Growing Pains

Finding opportunities for staff development can be very challenging in a small business environment. Here we look at the potential benefits and some of the ways you can develop your team without disrupting the business or breaking the bank.

Latent talent

The good news is that most staff want to "be the best they can be" and investing in their own personal development is often top of the list of things people want to get from work. So you are pushing on an open door and your role as a business owner is usually about supporting this self development as practically and cost effectively as possible.

Let's keep this professional

Most sectors are underpinned by a set of professional standards. These provide an ideal framework under which we can guide personal development. Significant non-compliance can put you out of business. The business case for investing in targeted staff development is therefore compelling.

Return on investment

Surveys of the most successful organisations show a very strong link between the investment in staff development and profitability. In practice, effective staff development means you keep good staff for longer and "what they do whilst they are with you" is more effective, leading to a better customer experience overall. This naturally has a positive impact on profitability; fewer mistakes, increased productivity and happier customers.

Opportunity knocks

But even when you believe the theory, the first speed bump on the road is down to the scale and nature of your business. Too busy and too few opportunities to make time for staff development? It's a bold first move to step off the day to day treadmill of your business and identify opportunities and changes that might stretch and develop your staff. But even half a day devoted to looking at the bigger picture can pay dividends. Start with a simple assessment of what's working and what's not working and once you have identified 2 or 3 simple goals or changes, you will find that fixing these is often linked to staff development opportunities.

That's not proper training!

We all know that training is expensive, particularly the offsite classroom variety. It has its place, but these days you can tap into a much wider range of "learning opportunities" that match up to your practical and cost effective requirements. These include job swaps, temporary secondments and simple coaching sessions led by you or one of your experts.

'E'asy learning

Dreaded phrases like "blended learning" have started to emerge as technology allows us to mix traditional classroom training sessions with on-line or "e-learning". Don't be put off by the jargon as a lot of knowledge based training can be delivered really effectively by giving your staff access to a PC or laptop. These short 20-30 minute sessions provide their own feedback and an audit trail of achievement to satisfy your compliance agenda.

Time off for good behaviour

So the final vexed question is whether or not you should  make an allowance for development time within the working day. Some organisations see this learning activity as down to staff to fit in as and when they can once the day job is done. This usually means that the more conscientious ones keep up in their own time at home. The danger is that less motivated staff won't bother at all. Others may not have access to remote learning via a home PC.  As with most things the best approach is a balance between a bit of both. Build some limited downtime into the working year for staff development and most people will want to top this up in their own time.