By now, I think that any experienced business leader is familiar with the benefits of training, right?
We all know that good training improves the skills of our employees. It boosts their confidence and job satisfaction. It shows how committed we are to their development. It's an important investment for what is, without question, our most important asset: our people. There's no debate that great firms make training and job skills a priority. The question is how to provide this training effectively ... and affordably.
From my experience, I've only seen four choices that work well:
Most of my clients are busy. But that doesn’t stop them from getting out of the office and attending a conference once or twice a year. Usually, these events are part of their industry association or trade group. My most successful clients bring employees along with them. That's because these conferences usually provide educational sessions, informative keynotes, and other networking opportunities to help them learn more about their business.
But an industry-specific conference may not be the best use of time for all your employees. Which is why you should probably look beyond that and consider other conferences that are more designed to meet the needs of an employee's specialty. For example, your sales and marketing people might want to consider a number of conferences directed toward professionals like them. Your finance employees should take in events geared toward accounting or the software they use. Your information technology staff should be learning regularly about security and advances in automation, network, and data management. There are conferences geared specifically for employees that work in quality control, customer service, or inventory management. Many innovative meeting planners are now offering online options too, which could save you the cost of travel.
If I were given the chance to go back to college, what degree would I pursue? Even though you might think it would be something in business, I would prefer to study psychology. I've learned that knowing the numbers is only a small part of succeeding in business. It's knowing people that really makes a successful worker good at their job.
The same goes for your workers. Some of my clients help their employees get undergraduate and graduate degrees. They like it when their people study subjects that are directly related to their job, but they also encourage them to study liberal arts as well, because having a good education makes a person more well-rounded and better suited for additional tasks and the responsibilities that come with them. I’m sure there are plenty of good local colleges to consider and don’t forget community colleges. But there are also a large amount of online options to consider too.
Just about every industry I know — from finance to marketing to customer service — offers certifications. Many trades, from engineering to plumbing to contracting, have requirements mandated by the government. Depending on the business you're in, your employees may be required to attain certain certifications or licensing to do their jobs.
But it should go beyond that. Just having a certification may not be enough. Things change and there are new ideas every year. Which is why it's just as important for you to send your people away to keep their certifications current. Some groups require that. Others, not as much. But this way your people are not only learning new things, but they’re validating some of the technical information that they probably already knew, but need to hear again.
Coaching, internal training, and consultants
Sometimes having your employees leave the office for a conference or training can not only be expensive, but disruptive. That's why having a coach, a mentor, or a trainer visit the office regularly is a great way to enhance your employees’ job skills.
Many of my clients frequently bring in people to provide educational content for their employees. They ask vendors and suppliers to do "lunch and learns" where they demonstrate new products or discuss the better use of existing ones. They have their IT firm run small classes to improve employees' online behavior with a goal of minimizing the potential downloads of malicious software or inviting data breaches. They have consultants and psychologists visit to discuss better processes and methods. They ask their accountants, lawyers, and benefit firms to conduct sessions on financial planning, legal issues, and health and retirement options. The Association for Talent Development not only provides events, but can also be a resource to find a great training professional for the right topic.
Yes, employee training is essential. But the more important concern is whether you’re giving this the attention it deserves. Here are some actions to take:
- Each employee should agree on an educational objective during their performance review session. This objective should show how the education would improve both themselves and their value to the company. It should also include how and when the objective will be achieved and the costs should be approved at that time. Updates would then be made on successive performance reviews.
- Regarding budget ... there needs to be one. You should be budgeting an annual educational allowance for each employee and communicating that amount to the employee during their performance review. It doesn't have to be the same for everyone — in fact, it should vary depending on their job, years with the company, and level. Remember there are tax incentives for paying for educational costs, so make sure to consult with your accountant about this.
- There is no such thing as one size fits all. Some of your employees may prefer to go to conferences. Others may really be into a higher degree. Some may want to get this training out of town, but others may prefer it in the office. I know people that can really benefit from online training, yet others need to be face to face with an instructor. Keep all options open and figure this out on an employee-by-employee basis.
The most important thing is to commit to employee training and then have a strategy. Your employees will appreciate the effort and take advantage of it. Plus, your P&L will see the difference.