Companies who provide relevant training enjoy increased employee engagement, improved retention and higher productivity. Training decreases the overall need for management, reduces absence and boosts bottom-line profitability.
Employees with access to training make fewer mistakes and feel more valued – leading to an increase in confidence and loyalty.
In summary, providing training is almost always worth it. The reality is however that for SMEs, perceived time and cost involved can feel daunting.
We’ve compiled some simple and cost-effective ideas which show how, with just a little bit of planning, any business can create a positive and growth-oriented environment – even with limited budget or time.
Know what you want to achieve
Before we get stuck in, it’s worth taking stock of what you are looking to achieve. Training brings a multitude of benefits but if you start your search unprepared then it can quickly become overwhelming.
Is your primary ambition to provide a supportive working environment, or are you seeking to make your employees more accountable for their personal development?
Does your team need technical (hard) skills to perform a specific task, or will they benefit more from personal (soft) skills that will help them improve overall effectiveness and be a better team player?
Does training need to directly correlate to improved profitability, or is the goal to drive cultural change?
Whilst these are not mutually exclusive, having an awareness of key benefits you’re looking for can save a lot of searching and headaches.
Know what you want to achieve (specifically)
You may need to do an initial bit of digging to find out which specific skills (or lack of) are affecting performance, productivity and profitability. This isn’t complicated – just ask your staff and team leaders.
Common areas include: communication, leadership, sales, IT skills, organisation/productivity skills, mental health, customer service, management or job-specific technical skills.
Once you know the areas you can get quick wins from, see which of the following cost-effective options ideas apply:
7 Tips for getting the most from your training budget
- Internal learning events
They say the best way to really learn something is to teach it. Getting you senior employees to coach more junior team members has huge developmental benefits on both sides.
You could go as far as adding personal training into your manager’s job descriptions, or you might simply ask the more experienced members of the team to host one of a series of lunch n’ learn type events.
Publish a series of topics in advance and open them up for your staff to register for. Create a relaxed environment (in person or online) where hosts can share their experiences and staff can be part of a discussion. The absence of formality can help as there doesn’t need to be a great deal of preparation.
Assign someone to capture the key learning from the conversation and publish this (succinctly) to the wider team after the event. This will be welcomed by those wanted to attend but couldn’t, as well as create momentum for getting more people to engage with future events.
- Job swapping (or shadowing)
There’s nothing like another perspective to drive innovation. Learning about another person’s role can really boost flexible thinking, and it might help both parties re-think how they go about their current role.
Facilitate it so that staff who might not normally have much to do with each other, spend time together. It could be an hour or half a day. You might already do something similar as part of your on-boarding process for new staff, but repeating this once the team are embedded can be incredibly powerful in developing skills and breaking down communication barriers.
- Start or join a Mentorship Program
Mentoring is a great way to provide highly personalised development and to challenge your people to think about a bigger picture.
You can create your own internal Mentorship Program where anyone (not just senior staff) are encouraged to offer themselves as a mentor. Depending on the size of the team it shouldn’t be too difficult to match mentors to mentees. You can provide mentors with some high level guidance such as this article to help them perform their role effectively.
Alternatively, you can sign up to one of a number of external mentor platforms. This means that members of your team are able to access a mentor outside of the company and access experiences you may not have within your current team. Whilst there are several platforms that promote online mentorship, nothing quite beats the ability to meet a mentor face-to-face, so encourage your staff to find local mentors if possible.
- Use external trainers or coaches (cost effectively)
There is no substitute for a skilled communicator enthusiastically sharing their experience and expert knowledge with your staff directly. The key to keeping costs down is being organised.
Face-to-face coaches are often thought of as expensive because of the associated costs with travel, prep, etc. If you’ve done your research and know which skills you want to address then you can take your time in finding the individuals or coaching companies who will be able build a structured program of courses for you and the cost per session should come down.
Many professional coaches have taken their services online which may be a preferred (or the only) option depending on travel restrictions and the geographical spread of your team, and is normally cheaper.
A good coach should have samples of the work they have done. Look for videos on their websites as it will give you a good feel for if their personal style is a natural fit for the environment you want to create.
E-Learning is more affordable and accessible than traditional training, and the real-time nature of it means that new, relevant topics are immediately available to your employees. It can also offer a certain degree of personalisation with little increase in cost or effort.
There are lots of e-Learning providers out there, many of which offer some sort of free trial or demo. If you have the time and patience then you will be able to pull a list of resources together for your team to have access to for little or no cost.
Training Sensei have a range of learning solutions designed specifically to help smaller business engage their teams with e-Learning to upskill staff and drive cultural change. This article isn’t an advert so if you want details of our solutions then you can request a brochure here.
- Check your memberships with Associations or Trade Groups
Some industry associations offer free (or discounted) training programs for members via online and real-world events. Ask your finance team what subscriptions your business pays for and check out their websites to see if there are training events that could be relevant to you.
The Chamber of Commerce, and Federation of Small Businesses and networking groups often provide training as part of their membership but are often overlooked. You can also check for training events on platforms such as EventBrite or through local academic institutions.
- Leveraging supplier and customer relationships
Our last tip is to consider whether you can negotiate free or reduced training from your suppliers, or even your customers. Suppliers might be very happy to provide training on specific pieces of tech, machinery, etc as they will see it as a commitment to a long-term relationship.
Existing clients where you have a strong relationship may also see a benefit in helping your sales and operations teams if it means they can receive a better product or service. Are there any customers or suppliers you could invite to spend an afternoon with some of the team?
Showing the return
You can use these techniques individually or try a combination based on your business needs. Ultimately, having the right training program in place will save you time and money in the long run.
Commercially savvy HR leaders understand that ultimately, you need to be able to demonstrate a return on your training investment
Getting a return on your investment of time and cost comes down to employee engagement, and you need to factor this in. This means setting specific goals for employees that you expect them to achieve.
Getting your team to engage with learning and development is often all about momentum. The good news is that you don’t need to go big straight away. Try a few small things, see what gets traction then do more of it.
Once you have some established Learning and Development tools working for you then it will become easier to see a return – either in black and white numbers or in the cultural shift you have driven.
Many employers include training as part of the performance review process address to skill gaps and help employees progress. It’s a good idea to summarise this to a company level to give the leadership team some tangible metrics to be impressed by.
If you can win the support for training from the Leadership team, and have some truly engaging learning and development tools, you stand a real chance of creating a high-performance culture where staff feel supported and empowered.