Sunday, March 31, 2013

Staff Development During a Recession and Beyond

A report by NIACE highlights how “whilst organisations recognise the importance for recovery of maintaining a strategic focus and developing work in key areas such as skills activism, for many their time and resources have been diverted into implementing emergency measures to tackle business contraction, redundancies and unemployment.  In addition, the recession has challenged fundamental economic assumptions on which pre-recessionary learning and skills policy was based, and new agendas set out for recovery have yet to gain consensus.  Under these circumstances, it is vital that organisations have the space to consider and debate the emerging economic picture - nationally, regionally and locally – and to explore the implications of this for longer term, strategic planning,” (p.5).
The NIACE research found that “many employers have responded to the more difficult business climate by reducing their investment in staff training and development,” (p.6). What’s striking about this finding is that its history repeating itself, where in the aftermath of previous recessions the consensus was that the last budget that should be cut in a recession is for training and development.
What’s also interesting is that back in 2009 organisations from the TUC to the Institute of Directors and the CBI espoused the common message that investment in skills development is essential to equip individuals, businesses and the nation to confront successfully the challenges that the recession presents (TUC, 2009b; IoD, 2009; CBI, 2009). 
‘Smart’ organisations understand how important the development of their ‘human’ talent is for real sustainable growth and the ability to develop a genuine ‘competitive advantage’. They do this by ensuring their organisations continue to have that special, hard-to duplicate know-how – which along with a culture that encourages debate and innovation – creates a cohesive team, across the whole organisation that effortlessly sets the standards for other organisations to follow.
Quite a few leaders seem to forget in a recession, and unfortunately beyond, that their organisation is made up of a ‘lot of players’ that are part of one big ‘team’ and its success is determined firstly by how well they all work together towards a common goal; and secondly by ensuring that they are continually learning and developing their skills and knowledge.
It may be true that the strategic leadership team sets organisational visions and strategy; but the leadership must never forget that it is the employees at the ‘coal face’ who are often the first to identify actual or potential problems, and if the culture is right and they have the right skills and knowledge they can be the first to offer short and/or long-term solutions.
One mistake managers make, and not just in a recession, is the automatic assumption that ‘staff development’ costs money with little return – but firstly there are enough professional training and development organisations that offer ‘tailored’ solutions with practical learning outcomes, which often ensures an excellent return on investment; but, secondly, organisations can and should always consider ‘internal skills transfer’. This transfer of skills means, for example, that the financial team should be able to ‘teach’ financial skills to other functional areas; the corporate strategists should be able to transfer key skills in strategic implementation; the human resource specialists should be able to transfer key behavioural skills on an individual and team basis, as required; and those at the ‘coal face’ should be giving ‘constant’ feedback on ‘customer’ perceptions and attitudes in the current climate and hence key customer relationship management skills; etc.
Successful organisations will have loads of talent in their structures, at various levels, and you should use every opportunity, especially in times of hardship, to share and transfer those skills to others in the organisation.
So claiming you can’t afford to develop your management and staff is not correct – you can always encourage and ensure organisational development – and it doesn’t have to cost much at all. What you do need are forward thinking leaders who know the critical importance of talent management and development, beyond the nice to have rhetoric. Leaders who will always ensure that they have an organisational culture that inspires people to want to learn; question and share their knowledge to the benefit of the organisation; its innovative approach to problem solving and a genuine positive focus on sustainable growth.
This isn’t a ‘big’ corporate philosophy and can (and should) be employed by any sized organisation that wants to optimise its future. You need a culture that encourages individual and team development on a continuous basis – where this development is practically focused on innovative business; competitive advantage and future growth.
Learning in the Recession: implications of the recession for adult learning and skills in the English regions. Report by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. December 2009.

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