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Delivering effective L&D on a tighter budget


Credit crunchAs the credit crunch bites, managing a learning and development (L&D) team and running effective programmes on a tight budget will again become familiar territory for L&D managers. Amanda Young looks at the best ways to deliver effective programmes in the challenging economic times ahead.

Retaining quality employees is a big challenge for human capital management. People are an organisation’s most important asset and, having spent so much time attracting and recruiting the right people, an organisation quite rightly wants to hold on to them for as long as possible.

Conversely, employees increasingly expect organisations to invest in their learning and development (L&D) so that they can improve their skill sets. This will lead to their professional development, personal growth and ultimately improved future employability.

With organisations taking a critical look at costs, unfortunately the L&D budget can be one of the first to come under increased scrutiny. Making the most of the budget available is paramount to ensuring that not only L&D programmes meet the strategic objectives of an organisation, but also remain an effective tool for retention of the organisation’s most valuable asset.

Skill Requirements

The latest 2008 CIPD survey on L&D indicates interpersonal (79%) and communication (68%) skills are two key skills expected of new recruits. Over half of new employees recognise the importance of these skill sets, assuming IT skills to be a given. Indeed, nearly half the workforce, at 47%, is expected to be employed in a working environment where computing skills are an essential part of the job function.

“Conversely, employees increasingly expect organisations to invest in their learning and development so that they can improve their skill sets.”

Furthermore, four out of 10 employers are looking for higher levels of skills than two years ago, with 61% looking for a broader range of skill sets. Nine out of 10 will be looking for increased leadership and management skills in two years time, while 64%, unsurprisingly in a service-led economy, will be looking for improved customer service skills.

Worryingly, 66% of respondents consider there is a deficiency in communication and interpersonal skills and 54% in a lack of leadership and management skills among those leaving education. This is especially so given that organisations are placing increased importance on writing short and long documents, presentation skills and speech delivery, persuading and influencing people, and in-depth instruction on and the analysis of complex problems. These influencing skills, along with technical know-how, are gaining increased prominence in the composite skills index.

Support and Challenge

Interestingly, interpersonal and communication skills are not learned in a classroom environment from an instructor but are skills that are acquired and developed through practice, experience and feedback in the workplace environment.

This is where the cost-effective deployment of ‘support and challenge’ comes into its element. Support and challenge is about deploying a range of interventions to encourage employees on the job to find within themselves a way forward for further personal development. It requires skilful management but is undoubtedly the most effective way.

Support and challenge recognises that a one-size-fits-all approach to training does not work. This is supported by that fact that instructor-led training programmes have remained static over the years. L&D is much more centred on the one-size-fits-one approach where programmes are tailored more to the individual. Greater emphasis is placed on on-the-job training through project work with increased value placed on learning with and from fellow colleagues.

Using line managers as coaches has been de rigueur for the past five years with the CIPD survey showing that 72% of respondents had introduced new programmes to develop the role of line managers as coaches.

The top three most effective L&D approaches were identified as in-house development programmes (55%), coaching by line managers (53%) and on-the-job training (43%). All are cost-effective approaches, which match more closely the business objectives and culture of the organisation and the preferred method of learning by employees where they practise what has been demonstrated to them. Tailored learning is active, not passive. There is no risk of employees ‘falling asleep’ in the classroom!

Training effectiveness measurement

The downside to a more informal approach to training is that it can be more difficult to measure and evaluate its effectiveness, an area which will receive increased management focus in the years ahead. However, it may not be all bad news, as there is a distinct shift away from return on investment to return on expectation.

“The downside to a more informal approach to training is that it can be more difficult to measure and evaluate its effectiveness.”

The latter measures the extent to which the anticipated benefits of L&D investment have been met, using both statistical results and line management feedback. Certainly, the CIPD survey points to closer integration of L&D programmes with business strategy over the next five years.

Closer alignment of learning and development programmes to organisational strategy is a good argument for employing dedicated internal coaches and trained peer coaches. With line managers being pulled in all sorts of different directions, it is claimed that the only really effective way of achieving transformational change is through the dedicated or peer coach approach.

How easy, in the current economic climate, it will be to persuade senior management to adopt this approach is another matter. Currently, only 14% of organisations employ specialist internal coaches.

Employee engagement through coaching

As a cost-effective approach to L&D, coaching is one of the most popular for engaging employees. Indeed, 71% of organisations use some form of coaching, with four out of five line managers within these actively using coaching methods with their staff. In fact, for 36% of them, it was their main responsibility.

In the current economic climate, one of the most cost-effective ways of delivering L&D programmes is through support and challenge – providing employees with assignments that stretch them to build up their skill sets and supporting them through line management coaching.

Focused feedback from managers helps build competence and skills while performance management should ensure that programmes are on track to meet organisational objectives.

Amanda Young is the training and development manager for Ceridian.

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