gallani, assistant professor of accounting and management at Harvard Business School, gave the following tips on how to develop employees during times of tight budget.

Think about the end goal, not just the budget

If business leaders are debating whether to offer professional development to their staff, Gallani urges them to focus on the big picture and not just the current economic pressure.

Investing in your people communicates hope and builds confidence for the future. Employees who don’t feel valued will show up in times of crisis, according to Gallani.

“Whenever possible, you should communicate to your employees that they are important to you,” she said. “If you stop investing in it when you have the opportunity and in times of crisis, you are really sending the wrong message. It feels like you don’t care about them or the value they can add.

However, if a company is simultaneously laying off people and providing professional development to the remaining employees, this needs to be treated with sensitivity and communicated very carefully, she said.

Audit your training budget

First, companies need to take stock of the training programs they use, the cost of training, and the amount they spend per employee on professional development.

When Griffiths asks business leaders how much they spend on training programs, many are shocked to find that they are paying more than they thought they would, he said.

It is not uncommon to find a large or medium-sized business using multiple vendors for the same type of training or having multiple contracts with the same vendor at different price points within the business. This lack of communication between divisions of a company can inflate the overall training budget.

Streamlining the budget by carefully selecting suppliers and using the same company-wide contracts and training programs can help save money. Companies can also organize free online content, such as YouTube videos, TED talks, and similar resources, to provide personalized training for employees.

Develop employees as people, not just their skills

Training employees in specific skills is very important. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2020 report found that 53% of respondents said that half or all of their workforce would need to be retrained in the next three years.

But more and more business leaders are saying it’s not enough – they want to help employees learn to be more resilient, flexible and adaptable. These enduring human qualities are even more important during the pandemic, as more people work remotely and have to adapt to the new working conditions, according to Griffiths.

Deloitte’s 2020 report found that 52% of respondents want to hire people with lasting qualities and 48% want to hire for skills.

“It’s unusual,” said Griffiths, who also said there was more emphasis on hiring great learners than on people with specific skills.

Find experts within your organization

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to offer professional development is to find experts within your own company and ask them to train their colleagues.

“It’s a great time to teach each other,” said Gallani, who focuses on incentive and performance management at Harvard and has studied knowledge sharing. “It really doesn’t cost you much, other than people’s time. … It also creates a team spirit and the idea that we are in the same boat, which could be very important at a time when we are all isolated.

In order to share knowledge, people need two things: opportunity and motivation. Business leaders must empower and encourage their employees to share their areas of expertise, according to Gallani.

“Recognizing that someone is a master at something is very rewarding,” she said. But leaders need to understand if some employees are reluctant to share what they know.

“Sometimes knowledge is a treasure,” Gallani said. “It’s a competitive advantage within the organization. Very talented people may be reluctant to share this knowledge because that’s what makes them special. We must therefore work very carefully on the motivation for this knowledge sharing activity. “

Now is the perfect time to provide professional development due to the changing pace of business. This may be the time to regroup, refocus and undergo training that will make the company stronger, according to Gallani.

“Every crisis ends,” she said. “This is an opportunity for you to prepare yourself to get to the other end by swinging yourself.”

Kelly hinchcliffe is a freelance writer based in the United States. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, a FM editor-in-chief of the magazine, at [email protected].


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