Use training to make sure you're the most attractive organisation at the party

Dr Tim London explains that training will help you to attract and keep the right employees.

For years, when the economy was in the doldrums, one of the first things cut was often staff training and development. Investing in your staff is expensive and often done in ways that are disconnected from clear outcomes, making it hard to know what the return on investment (ROI) is for these trainings (often leading to the assumption that ROI is nil, unfortunately).

While a number of countries, including South Africa, have economies that are struggling, there is increasing chatter of another potential disincentive to invest in developing your own staff: the growing popularity of people having multiple jobs (and even multiple careers!) as they move from organisation to organisation.

This can often trigger the question of “Why should I invest in my staff if they’re likely to take that investment with them to a new job in a year or two?” While this is a legitimate question, it also comes from the exact wrong direction if it results in decreasing training: focusing on the talent you may lose as opposed to the talented people you could keep and also attract.

In other words, the reality is that you will likely lose people from your organisation, but what you want to do is make sure you keep the “right” ones. Similarly, when you do lose people, you will want to make sure that the people who replace them are the best talent available for your organisation as they move from jobs with other organisations.


 
Training attracts talent
The good news is that one of the key processes that keeps your best people will also attract the best talent at the same time: providing exceptional development opportunities. So if you want to be the place where the most talented people stay, and move to when they inevitably change jobs given current trends, it is essential that you are known as a place that invests in the development of their own people.

When “personnel development” is discussed, the first thing people normally think of is working with a business school to develop a programme that targets what the organisation’s leadership has identified as areas of improvement. While we’ll get to this later, there are also a host of other options that are not only relatively cheap, but can be built either in part or wholly with internal capacity.

This is essential as not only is it likely more sustainable, but it can generate a profound impact on your organisational culture, making learning a core part of your organisation which will be essential to remain relevant in a more dynamic economy. While not exhaustive, a few internal development opportunities include:

  1. Learning lunches: on regularly scheduled lunches (perhaps every other week), provide food and have a member of staff teach colleagues something they’re either already good at or, even more interestingly, teach something they have started to learn about themselves. This can be a great opportunity to not only learn a new skill, but also build confidence for those presenting and help colleagues learn more about the talents and interests of those they work with.
  2. Build a mentoring plan: one of the most important ways to facilitate a culture of development in an organisation is to create strong and supportive mentorship processes. This can be done in a formal way, with mentors and mentees being assigned to each other with regular meetings. It can also be more informal, where there is a general consensus that asking others for help, and providing insights to others whether asked or not, is a positive sign of growth. It can be extremely beneficial to have a mix of both formal and informal processes, perhaps with a formal mentor when someone just starts with the organisation and is finding their way, combined with the flexibility to “adopt” other mentors/mentees as they see new opportunities. One word of caution: do not fall into the easy trap of matching up mentors and mentees based solely on years of experience or because the mentor is higher up in a mentee’s vertical. You need to think very carefully about just who you want shaping the development of your people!
  3. Shadowing: beyond mentorship programs, a crucial additional step is giving your people a chance to see and engage with the inner workings of the organisation, beyond what is strictly “part of their job”. In other words, letting more junior people sit in on strategic planning committees or giving your newest financial analyst the opportunity to network with the marketing team can not only give them better insight into the interconnectdness of their own work, but also build a more open and sharing culture that will strengthen the whole organisation.
  4. Exploring/creating new roles: related to this idea of creative shadowing and development is the need for leaders to be thoughtful and creative about the roles that are available for their people. It can be easy to simply slot people into existing places on a hierarchical chart, but there is a good chance that over time those roles and structures will actually limit both individual and organisational development. While there will likely always be a role for linear progression up through an organisations’ verticals, dynamic organisations must prepare for emerging needs while also giving their people different avenues to provide value. This can create new spaces for existing people to create or leverage new opportunities, creates a more dynamic organisational culture and structure, and makes your organisation extremely well placed to take on the brightest talent looking for places that will welcome their (possibly non-traditional) ability to make an impact.

Call in the experts
Finally, there are also great opportunities to bring in the expertise that business schools (or even other academic expertise depending on your needs) can bring to the table. This can come in the form of short-term offerings or longer programs. Crucially, it is essential that there are a number of people involved in deciding what kind of training needs to be provided. This helps to ensure that not only is the training addressing actual needs, but it also can lead to important understandings of related needs and opportunities that might otherwise have been overlooked.
So while bringing in experts to design a program can not only lead to great training and development, it is also important to use the process of developing that program to engage with your people in new ways. This helps them learn the most from the actual training while also building a shared sense of commitment and engagement that will be equally important in building a dynamic organisation.

As a faculty member of a business school that provides executive education training, all of this could easily be dismissed as an attempt to drum up some business for us. Given that potential conflict of interest, let me be clear: while business schools can be extremely well placed to provide this essential development, it can also be done by organisations in impactful and sustainable ways with people already in-house as discussed above, or in a partnership approach with a business school, where the school provides some aspect of the inputs (often a focus on emerging areas of research or providing evidence-based models/frameworks to provide a new viewpoint) while the organisation provides its own in-house expertise from senior leaders, movers and shakers, or people with diverse skill sets.

Regardless of the model(s) you choose, remember that quality development of your people will not only make you a place that keeps its most valuable people, it will also become the organisation of choice for those leaving others.