As a result of the 2008 Recession, the corporate landscape changed considerably. The result was corporate restructuring and layoffs. Those who remained after these austerity measures faced a challenging situation- increasing their personal output with far fewer resources. Despite increased responsibilities placed on employees, companies cut investments in learning and development (L&D), resulting in higher levels of employee disengagement and lower levels of discretionary effort (see Figure 1).(Figure 1) Source: CLC Human Resources, Lost in Transition & Managing the Downturn, 2011
Although leaders in virtually every industry recognized the importance of L&D, time and budgetary constraints prevent robust L&D from becoming a reality. Employees scarcely have adequate time to do their job, much less worry about training and development. According to a VP of R&D, "People are overwhelmed by the pace and volume of work, which makes finding time for training very difficult." Moreover, even if they had the time, reduced training budgets limit the number of those selected to participate in formal L&D offerings.
One approach to address this L&D challenge is to target investments on smaller, targeted populations. For example, one client focused formal L&D efforts on high-potential people managers. Focusing on this population kept costs down while benefiting the entire organization. According to the Corporate Leadership Council, top-tier leaders are 50% more likely to outperform revenue expectations than those with poor leadership skills. Moreover, training managers has a ripple effect; employees who work for top managers show marked improvements in the areas of performance (25%), commitment (29%), and retention (40%) versus employees who do not 1 .
The corporate time crunch doesn't just affect employees' ability to participate in L&D activities. Finding the 'right' developmental opportunity can be a difficult, time-consuming task. For example, according to one client, "Nobody knows what classes are worth taking or where to find them." One way companies can beat the time crunch and identify useful programs is by cataloging and organizing available L&D solutions. This simple step reduces the burden on all employees by reducing the time required for employees to find relevant L&D opportunities.
Another tool which employees can take advantage of is self-paced learning. Often delivered online, self-paced learning is available anytime, anywhere. Employees who need to quickly learn a functional skill (i.e. writing macros in Excel) can easily, and oftentimes without cost, acquire a skill at their own pace when they have time. The marginal costs of such programs are low as there is no need for classrooms, instructors, pens, or paper.
The most time-intensive L&D efforts are typically centered on formalized, multi-day training courses. While employees cite the value of such courses, the time it takes to train often leads to a backlog of work (worsening the time crunch). One way to deal with this challenge is to break courses into half-day modules spread out over a period of weeks. This minimizes the amount of time participants spend away from work at any one time while giving trainees the opportunity to practice what they're learning on the job in real time.
Motivating employees to take advantage of L&D opportunities during a corporate time crunch is also challenging. No one wants to be perceived as focusing on themselves when everyone else is struggling to get their work done. This is particularly problematic when the value of L&D activities is not obvious. In these instances, employees prioritize shorter-term deliverables over their own longer-term development. While this may please short-sighted supervisors, it undermines the company's capabilities in the long term.
Companies can mitigate this problem by explicitly linking L&D to career paths. When employees understand how L&D will further their career, their perception of L&D activities' ROI increases, and they become much more likely to pursue development.
When it comes to developing employees in a streamlined corporate environment constrained by both time and money, there are no 'quick-fixes' or 'magic bullets.' However, real change can be achieved through a strategic allocation of formalized L&D resources towards high impact populations and implementing time-conscious learning and development techniques throughout the organization. As employees become more efficient due to smart, precise, and adaptable development methods, the paradigm of the learning and development function shifts from a cost center to a value center.
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Leadership Crescendo - Reflections and thoughts on leadership learned after thirty years of thinking about, experiencing, teaching and coaching executives for leadership effectiveness, written by Kaveh Naficy