The prodigious costs associated with running a small business can mean that learning and development (L&D) often falls into the discretionary spend category. This is a mistake.
L&D, as a business-critical investment in people, needs to be a priority in all small and medium-sized firms. For a business to be at its best, the people in it need to be as good as they can. And, as the owner, it is your responsibility to develop them or risk losing them. Here are some pointers to help you consider and embed a meaningful people development strategy into your business.
Total buy-in from business owners is essential if L&D investment is to add value. As the business leader, you need to engage with your learners and encourage them to recognise the importance of L&D to both them and you. Don’t underestimate the importance of your engagement with the proposed L&D activity. Employees will take their steer from you and if you are approaching it with a tick-box mindset, the chances are so will they.
First, you will need to gain an understanding of what type of development your business and people need. After that, you must establish that the selected training providers are capable of delivering against your requirements and those of your people.
Look for providers with a honed range of key business disciplines rather than a list of training options. To ensure consistency in the messages and standards being delivered to your people, select a limited number of training providers to manage your L&D needs.
Business theory can be interesting and inspiring, but if it can’t be applied in the workplace, why bother studying it? Ensure the learning content is relevant and that part of the learning experience involves undertaking work-based assignments within your own business. That way, you will be stretched too through the learning of your people.
Before enrolment on any L&D programme, explain to your people what it is they are learning, why it’s relevant to them and the business, and why it is important that they are committed to their own development. Once enrolled, check in as often as you can to see how they’re progressing, what they’re learning and how this can be put to practical use in the business.
The purpose of L&D is to bring about behavioural change, which should be in evidence back in the workplace. You need to encourage your people to put their learning into action and build their confidence to operate differently. Remember, if they don’t practise what they’ve learned, they will forget it.
People influence the performance and reputation of an SME in a more acute way than in larger organisations. Having a well-conceived L&D programme confirms the importance you place on people development. This makes you a more attractive proposition to join and also to remain in. People need to feel challenged and want you to have a personal interest in their development. Why else would they stay with you and be committed to your business success?