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Workforce development

Posted by Bianca Strzelczyk  November 10, 2008 09:44 AM

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Maintaining effective training and development programs during tough economic times

Q. I'm worried that next year's training and development budget will be cut drastically. Any ideas for maintaining a commitment to learning with reduced resources?

A. During challenging economic times organizations need not only the skills of employees but also their discretionary effort more than ever. So it's a mistake to back off from training altogether. It's also a mistake to keep only the choices (like sales training for revenue producers) that have the most obvious impact on the bottom line.

Be selective with your budget. Keep T&D initiatives that positively answer both of the following questions: 1) Is this program's content or participant population the most critical to achieving the company's business strategy? …and … 2) Does this program satisfy key employees' development goals, strengthen our corporate culture, and reinforce what we stand for long-term as a company?

Successful organizations weather downturns by focusing on business results and an inspiring organizational culture. We also know that career development and growth opportunities are key engagement drivers. So the trick is identifying training department initiatives that are tightly aligned to business results and also satisfy employees' needs for personal development. To ensure your ideas are in line with the firm’s strategy, talk to your internal customers about their biggest business challenges and the goals they’ve set for their departments.

Revisit delivery methods. Another recommendation in managing a shrinking budget: Focus on how the training is delivered, not just on what you're going to offer. Can a one day course be delivered in three 90-minute webinars? Can the location for your leadership boot camp be changed to minimize T&E? Can external resources be replaced with T&D department staff or even line leaders?

Encourage managers to coach to employee’s development needs. If you can’t develop the larger workforce through training, equip managers to do the job for you. Stretch assignments and special projects can provide on-the-job employee development — if managers are skilled at understanding employee needs, interests, and skills — and can align them with the organization’s priorities in scoping out work projects.

Do the type of follow up that you always talk about but never have had the time to do. We all know the mantra, “Training should not be a solitary event.” Few organizations actually give teeth to their training initiatives to ensure application of concepts and skills. If a smaller travel budget reduces your time in the classroom, for example, focus on building and implementing those reinforcement and measurement strategies you’ve been thinking of. An added bonus: These actions will serve you well a year from now when you need data to justify your next T&D budget!

For more ideas, check out Bersin & Associate’s Learning and Development during an Economic Downturn (Free trial membership registration required).

To learn more on the correlation between engagement and personal development turn to BlessingWhite’s State of Employee Engagement 2008.

Mary Ann Masarech

Providing adequate coaching for employees

Q. Our managers know that they're expected to coach and develop their teams, but our employee surveys indicate that employees aren't getting the coaching they need. What have other organizations done to solve this problem?

A. Coaching is great in theory, yet our research suggests that coaching is not common practice in most organizations. Here are a few ideas for building a culture coaching becomes a daily leadership practice:

Don’t just tell managers to coach. Give managers a compelling reason to coach by linking it to a critical business or talent management goal. We’ve seen organizations position coaching as the primary organization-wide tactic for increasing employee engagement, encouraging innovation, driving culture change, building leadership bench strength, and executing a dramatic, new business strategy. The more tangible the results, the more motivated managers will be to coach – and the more likely that, once they discover how they personally benefit, they’ll continue to coach long after your initiative ends.

Define coaching for your organization. New managers, in particular, carry misconceptions about what coaching is – and is not. They need to understand that coaching is helping another person figure out the best way to achieve his or her goals, build skill sets or expertise, and produce the results the organization needs. It is not telling someone what to do. It is not advice. It is not stepping in to actually do the work. It is also not restricted to formal or scheduled discussions twice a year.

Encourage employee-manager dialogue. One HR manager at a manufacturing plant whom I interviewed recently described how she increased the amount – and quality – of coaching by managers. She encouraged every manager to walk with individual team members when they moved between buildings. “Just spend 7 minutes talking to them – about anything,” was her request. She asked managers to track conversations on a piece of paper using tick marks and arrows (up indicated a positive conversation, down was a sign to try again). When the plant’s error rate decreased dramatically, the managers attributed the improvements to their new practice of what they called “drive-by coaching.” (Note that she didn’t say “give them feedback.”)

Address trust issues. Without trust a conversation feels like an interrogation and a simple check-in may be construed as micromanaging. Effective coaches devote time to developing trusting coaching partnerships -- understanding each employee’s unique needs and having regular, honest conversations with them more regularly. If employee survey data, exit interviews, or other feedback loops suggest a lack of trust between managers and employees, fix that problem now. It will undermine the impact of whatever coaching models or skills training you employ.

Help managers seek feedback. When managers ask each team member what’s important to them it takes the guesswork out of determining the most appropriate – and most effective -- coaching approach for each person. This type of dialogue also set expectations of shared accountability. Employees need to be thoughtful and articulate their interests and needs with respect to coaching. As many parents have chided their children through the years, “You won’t get what you don’t ask for.”

Set the tone with executive coaching. Leaders at the top who receive coaching experience the benefits first-hand. As a result, they are better advocates for coaching initiatives and become better coaches for their teams.

Don’t forget accountability and rewards. So the saying goes, “What gets measured gets done.” Your organization – starting with its senior leaders -- has to instill an established belief that coaching by managers is important – not only to workforce development or to a solid leadership pipeline – but also to the achievement of current business priorities. Without this belief, leaders can say (and often do), “I’ve got too much work to do; no time to coach!” Systems and practices (e.g., recruiting, competencies, performance management, promotions, and compensation) must align with your espoused belief in coaching. No it’s not easy. Our research indicates only a quarter of managers have compensation tied to their coaching efforts.

It’s worth the effort to try to make coaching happen. Sometimes managers need to be coerced or cajoled into trying a new behavior or stepping out of their comfort zone. Those who experience the benefits become believers – coaching leaders who make it daily practice.

To learn more, check out BlessingWhite’s The Coaching Conundrum 2009.


Mary Ann Masarech

Dealing with rapid growth

Q.We are an architectural firm that has grown rapidly and we need to address the issues that have come from rapid growth. We recently formed a strategic planning committee. They have focused on specific areas and I believe it’s time to bring in a consultant to conduct focus groups and present findings and make recommendations. What should we look for and what questions should we ask, etc. I don’t want to waste our time with the wrong firm and I want to get those right the first time around.

A. The rapid growth of an organization is an exciting and tricky problem to address. On one hand your growth testifies to the success of your business model and your ability to meet the needs of your clients. On the other hand, as the saying goes “What got you here, won’t take you there.”

Before discussing your options in selecting a consultant, I’d like to focus on the role your strategic planning committee has played. What kind of information have they gathered? Typically, a growth strategy needs to look at the structural, technology and human capital investments the organization will need to make to support expanded operations. In addition, growth can occur in many different scenarios: will you grow by acquisition; expanding your offerings or markets; capturing new clients in existing markets? Has your strategic planning committee developed this information?

Also, who is leading the change? What is the role of your executive leadership? Are they directing the work of your strategic planning committee?

Depending on your answers to these questions, you have many options in selecting a consulting partner. If your strategic planning committee has done the analysis and there is agreement on the path to growth, you may need consulting partners who will help you think through the execution and change management elements of launching your growth plans.

If you still need to gather this information, you probably want to bring in consulting partners who can help develop the revenue and market analysis that will form the core of your strategic planning.

If your executive leadership is guiding the plan in concert with your strategic planning committee, you may want a consulting partner challenges and choices they will need to address.

In selecting a consultant there are a few things to keep in mind.

Fit: Look for a consultant with experience in guiding organizations through rapid growth. In addition, the chemistry between the consultant and the potential internal partners is very important. An “expert” who doesn’t connect well with the culture will have a difficult time being effective.

  • Bigger isn’t better: A big name brand consulting firm may or may not be a good choice. Can they deliver a process that is the right scope and scale for you? You may want to consider many of the business schools in the Greater Boston area that have faculty members who also have consulting practices. Often, you can combine the consultation with executive development.
  • Industry experience: A professional services firm has specific needs and challenges. Look for consulting partners with experience in working with this particular type of client.

  • Stephanie Goode

    Tips for developing a corporate responsibility program

    Q. I have been given the task of developing a corporate responsibility program for our company. We want to engage employees and I was wondering if you could share some crucial steps. Also, are there any guidelines I should follow? Thanks.

    A. Corporate responsibility programs do a great deal of good in terms of extending a company’s activities into the surrounding community. To engage employees in participating in a corporate responsibility program there are a few things to keep in mind.

    First, a corporate responsibility program needs to be in alignment with a company’s vision and values. Before instituting a program the first question to ask is, is this program consistent with our values and our culture? Will employees view this as an extension of our beliefs and practices? In engaging employees, a critical first step is making the connection between what your company stands for and why your corporate responsibility program is consistent with your core beliefs.

    Second, your policies and procedures should support participation. Many companies add volunteer days to their time off policies, setting aside a number of hours or days that employees can take off, with pay, to participate in community service activities.

    Third, your policies and procedures need to be reinforced . Your internal communications tools, newsletter, intranet, can highlight employee involvement in volunteer activities. Some companies are so committed to community service that they build service activities into their performance management systems, identifying community service part of an employee’s annual objectives.

    Fourth, you can use community service as part of your overall leadership development efforts. A number of companies sponsor rising talent for participation in philanthropic or community organizations.

    Finally, identify organizations and partners that your organization wants to support or sponsor. For example, is promoting literacy something your organization would want to support? Is supporting the arts something that would engage your employees? Are there health programs that you’d like participate in? By identifying and working with external partners you can encourage and support employee participation by offering a variety of programs and options where they could invest their time.

    Stephanie Goode

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