There are numerious ways to learn during difficult time
Workplace Doctor: How to develop skills amid company cost-cutting on training
I work for a property company and things are tough at the moment. Budgets and resources are tight. Not so long ago our firm would keep top employees engaged and feeling developed by sending them to expensive training programmes or providing them with unlimited online learning programs. This is no longer the case and I am concerned that our performance as a team and as a company will suffer in the long run. What to do? BD, Dubai
We are still in the midst of a challenging regional economic cycle, and many organisations, such as the property company you work for, have chosen to throttle back on non-essential spending in order to maintain their profitably or to survive. As you are experiencing, investing in staff training and development is often one of the first cuts to be made. The danger, however, is that if employees today do not keep up with industry and technology changes, they quickly become under-qualified for what they do and effectively get left behind. Your concern therefore for your team and the company’s performance is a legitimate one.
Other than maintaining and developing skillsets, training and development are important to ensure that employees continue to feel satisfied, stimulated and supported within their roles. Employees who feel that their company is prepared to invest in them are likely to value their work, wanting to deliver with quality and efficiency. In turn, this benefits the company through improved performance and productivity.
Fortuitously, economic downturns can often provide the impetus for organisations to review their business strategies and emerge stronger than ever. For example, there are some interesting lessons to be drawn from the worst economic downturn in history - the Great Depression of 1929. In response to the panic, many organisations made deep cuts to their non-essential spending. However, a few enlightened companies, such as P&G benefited from aggressive marketing and still managed to demonstrate growth and enjoyed sustained customer loyalty post the depression. There are similar parallels to training, where organisations who manage to sustain their investment in development, can attract some of the best talent and importantly equip their people with new skills necessary to manage in a downturn.
However, what if sustained training investment is not a possibility? Thankfully, that does not mean the end of the road for your team’s performance, as there are still other effective approaches to ongoing learning and development. A research-based guideline for developing people says that you need to have 3 types of learning experiences, using a 70-20-10 ratio: 10 per cent of learning comes from training courses, 20 per cent from developmental mentoring and coaching relationships and 70 per cent from on the job experiences and challenges. It’s clear then that cut backs in the formal 10 per cent training component, as is the case in your company, still leaves 90 per cent to leverage effective training, engagement and performance.
From Ashridge Executive Education’s regional Gen Y research, we know that millennials respond well to, and seek more of the 20 per cent coaching and mentoring approach from their leaders. As such, organisations would do well to invest their limited training budgets in developing their leaders in core coaching and mentoring skills. Secondly, Gen Y are also looking for greater empowerment, and to be delegated interesting and challenging work assignments, enabling the all-important 70 per cent. Both of these amplify the biggest development opportunity of learning real-time on the job. These chime well with Daniel Pink’s intrinsic components of employee motivation: autonomy (greater empowerment and delegation), mastery (guided coaching and mentoring from leaders) and purpose, which is worth expanding upon, especially in difficult and challenging times. People who are able to find purpose in their work are less distracted by the roller coaster ups and downs of business cycles and are able to demonstrate greater resilience and sustained performance.
So where does that leave you in terms of your own development? Your manager and HR should still be able to provide support in terms of helping you identify what you need to focus on for your own success; your areas of strength and development as well as potential blind spots you may have. Once you have a clearer picture of these, you can access affordable online resources and books, but more importantly look at how you are able to take on more challenging work assignments and request coaching or mentoring from within your company.
The fact that you are concerned about your own development, as well as that of your team, suggests that you are eager to succeed and motivated to take action. Be clear on your performance criteria, ask for developmental feedback and be patient with the time it will take to develop your skills. Your drive for improved performance indicates that you are someone who will make the most of any opportunity for development you receive or in fact, create for yourself.
Yolande Basson is an executive coach and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education – Middle East