1. Introduction to Training

Training and Development

Your business is your people. The better people do their jobs, the better your business will perform! Training and development is key to this (together with engagement and wellbeing), so it makes perfect sense to invest in training and developing your people.

Some would say ‘we cannot afford to train people, because they just leave’. Well, Henry Ford famously said "the only thing worse than training employees and having them leave, is not training them and having them stay"

Who is responsible for employee training and development?

The responsibility for training and development should be shared. That means the employee is responsible and must participate, but the business needs to provide the appropriate environment and guidance.

Every individual has to take responsibility for their own training and development. The most successful people will be the ones who look for learning opportunities in everyday activities, identify goals and activities for their own development and even prepare their own individual development plan. Their desire to succeed means they work harder, go the extra mile and are prepared to make sacrifices to achieve their ambitions. That might include, taking on special projects or more responsibility, showing ongoing support to the business, using their initiative and demonstrating (by their positive attitude) their willingness to learn.

But not everyone will have the same ambition, and people may have different ambitions at different times in their careers. This is ok, and any development has to take this into consideration.

What the business needs to do is identify the areas for development, taking into consideration the individual's ambition and the needs of the business.

The business must make sure everyone is pulling in the same direction. Then make the important decisions about what skills need to be developed and how to play to everyone's strengths. And playing to people's strengths is important, as generally people will be more productive and positive if they are doing what they are good at or like doing. This doesn’t mean that people should not try to learn new things, but some people will fundamentally be better at some things than others.

The most successful management teams will:

  • Provide clear job descriptions for each employee, from which their training and development activities can be built upon.
  • Provide training that enables employees to meet the basic competencies for the job.
  • Develop a good understanding of the knowledge, skills and abilities that the organisation will need in the future, using this to influence employee development.
  • Look for everyday learning opportunities and consider each individual and how best to develop them.
  • Encourage people to be actively involved in their own development.
  • Offer support to staff who identify learning activities that bring (or will bring) value to the organisation.

The Needs of the Business

As an SME with limited resources, it is vital that job roles and the people who fulfil those roles, together with training and development needs, are aligned with the needs of your business – essentially this is ‘good’ HR and you cannot afford for things to be otherwise.

This means that you must understand what the business plan / goals are in order to effectively plan training and development. If the business is going to need new skills or an enhanced level of skills in a particular area, you need to know. There will then be options about whether to train or develop existing employees or, alternatively to recruit people with these required skills. 

(Also see Redundancy and Restructures)

What does the business need from its people?

Generally, if you’ve already gone through the processes of assessing and creating the job roles your organisation needs, then the answer to this is simple. Most SMEs need every one of their employees to carry out their role and duties at the optimum level while being flexible to the changing demands of the business.

A good way to assess what training and development and individual may need is to to carry out an individual training needs analysis. This allow you to identify training needs, priorities and to start to put together a plan. See the example in the templates section. 

This can then build into a company training training plan. 

Basic training

Training should start with induction. A good induction process will help employees settle in and should cover all the basics.  This is not just about your rules and HR policies, but also about basic or mandatory training. It may be quite generic like IT systems within your organisation, specific company procedures, product or service knowledge, or specific industry requirements . At the very least, you should have essential induction training, which helps new employees to settle in and become effective at their jobs quickly.

(See Induction Training)

Further training and development

After induction a good approach is to create a training and development plan for each individual that focuses on building up their skills and abilities so they can be more effective at their job role and become a more valuable asset to the company. 

In some cases, you may think it is very clear what skills and development are needed for a particular member of staff, but it is generally more effective if you prepare any plans together, allowing the employee to contribute. This way you are more likely to get their buy-in, resulting in raised levels of engagement from the employee and bringing the positive return on investment your company needs.

Although it is better to eventually have formal written down plans, ideas for staff development may well come from more informal discussions and suggestions made by your employees. A good example might be a situation where you are discussing how to improve a product or service. Perhaps it becomes clear that certain skills or knowledge may be needed and therefore, as a natural outcome, a training and development opportunity arises!

Taking marketing as an example, how many organisations in recent years have identified a need to use social media? How have they done this? Well, they all had to develop their understanding and knowledge of social media – maybe with external support or not! Those individuals who now deliver the marketing messages via social media had to learn and develop their skills in order to meet the needs of the business.

Training and development methods

There are so many methods and types of training that can be employed these days.  On the job and personal instruction is still an absolutely valid method, as well as traditional classroom training. But there are also many other options available.  

Different approaches will work for different people and, even for the same employee, different methods may work better at different times or stages of their career.

Here are some of the methods you and your team might consider:

College or university courses

Sponsoring a member of staff to study at this level requires strong commitment from all sides, but can be a great way of motivating an employee while injecting the latest academic knowledge into your organisation.

The good news is that most professional level courses will require the student to attend ‘class’ occasionally with the majority of reading/study expected to be carried out at home (thus causing minimal disruption to the business).

Note: consider having a training agreement in place if are investing financially in an employees training.

Courses, seminars or workshops

While these generally present a formal training opportunity, you still have a choice about how you actually implement them. You might send staff off-site for the day or arrange for a facilitator to work internally within your organisation.

Interactive technology based learning

From online training courses to webinars and podcasts, the technology we live with today offers learning opportunities that cover every topic imaginable!

If you can stay focused on the skill level required for the role, there is much to gain from this approach. There may be some cost involved but the trade-off is that generally this kind of learning is carried out by the individual in their own time. Even if the activity is undertaken during work time, the employee does not have to leave the office and so the time commitment and associated expenses are both reduced. Online training has never been more popular since COVID-19 and this has also demonstrated how effective online training can be.

There is also a wealth of free resources out there. You can find 'how to' do almost anything just by looking at YouTube! Other free online tools can help with a wide range of skills – for instance, learning to 'touch type', training on Excel or other software, or even information about how to work out VAT!

Books

Books remain an effective means of meeting all kinds of training and development needs. You might bring in textbooks to help staff with technical training or specific functions of their job. Management or personal development books are useful for managers and those aspiring to move into management positions – and can help promote a particular style of leadership or culture for the company.

Another time saving option is to provide audiobooks. That way, employees can listen to them during their journey to work or at home.

Reading

Information and knowledge can be found everywhere – in industry magazines, news coverage, blogs and much more.

Making sure you and your team are 'plugged-in' to these resources. Receiving regular updates on relevant topics is a great way of keeping up-to-date with the latest news and trends in your industry. This can be an invaluable part of ongoing personal development.

Individual coaching

The great thing about coaching arrangements is that they encourage individuals to become more accountable for their own development.

Coaching is about helping individuals find the answers for themselves. It may involve an experienced manager offering support, advice, guidance and feedback to a less experienced employee. Alternatively, coaching may be provided by an external coach.

The secret is to find the right coach for the situation and the individual.

Peer-to-peer learning

There are many ways in which you can facilitate an environment where employees learn from each other. For instance, you might make it part of your strategy that those who attend formal training do so on the condition that they help to cascade their knowledge/skill to others within the organisation.

Other ideas include job shadowing, where an employee observes another person at their work. Such activity can result in people gaining a better appreciation of how different roles work together for the benefit of the company.

Another option is peer-assisted learning where two employees with different areas of expertise agree to help each other learn tasks that will bring about an improvement in their performance.

And then there is the buddy system – often used with new-starters – where a work colleague will support a new employee, guide them through and 'teach them the job'.

Joining in!

Attending a professional conference, networking or sitting on a committee or panel associated with your industry... all of these can be great ways of meeting and learning from others (while expanding your business contacts).

As well as improving confidence, participation in such activities can help people to understand different perspectives, widen their knowledge base and perform better at their role. It can also be a great way of opening your company up to new and interesting ideas.

Stretching

‘Stretching’ involves giving an employee a task that has previously been outside of their general duties or pitched at a level above their current position.

For example, you might ask an employee to chair a meeting (if they have not done this before) or you might give them a special project. There are many more options you could consider. Remember that the better trained your team are the better they can perform, and that has a direct impact on the bottom line of your business.

Never stop learning

We live in an ever-changing world and, if we stand still, we actually end up going backwards! You cannot stand still in business, which means you have to keep learning and so do your employees.