It’s received wisdom among learning and development professionals that those organisations that maintain or increase their investment in staff development in difficult financial times come out of those periods more strongly than those that cut back. Pragmatically, though, reducing costs is an essential business activity. And learning and development is no exception – reduced budgets, recruitment freezes and merging roles challenge any theories on learning effectiveness. So how can you deliver valuable learning in a limited amount of time and budget? Here are a few quick and easy tips that are simple to put into action.
1. Create in-house experts and trainers
Many employers pay a premium for outsourced training while overlooking all the free skills available. Particularly for technical skills, the people who know your organisation the best are often your staff. Many of them will have developed specialist knowledge and skills over the years. Use them to help other employees in ways listed below.
2. Start vlogging
Ask employees to record a video blog of a valuable skill they have in the workplace, or a supervisor to film themselves explaining a new process. All you need is a mobile phone and internet connection, so you can share the videos with everyone in the team. This humanises the training process, removes the transfer of learning from the classroom to the ‘shop floor’, and can make it more fun. Vlogging can be done on a shoestring.
3. Move from the classroom to webinars
When videos aren’t enough, move appropriate live workshops online with webinars. These sessions are particularly helpful for instruction-based skills or attributes that are dependent on clear communication – for example, explaining a new procedure. Such online meetings lower the average training cost per employee by eliminating travel and catering costs from your budget. The facilitator can address employees in real-time wherever they’re based. They can also record the session, so if someone can’t make it to the workshop you can email it to them to watch at time to suit them. However interpretive issues – such as issues affecting diversity and inclusion – are best dealt with face-to-face with expert support.
4. Set up a ‘buddy’ programme
Mentoring is a very effective way to support and develop learning. Pair up senior members of staff with new recruits or those who are less experienced. It will benefit both parties – mentors can impart their wisdom, making them feel valued, while those being mentored will feel a lot more comfortable if they have someone to turn to for advice in the early days. What is most important is having the right person as the mentor with the right person as the mentee – and both would need support in how to get the best out of a relationship. So, with a bit of background training, mentoring is effective, cost effective and an easy way to develop people. Remember that a mentor is quite simply ‘one that has gone before’.
5. Build up a library of resources, tools and articles
Don’t let that stack of L&D materials you have piled on your desk or filed away in a cabinet go to waste. It can be organised into a library or database that people can access quickly if they need to find something out. This can help to reduce research time. Articles and case studies from your industry may also provide fresh inspiration for new training programmes.
6. Create templates
Building on the shared resource above, templates are a huge timesaver for L&D teams. Instead of designing a new document or PowerPoint presentation from scratch every time, you can create a customised template that can be easily adapted to fit your latest project. You’ll save valuable hours that can be spent on other tasks.
7. Incorporate discussion forums
Online discussion forums and ‘collaboration rooms’ create an informal space for peer-to-peer learning and chats, and can replace some of the offline costs of team-building exercises. They give employees the opportunity to build relationships and provide answers to each other’s questions. This saves time as it avoids sending multiple emails and face-to-face conversations with facilitators.
8. Avoid using unnecessary content
Less is more. Keep learning content as simple as possible. Ask yourself whether you really need to include both video and text. Often a video will be self-explanatory, making additional text unnecessary. And make sure content is mobile friendly, so users can access it at any time.
9. Use the vast array of free resources available
You don’t always have to pay for good quality resources like stock images, animation, audio editing, image editing and colour design. Consider using tools such as Microsoft clip art, Stock Free Images, Audacity and even YouTube have excellent learning resources. Remember to make sure that you check out intellectual property issues.
10. Be proactive with learning management and feedback
Duplicating training isn’t cost-effective, so keep a clear learning management system and record of who’s done what and which elements of the programme have been the most successful. Ask employees for regular feedback on your initiatives to see what they like, what could be improved and what can be ditched. This will help to eliminate less useful bits that eat up unnecessary time.
Many of these tips lend themselves to blended learning approaches and the 70:20:10 concept of learning. But there are significant caveats to be aware of. Blended learning approaches can be fuelled by a lack of budget and learning resources (like face-to-face learning coaches) and sustainable effective staff development needs both. The same concerns apply to the 70:20:10 approach – a good learning journey needs to be supported by learning specialists. And in all cases, any learning activity in organisations must be aligned explicitly to strategic objectives…otherwise you might as well be just ripping up fifty-pound notes.
Dr Benedict Eccles MSc in PhD CPsychol is Head of Consultancy and Research for The Workforce Development Trust which runs Skills for Health and Skills for Justice