When an employer promises 'training' and 'development', what do they really mean?

Please note this this post originally appeared on the RecruitLoop Blog.

Over the last few weeks I have met with literally dozens of business owners.

I was having a conversation with one particular client about the importance of up-skilling when it comes to staff retention and I happened to ask her what investment her organisation placed on training and development.

I was quite surprised by her response.

Now come on, Paul”, she said. “We both know too well that ‘training’ is what people have to do to dogs, to circus animals, or to those poor dolphins at Sea World.

Once we had moved beyond any reference to pet dogs and theme parks, she told me that herlearning and development budget would be a key investment in the new financial year.

From a staff retention perspective

From an organisational perspective I have always recognised the importance of keeping staff up-skilled and aware of the latest techniques, industry trends and initiatives. However if you ask employees today within any organisation (large or small) you will get a very mixed opinion around the notion of learning (or training) and development.

Some employees will seize the opportunity to be up-skilled as part of their professional development; others will simply see the chance to attend an in-house training course as a welcomed distraction from their day-to-day tasks; while others will roll their eyes at the mere thought of even half a day away from their desk seeing it as a complete waste of time.

You can’t please everyone

Despite these differing views, in almost every single pre-appraisal questionnaire I received over the years from my staff as part of their preparation for their performance reviews, in response to the question “What further training and development do you feel you would benefit from in the coming six months?” they would always include a wish list.

The reason I raise this point is that it’s coming up to performance review season in the next few weeks. For some organisations it will be annual appraisal time, while for others it might be time for a mid-year check-in.

When did you last think about what further training and development opportunities could benefit your staff in order to give your organisation that leading edge? When did you last discuss up-skilling with your team members?

Offering your employees additional training can reinforce your commitment to wanting to develop them professionally and to help them excel within the business.

However it’s important to distinguish between what your organisation is willing to offer its staff in terms of learning and development as opposed to the idea of further education.

I once had a staff member ask me whether the business would support her in a diploma in organisational psychology. This was more of a personal interest and so while she certainly received my (moral) support, the company wouldn’t pay for her to go “back to school” as her request lay beyond the realm of training and development and was more around a desire to gain a formal qualification.

Larger organisations vs SMEs

Within larger corporates, the learning services or training ‘department’ typically exists to ensure that all staff members are given sufficient levels of training and professional development.

But not every business is large enough to justify having a team dedicated solely to staff training. In SMEs in particular often the training and development hat is worn by the owner of the business.

How your staff might perceive training vs professional development

It’s important to think about what you are offering your staff members from their perspective.

Would they think you are offering them training to help enhance their skills just to improve their work performance? If so, they may interpret this as a fairly selfish tactic from your perspective since in their eyes the training provided might ultimately benefit the business more than the individual team member.

Or could they view your offering as a genuine investment in their personal or professional development? This gesture is likely to result in more respect towards you as a manager or business owner since you’ll be seen to be taking a vested interest in their career aspirations.

Internal vs external opportunities

If your organisation doesn’t have a formal learning services team, then there should be somebody within the business responsible for liaising with external course facilitators who would be involved in training staff as and when required.

You also need to ensure that anyone who has been working in your business for a while understands that training and development doesn’t exist solely for new or less experienced staff. Encourage longer standing staff members to talk to you about an ongoing professional development plan.

Remember also that training and development courses do not have to physically take your staff away from their desks. In this day and age there are so many recorded conference calls, podcasts or webinars from  external industry experts that they can download and work through at their own pace and in their own time.

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