When we train and develop people in the working environment, who are we doing it for – us or them? This is a key question I have asked over the years, both as a business owner and a consultant working with blue-chip clients when I ran Labour Link in the 1990s.

Training is one of the single most important things we can do in our businesses, and yet I’m not sure that every business owner or executive team knows why.

  • It’s not to tick a compliance box
  • It’s not to score SETA points
  • It’s not for tax breaks

These are all great additional benefits of an established training programme in South Africa, but they should not be the reason for training employees.

What’s stopping you?

One argument we often hear is that the business invests heavily in their people, only to have them leave and join competitors. This results in a wasted investment in employees who have left – and worse, competitors who have just scored your most qualified people.

One obvious way to combat this is to build incentives into training programmes that require additional time on the employee’s behalf, particularly if they are knowledge workers who have been sent on expensive courses.

We would never advocate this route – you’re just locking your people in instead of creating an environment where they want to stay and use their increasing skills for the benefit of the business as a whole. This is the environment you want to create, and the internal community you should be aiming to build.

So, what’s the alternative?

There are two ways to look at training:

  • Do we train people so that they can generate more income for the company?
  • Are we doing it for the benefit of the individual?

In the first option, the business will be looking for a financial return on its investment. The success of a training programme will be measured against this metric.

In the second, the business will be concerned with whether it’s providing opportunities for people to improve their skills and knowledge so that their lives (and that of their customers) are improved.

It’s a fundamental shift in thinking, but an incredibly important one.

Train people well enough so they can leave you, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to.

SIR RICHARD BRANSON
FOUNDER OF THE VIRGIN GROUP OF COMPANIES

Training for a better business

When you give without expecting a return, you are giving for the right reason. This is as true whether you’re giving a loved one a gift, donating to a charity or training your people.

The sole purpose of training and development should be to grow people.

Why? Because with better skills and knowledge, they improve their service to others. This increases their chances of becoming successful and enhancing their own financial situations.

The successful growth of people should be enough of a reward for employers, but if the final result of this process is also the success of the business, then we are all winners – and we’re winners together.

Ask yourself this key question, and be brutally honest:
Are you touching the lives of your employees through personal growth, training and development? Or do you think they should just be happy that they have a job and that they owe you one?

If you realise that your attitude is closer to the latter question, it’s time to rethink your training policy. If you don’t have a training policy, it’s time to implement one. Your single most important asset in your business is your people. Keep them growing and happy, and the results will surprise you.

Getting your employees on board

When you embark on a training programme that is for the benefit of everyone, employee and business alike, it’s important to get your people on board as quickly as possible.

Communicate these two key messages clearly and often:

  • We want to see you grow and become more of who you have the capacity to be
  • We want to see you grow for the benefit of the community – that is, the entire business. This is about something much bigger than each individual in the company. It’s about what we can achieve together.

These two messages together create a powerful combination. They let your employees know that you care about them, but that you also care about the business. It’s therefore a transparent goal that embeds the idea that success is achieved together. It’s a group effort. You are doing your part by providing the training, and they are doing theirs by embracing the opportunity to become the best versions of themselves.

If someone does leave, accept that this will always happen, for various reasons. However, if your motives are focused on the benefits for your employees as much as your business, this should happen far less than you’re afraid they will.

On top of that, the business landscape has never been more competitive. Skills and the ability to serve customers in ways your competitors cannot have never been more critical. Which leaves only one final piece of advice, in the words of Michael Leboeuf, author of The Great Principle of Management: “If you believe that training is expensive, it is because you do not know what ignorance costs. Companies that have the loyalty of their employees invest heavily in permanent training programs and promotion systems.”

In other words, yes, they may leave. But the ones who stay will help you build an incredible business.

Training in a virtual world

With social distancing a reality for at least the remainder of 2020, you can set up your own Zoom training sessions that can be recorded and re-watched, or you can sign up your employees for free and discounted online courses on platforms such as udemy, Alison and Edx.

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