Updated: Aug 5, 2020
Budget cutting is like pruning a tree.
You need to do it to help your organization thrive in the long run. But if you cut too much, in the wrong places, you might damage the tree.
It's common for companies to scale back their employee development efforts when it's time to prune the organizational budget.
What's important is that they don't cut the learning opportunities that help people be productive on a daily basis -- or the ones that help them prepare for the accelerated pace of the workplace and the next big change that is sure to come.
"A learning organization is an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future."
-- Peter Senge
Employee development is a branch that bears fruit for your organization -- it can have a massive impact on the long-term health of your employees and business:
Gallup finds that organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees.
Virtual learning and courses are becoming a popular option, but beyond "formal" training (that probably doesn't really help you cut costs), there are everyday opportunities at your disposal.
Consider the following alternative strategies to keep investing in employee development when you don't have the same budget anymore.
1. Offer ongoing support and coaching.
You can't control how your employees experience the world outside of your organization, but you can give them every opportunity to thrive when you invest in their personal growth at work.
Especially during a disruption, organizations must acknowledge and address employees' anxiety and uncertainty. They want an emotional outlet.
Equally important, they want to talk about hope for the future -- how they can continue to do good work and contribute.
Managers play an important role here, specifically by operating more like coaches than bosses. More frequent check-ins and coaching conversations are a necessity right now.
Recent Gallup research shows only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.
If you provide training for your managers on how to give more meaningful feedback and develop people's unique strengths, it cascades into providing growth to all of your employees on an ongoing basis.
To address the serious concerns of depression and anxiety, companies can make employee assistance programs (EAPs) available to employees.
Trained professionals would be available to counsel employees as they navigate these uncertain times -- listening, giving advice and preparing employees for when things return to normal.
Consider establishing an EAP-like communication channel for employee coaching, career counseling and performance development too.
2. Emphasize critical skills, but don't forget behavioral skills.
Here's an eye-opener: 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't been invented yet. The advent of AI, automation and machine learning are rapidly reshaping the job market.
As the current pandemic fades, there will be greater urgency felt to prepare leaders and employees for the future. This will require HR and learning professionals to dramatically reorient and revise their training calendars.
85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't been invented yet.
While these next-generation skills are indeed essential, a 2019 IBM survey showed that, in the future, behavioral skills will be the area with more significant gaps than digital skills. Gallup's latest research highlights some important ones -- seven key expectations stand out as necessary behavioral skills for the future of work:
Build relationships. Establish connections with others to build trust, share ideas and demonstrate care during challenging times.
Develop people. Help others become more effective through strengths development, clear expectations, encouragement and coaching.
Lead change. Recognize that change is essential, and disruption is expected. Set goals for change and lead purposeful efforts to adapt work to align with the stated vision.
Inspire others. Even in the most trying times, encourage others through positivity, vision, confidence, challenge and recognition.
Think critically. Seek information, critically evaluate and help sort through the available information, apply the knowledge gained, and solve problems.
Communicate clearly. Listen, share information concisely and with purpose, and be open to hearing opinions.
Create accountability. Identify the consequences of actions and hold yourself and others responsible for performance.
In spite of organizations' tightening budgets, there is a significant development opportunity to focus on these behavioral skills that are key to high performance. We can often learn the wrong thing from incessant change or an emergent crisis: fear, risk avoidance and a survival mindset. That's why it's so important that leaders use these experiences to develop people to adopt a problem-solving, opportunity-focused mindset.
Specifically, companies must understand how well their future leaders fare on these expectations and ensure that the right coaching and development are provided to close key gaps.
Not only does this help employees throughout their careers and lives, but it also ensures that organizations recover faster and adjust more effectively to the new future of work, post-pandemic.
3. Create a virtual network of learners.
Alternative and multiplatform learning modes have been consistently growing in reach and impact.
Many organizations have successfully implemented e-learning. Cloud-based learning, the use of virtual reality, augmented reality and AI in learning are also gaining prominence in the workplace.
But the actual effectiveness of these methods remains uncertain -- primarily because few organizations have tested them out.
Less than half of the chief learning officers surveyed by McKinsey said they offer peer and self-directed learning, educational initiatives that take participants outside their comfort zones, or risk-free learning environments.
What we do know for certain is this: Gallup's research shows that developing a blended learning approach (online and instructor-led) is most effective.
Gallup's own learning interventions feature a blend of synchronous and asynchronous experiences, integrated with consulting and coaching, to create a "learning journey" that unfolds over time.
In fact, Gallup recently reviewed our virtual learning -- amid the pandemic -- and found there was a more individualized focus on participants, along with greater connection and intimacy.
Indeed, as many people participate in remote education from their homes or preferred settings of choice, often while dressed down, a sense of inclusion is rapidly created.
As more employees work remotely, virtual learning must be emphasized, but companies can encourage open learning and peer-to-peer learning with other employees.
But even more important, it requires creating a culture where open feedback and dialogue and collaborative decision-making are encouraged.
4. Build a learning culture.
The best learning resources and state-of-the-art training might prove useless if employees do not engage in or apply the learning in effective ways.
Leaders must actively promote a culture of learning -- not just compile a collection of learning resources and an overflowing training calendar.
A true learning culture goes beyond programs, courses or practices. It requires leaders and managers to actively support and role model ongoing learning. In this culture, learning cannot be differentiated from behaving.
Every action, strategy or decision generates and adds to organizational learning. Leaders must gain the skills to help activate, create, curate and share knowledge and learning. And employees at all levels must feel free to contribute to and grow this knowledge base.
A good place to start is to make your learning culture one that is strengths-fueled. Talents and strengths develop infinitely, and Gallup knows that an investment in strengths yields long-term benefits -- including increased productivity, fewer safety incidents and lower turnover. It's a return on investment worth pursuing.
Your Opportunity to Reassess Your Employee Development Strategy
To ensure organizations remain resilient in the face of rapid change and disruption, they must keep investing in employee learning and development.
It matters now, for employee support, and it matters for the future of your company, as organization look to navigate future disruptions.
Building a culture that supports and amplifies learning will be a key strategy. As the renowned systems thinker Peter Senge said, "A learning organization is an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future."
This time is an opportunity to curate a balanced learning and development program -- one that brings the best of online, instructor-led and experiential learning in a way that best invests in employee capability and capacity today and into the future.
By Vibhas Ratanjee is Senior Practice Expert -- Organizational and Leadership Development at Gallup.