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For a happy workplace – invest in learning and development, not gimmicks

When there’s an economic downturn which expenses do companies usually cut first?

After entertainment and marketing, the managers inevitably slash budgets for training and development. And yet the progressive business leaders do the opposite.

Christopher Whitnall is the founder and managing director of talkforce, which specialises in communication, leadership and coaching.

After 25 years in training he’s noticed the companies that enhance their employees’ skills during a financial slump, end up having the edge on their competitors when the economy bounces back.

He’s witnessed two CEOs, one of a large media organisation and the other of a major IT company who were brave enough to buck the trend.

“They had the foresight to recognise that investing in their people would boost staff morale and retention rates. Their vision paid back in spades when the economy rebounded and gave them the jump on their rivals,” Christopher said.

The talkforce founder also says that one of the frustrations for learning and development experts is that organisations view up-skilling their employees as an expense rather than an asset.

“Many organisations claim their people are their priority, yet they will renovate or move to a bigger office, or even upgrade their technology before they spend money developing their people” Christopher says.

“We know people ask for training when they join an organisation. They’ve been to school and maybe university but now they want practical skills to give them the confidence to do their job better and progress. Training and on-going internal mentoring makes them feel valued and they are likely to stay longer in their job.”

Ironically, one of the reasons some employers resist spending money on learning and development (L & D) is they fear it will be a wasted expense if they train someone who then leaves the company.

Christopher disagrees and says L & D is a proven retention tool. If managers are trained in leadership and communication skills they’ll be able to give and receive helpful feedback, facilitate discussions internally and externally, and quickly address concerns before problems escalate. Then, if a staff member resigns anyway, they may not have been right for the job in the first place.

The other valuable benefit of workplace learning days is that they break down silos. This is especially true for big companies where members from different teams rarely have the opportunity to collaborate. Learning days also level the playing field and give newer team members the chance to rub shoulders with and learn from senior staff. Christopher has decades of experience helping unleash people’s talent in the workplace. He says it’s the soft skills that give a crucial advantage. “The ability to ask intelligent questions, have a genuine curiosity and willingness to listen to diverse points of view are crucial life skills as well as being the keys to business success.”

Christopher says he loves the humour of the current SEEK TV commercial that shows a company trying hard to please its employees by introducing pets and segways into the office, while holding meetings in swimming costumes and play-pens full of coloured, plastic balls. But he says it highlights that gimmicks don’t equal staff satisfaction.

“I know of a company that installed a slippery dip between floors to lift staff morale and inject an element of fun. While it was meant to be a positive addition, most staff only ever used it once, and women didn’t use it if they were wearing skirts. It’s not necessarily inclusive because not everyone feels comfortable using it. In my opinion, this business would have been better off investing in quality training that made everyone feel valued and contributed to unlocking their potential and had a longer, more sustainable impact.”

To discuss unlocking your team’s potential, contact

Author, Theresa Miller is a talkforce associate specialising in business writing and communication skills.

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