One thing I greatly enjoy about my work is talking with HR leaders about how to increase workforce effectiveness in their organizations—which is why I was excited to join Mineral’s latest webinar to do just that with more than 1,200 HR leaders from the small and medium-sized business (SMB) community that Mineral serves.
Specifically, I offered insights on how SMBs can meet today’s workforce challenges around employee training and development to create an organizational culture of learning. During the hour-long discussion, six key themes emerged:
Across organizations of all sizes, employee development is influenced by three basic things:
The advent of online learning libraries makes it possible for small businesses to use much of the same training content used by large companies. The issue is no longer one of SMBs being unable to access training. Now it is about creating a culture that enables and supports employees in taking advantage of the vast training resources available on the web.
The biggest factor impacting employee development is company culture. Company culture is extremely difficult to change and manage in large organizations. In contrast, SMBs can nimbly change their culture in a short amount of time by changing the behavior of company leaders. This is particularly true if the company is run by its owner. If the leader of a small company visibly shows through her/his behavior a commitment to coaching and development, then everyone in the company will soon mimic those behaviors or realize they do not fit in with the organization.
As sure as death and taxes, every single employee is going to leave at some point. The goal then of employee development is not to eliminate turnover, but rather to reframe turnover as a natural, expected but also well-managed process. SMBs are uniquely positioned to reframe turnover in this way, because they have tremendous flexibility to redesign jobs so that positions change and grow as employees develop. Small companies that excel at development can also build an employment brand as a company where people who enter at one level leave on to higher level roles.
I have never met an HR professional who did not struggle with getting resources to support employee development, regardless of the size of the company. However, an advantage of SMBs is that HR leaders have easy access to decision-makers who can free up training budgets—especially if that decision-maker also leads the HR function, which is true in many small businesses.
However, one way for SMBs to build the business case for investing in learning and development is by comparing the cost of hiring ready-now talent compared to hiring candidates who are ready to learn. Another is to demonstrate, empirically or anecdotally, differences in performance between employees who have had developmental coaching and training compared to those who have not. Finally, a third is to leverage exit interviews as a way to note the business costs of losing high-performing employees due to a lack of development opportunities.
During the webinar, our audience was asked to write the skills their company most needed to develop. Of the 350+ listed, fewer than five were highly technical. Most were what we commonly call “soft skills,” focused on interpersonal behavior. Communication was by far and away the most frequent, followed by leadership and accountability. It appears that even in small organizations, people still struggle just to get along. The good news for SMBs is these behaviors are heavily influenced by leadership behavior. If owners change how they act, employees are likely to follow.
Perhaps the nicest take away from this conversation was something I have long known, but that I always find refreshing when I see it. People are far more similar than different, regardless of where we work or the size of the company we work for. We all have similar challenges and aspirations, and we are most successful when we help each other. And that’s something we can all benefit from keeping in our development plans.
Watch the webinar, “Employee Development as a Talent Magnet,” now on-demand.
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