Investing in employees to reap the rewards

One of the first casualties of tough or uncertain economic times is the budget for employee training and other skills development programs. Regarding these efforts as an expense instead of an investment is short sighted. The American Society for Training and Development traditionally recommends a minimum of 40 hours of training a year for each employee.

Ongoing development is one of the top five factors employees want to experience at work. Workers often cite their inability to see progress in their professional development as a key reason for leaving an employer. Only competitive salaries, benefits and a manager they like rate as higher factors in employee retention.

More and more savvy companies are adopting enterprise career management strategies to ensure that investing in employees pays off in the long run. This strategic approach to investing in employees makes their growth and development an integral part of the way the organization does business. Part of it is formal training, but instructor costs can be reduced through career management software that enables virtual learning on demand.

Make learning part of company culture

This strategy moves beyond traditional concepts of training to embrace a far wider variety of options for workers to grow and expand their skills and knowledge. These include:

  • Ongoing chances to take on new projects or new responsibilities, also known as “gigs”
  • Continuous mentoring and coaching with clear expectations for each
  • Opportunities to take risks and even make mistakes in order to learn from them
  • Decision-making authority to the fullest extent that it is appropriate
  • Cross-training to obtain a broader view and understanding of the organization

Companies that truly want to invest in their employees make continuous learning part of their culture. They regularly communicate their expectation for learning. They offer work time support for learning and make online learning and reading part of every employee’s work week. They provide resources for reading and learning and maybe even form a business book club at the office. They often reimburse various tuition costs and establish flexible schedules so employees can attend classes. They also pay for employees’ professional association memberships and annual conference attendance.

In a learning-focused corporate culture, managers do not resist training or discourage workers from taking advantage of it. Instead, they know that part of their job is to meet with each employee for the purpose of establishing professional development goals and a clear path to attain those goals, including an evaluation process.

Reaping the rewards

Companies reap tangible rewards for taking a strategic approach to managing and developing their workforce. They benefit from:

  • Greater employee engagement
  • Improved teamwork
  • Increased competitiveness
  • Higher employee loyalty
  • Greater ability to attract the best performers

Given the intense focus on the bottom line in most companies, leadership will need to assess the costs, benefits and timing of launching new employee investments. It will be easy for some leaders to cite the short-term financial benefits of inaction, the associated resource constraints, the opportunity costs of forgoing other investments or some other seemingly logical reason for pushing employee-related initiative out to the next quarter or next year. Bold leaders though will recognize that the long term health and viability of the company will depend heavily on the ability of leadership to retain, develop and engage talent. If you want to get in shape, you don’t have to immediately train for a marathon. Even a modest amount of weekly exercise will start yielding results. Career management and employee engagement strategies can work the same way. Make a start somewhere. Even a modest increase in focus and attention on this issue will begin to yield returns for the company. Then use those early positive data points and success stories to start building a case for your next phase.

John F. Kennedy once said, “There are costs and risks to a program of action, but they are far less than the long range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” When it comes to employee investments, the cost of action is an easy target. It’s the cost of inaction that we often miss.

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