The importance of staff development

By guest blogger Emma Wynne – Gateway HR

Gateway HR

Providing your employees with ongoing training and development is crucial to growing your business, but it’s easier said than done. It has always frustrated me when training is always the first budget to be cut when times are hard, when really it should be the last.  All the research shows that it is a business’ people that make the difference so they need to be invested in to be sure they deliver the best service and also stay engaged with the business.  However, I also understand the concern over cost and where to start, I hope this blog will offer some useful advice. 


As I said it is hugely important for businesses  to regularly provide training and development options for their staff. Firstly, there is an ongoing battle for talent and good people are very difficult to find when you need to recruit, so it is therefore much better (and cheaper) to develop your own talent from the pool you already have at your disposal.staff training

Training is also crucial for employee engagement because it keeps people interested in their role and feeling valued in the workplace. It is well researched that investing in staff is key; if you don’t then they will go to an employer that will.

And perhaps the most obvious reason for investing in improving the skills of your staff is to stay ahead of your competition. Skilled, engaged staff help keep your customers and attract new ones, as well as increase profits. Whether this is done by selling more products and services or providing top quality customer service, it all drives your business forward at the expense of your rivals.

Approaching your staff

So what’s the best way of raising the subject of training and development with your staff? What if some staff members can’t be bothered to participate? It always baffles me when people do not embrace learning and development opportunities, but it does happen and if a member of your staff doesn’t want to get involved you really need to look into why this is.

We have run training where people are reticent because they think it is some kind of scheme to see who is good at their job and who isn’t, so the latter can be made redundant! Some people have learning barriers (this often stems from a poor experience at school) but rather than say they have learning needs/concerns they opt for being difficult in order to maintain their pride. It’s up to the employer to delicately unveil whatever reason an employee is fractious towards professional development – a good manager will be able to get to the truth if they have the trust of their employees.

As with anything, if there is resistance then the process needs to be “sold” to the employees. This can be done in many ways but needs to be tailored to the employee in question. Get to know what motivates them e.g. enhancing their CV for career progression, making the mechanics of their job easier, advancing in the company. You could come at it from the angle of making it sound scarce by saying they have been picked – this might help them feel special.

If a member of staff can’t think of any areas they’d like to train/develop in, the business owner may need to help generate ideas for them. If this is the case look at the employee’s career aspirations and hopes within the business and how any training can work towards this. Study the finer aspects of their role and conduct a skills/qualification analysis to see what areas they can be better in, or look at their last annual appraisal to see if any gaps/needs spring up from that.

You could also take a good look at gaps in the operational structure of your business and distribute any relevant training needs on to them, or you may need someone trained in skills based around your business plan that could be relevant.

Where should you conduct the training?

Once staff members are on board with the concept of training, next comes the question of location. I’m often asked whether it is best for a business to invest in external training courses or to run some exercises in-house. This really depends on the training required and of course the talent available to train in-house as not everyone can do it (although many think they can!). Going down the external route brings a new perspective to the employee’s mindset and usually a level of objectivity that makes them feel they can challenge people and concepts more freely because they’re not so worried about offending anyone as they would be in the business. Attending  open external courses also means employees get to meet people from other businesses and learn from their experiences, which can be very powerful.

Keeping records

Formal training and development is ultimately worthless unless it’s recorded and tracked. At a most basic level you should be keeping records of all training courses and development exercises undertaken on staff files (paper or computer based) and also on spreadsheets.

At the other end of the scale you could record it all on a specific HR database that can store details, link to appraisals and run reports on various aspects of the business, where you will always know at the touch of a button who is trained in certain areas and who is not.

In order to monitor your staff’s ongoing development you should conduct regular reviews with employees who’ve attended a course(s) and also measure that against the impact their newly acquired skillbase has had on the business and whether it is delivering what you want it to. For example, if a member of staff has been on a customer service course, measure that against feedback from customers they’ve dealt with (maybe even send in a mystery shopper for them to serve if relevant) and, ultimately, see if it has grown the business through better retention, higher customer spend or an increase in new clients.

Advancing a valued employee

If you’ve successfully engaged a staff member with training and development opportunities, have recorded their progress and it’s making a positive difference to the business’s performance, the chances are that valued employee will be looking to advance in your business. This is both great news and a warning – if you don’t act on this progress they may feel disheartened and you face the prospect of losing a highly trained employee to a competitor.

So, if you feel a very good employee has earned the right to be earmarked for a potential promotion, you can prepare them for a bigger role by organising a detailed development plan for them to follow that would include a wide range of learning opportunities and options.  Some of this may be taught courses or CPD, but should also include internal mentoring and shadowing by yourself or a trusted senior member of staff. As with the cases above, you’ll need to put measures in place and regularly evaluate their progress so you will know when they are ready to make that step up. Giving them such a plan – and plenty of encouragement along the way – will keep them engaged with your business and motivated to enhance their career with you.

Alternatively if you feel that, following training, an employee has impressed you with their attitude but you want to test them a bit more before considering a possible promotion, then you can give them more work and responsibility to see how they handle it. The key to this is delegation not abdication.  It needs to be done gradually and you must make sure the employee knows it is because they are valued and their potential has been noticed – as opposed to just piling more work on their shoulders because it’s convenient for you.

Make sure you are not overloading them; if they are taking on more important work then maybe they could delegate some of their current role to someone else? It would be useful for you to break their new responsibilities down into manageable chunks and check their understanding at each point. Depending on the complexity of the tasks in question, it would be ideal to perform the tasks together at first, then let them do it (with you checking) before gradually letting them take over completely. Make sure the employee knows that they can ask you questions at any time in the process; make it clear there is “no such thing as a stupid question”.

A well-oiled model for staff training and development can work wonders for your business – but you must make sure you plan it well and monitor their progress with care and attention. After all, a huge part of growing your business is growing your staff.


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