This is the third and final part of a series of articles discussing the challenges faced by businesses today in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Learning and development (L&D) has two components – learning, which I shall put simply as what it takes to do the job the employee is hired to do, and development, which gives every employee the opportunity to grow on the job and/or progress to the next level of competency. While almost all businesses do well in the “learning” part of the equation, few businesses execute the “development” part as effectively.
I was the Management Representative for ISO9001 certification back in early 2000, and one common reason some businesses failed was “lack of training”, even though a fundamental requirement for a quality company is that you cannot put anyone on a job until they have been sufficiently trained and there’s evidence to show for it. Now here’s the problem – even though records showed these employees had been trained, the output didn’t match and there were many work-related errors. So, training your employees is not enough. The important question is “How effective is your training?”
In this final part, I discuss how business owners regard the “development” side of this equation against the backdrop of this COVID-19 pandemic.
You must HAVE an L&D Plan
Remember in Part 2, I said that before you start a business, you must have in place core values that define who you are, what’s important to you and how you treat your customers. Similarly, you must have a learning and development plan for every assigned role/job in your business. When employees know there’s a clear L&D plan, they feel there’s something to work towards, even if it isn’t exactly a career path (if yours is a small company). Having a development plan is another way you as the business owner show that every employee is important. This builds employee loyalty. Your L&D plan need not be elaborate. You just need to know how to use every employee’s strengths well. If your organisation structure is flat and lean, it’s more crucial that you keep your good workers. If these good workers have nothing to look forward to as a way of progressing to the next stage of their development, you will lose them.
How Strong is Your “Development” Side?
When talking about development, there are three key considerations:
- Upgrade skills and capabilities
- Explore and develop latent talent
- Build a culture of excellence
Upgrade skills and capabilities. The fundamental step is for every employee to learn the skills needed to do their assigned job. The next step is to introduce a perpetual learning culture to help them develop a mindset that they need to excel at performing the skills they have learned. Here’s a situation I often see when I teach Business Communication to SME employees. Up to 90% of them do not know how to solve work problems. They almost always escalate every issue to their supervisor. If you’re looking for a topic to start upgrading your employees’ skills and capabilities with, it is Problem Solving. Imagine how much more productive your processes immediately become when every employee solves their own work issues without having to escalate everything. Are there other areas similar to problem-solving?
Explore and develop latent talent. Everyone has talent that may not yet been developed or discovered. Former executive chairman of Alibaba, Jack Ma was rejected for every job he applied for after he left college. The more developmental opportunities you offer your employees, the more likely you are to find someone who could help you further grow your business. You could find a hidden sales or marketing talent from among your production team. But you have to put these opportunities in place.
Culture of excellence. This also goes back to your core values. You have to develop a visible culture of excellence. That invariably means having strong L&D. According to Research and Markets, the global market for eLearning is expected to grow by 13% year-on-year. That means all forward-looking companies today are moving to digital learning as the way to go. You too must go digital so you do not get left behind.
Training is an Enabler for Business Growth
To put it bluntly, do not look at training as a function. Do not make the mistake of having training because “every business needs a training function”. Earlier, I asked the question “how effective is your training?” If training is viewed as a mere function, you would be wasting both time and money. If you’re not interested in developing your employees, why should they stay? Think of training as a way to enable these employees to help grow your business. Explain to them what you expect them to learn from this training you’re sending them to. Relate those goals back to the job they’re doing. Just as importantly, when you have a strong culture of excellence, you earn the right to assert this same culture of excellence on your suppliers and sub-contractors. This is a huge competitive advantage.
So, here’s a summary of how learning and development helps you grow your business.
- Develop a Learning and Development Plan for every job.
- Build a culture of excellence that consistently develops people.
- Impose this culture of excellence on your suppliers and sub-contractors.
- Move to digital learning – it is the future.
- Treat training as an enabler for business growth.
This COVID-19 pandemic has been painful for all of us. Let’s learn from its lessons. In this three-parts series of reflections, I have touched on the three key areas that need immediate attention when we restart our engines after this pandemic. I hope they have been useful. Do write to me if you have other questions on any of these topics. I wish you success and good health.
About the author
Joseph Wong spent 36 years at Standard Chartered Bank in myriad roles spanning many business areas. In the last ten years with the Bank, he headed the Transaction Banking global Sales Proposal team and spearheaded the Bank’s transformational digital learning blueprint.
Joseph left the Bank’s employment in 2015 and founded Delapro to impart his knowledge as an independent life and business coach, focusing on communication and leadership. He also authored the three-book children’s series titled, “I’m So Ready For Life”, where he teaches parents how to develop critical and creative thinking in their children.