Learning and Development, often known simply as L&D, has become a hot topic in the world of business in recent years. If you think that it sounds like something that only large companies need to be concerned with, think again. As you’ll find out in this article, no matter what size your business is and how many staff you employ, L&D is something worth investing in. Here are some of the things you might want to include in your L&D strategy.
An L&D programme is there to formalise training for your staff, giving you a framework to help your employees improve in their current jobs as well as progressing to new ones. Of course, the ultimate aim of this training is to make your business more profitable, and a good L&D strategy starts with clear corporate training objectives so that both employer and employee know exactly what they’re working towards. For maximum value, these objectives should be aligned with your business goals while ideally also enabling employees to work towards fulfilling their own career advancement ambitions.
To give you an example, if your goal as a company is to improve customer satisfaction, an L&D objective might be for your staff to undergo training in how to deliver exceptional customer service. This not only benefits your company by elevating the quality of service you can offer, but it helps employees improve at their jobs and gain valuable skills that will help them in their own careers.
Similarly, if you’re aiming to grow your customer base, a training goal might be to ensure that staff develop skills in sales, such as upselling or rapport-building. If you want to reduce delivery times, training employees to work more productively and manage their time more efficiently would be desirable.
Your company’s leadership structure is another aspect worth considering in your training objectives. Leadership and management training for existing managers may help improve overall team productivity, for example. If you’re planning to grow your business, and perhaps even open a branch in a new location, your L&D programme might focus on training up some existing employees to position them for taking on upcoming leadership roles.
While you’re deciding on objectives for your L&D programme, brainstorm areas where you feel your business and employees could improve. For example, are there any skills shortages that you could fill by training your current staff, rather than hiring in someone new? Perhaps you’re unhappy with the reviews your company has been getting online. If so, what could you do to train employees to help raise customer satisfaction?
Don’t forget the handy acronym SMART when you come to set objectives for your L&D programme. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. If you want to increase customer satisfaction, for example, what percentage increase in positive online reviews do you want to see, and by what date?
Employee satisfaction and engagement
According to research, 7 in 10 employees say that training and development opportunities influence their decision to stay in a job. Helping employees get better at what they do should benefit both them and you, so good L&D strategies place considerable emphasis on employee satisfaction and engagement. Staff should feel that you’re investing in them and giving them something more than just a salary in return for their hard work. As we’ve seen, this doesn’t mean that your training objectives can’t still be aligned with your business goals.
Investing in your staff is something that inspires loyalty; it makes staff feel valued, as well as giving them a concrete benefit in the form of self-improvement and potentially even new qualifications. Putting together an L&D programme should therefore also improve your staff retention, as you’re helping employees to reach their potential and enabling them to advance their careers while working for you. A lower turnover rate means lower recruitment costs and higher overall productivity, so it’s a win-win situation.
Flexible, job-specific strategies
It’s worth taking the time to create separate L&D strategies for different positions in your workforce. Unless you’re going through a major change, such as a rebrand, that you need all employees to receive the same training on, you may find that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy that applies to all your staff, simply because employees’ job roles differ too much.
Learning and development will mean very different things, for example, to someone working on the checkouts than to someone working in the office. Some roles may require employees to learn physical skills, while others may be more focused on learning new communication techniques or developing social skills such as strong teamwork.
Your L&D strategy will also need to be flexible enough to cope with change in your company. As your business grows, job roles expand and new roles are created to meet new business goals. Your L&D strategy will need regular review to make sure it’s still fit for purpose, and building in some flexibility from the start will make it easier to accommodate change.
When you come to think about how your L&D strategy will be implemented, what kind of delivery style is best suited to the kind of training you’ll be offering? Will employees receive coaching in-house from a line manager or colleague, for example?
For some job roles, an employee might be expected to put in a certain number of hours of self-study, perhaps by completing a distance learning course or undertaking an e-learning course online. An example of this might be a digital marketing agency investing in putting employees through the Google Ads certification programme, which trains them in all aspects of Google’s paid search advertising and gives them a qualification at the end of it.
Alternatively, you might need to source a training company to come in and provide classroom-based courses, which have more scope for interaction and could be completed by a number of employees simultaneously. More practical job roles, such as bricklaying or plumbing, will clearly need hands-on training to be provided.
The way you implement your L&D programme can, of course, be adapted to suit your own company’s structure and ethos. If your vision is a more collaborative learning process, your L&D programme could be more of a team endeavour. A team at Getty Images, for instance, has “WeLearn Wednesdays”. You could set aside an afternoon or lunchtime each week to gather together, with a different employee each week giving a presentation on a particular topic for everybody to learn from. At Airbnb, employees hear from industry experts invited to speak as guests during “Fireside Chats”, while Etsy has “Etsy School”, where employees teach each other new skills.
Making learning and development fun is a way to boost employee engagement not just with the training programme itself, but with your workplace as a whole. Encouraging a bit of friendly competition between staff is one way of doing this; at Box.com, for example, the first 25 employees to watch 25 minutes of online training content received $25 gift cards.
You’re going to be investing money into your L&D programme, so you’ll need a way of benchmarking its performance and quantifying its impact so that you know whether or not you’re getting return on investment. At a business level, this means finding a way to measure progress towards the objectives you set out at the start, coming up with some Key Performance Indicators to help you understand how well the L&D programme is working to meet your business goals.
If your L&D programme involves staff getting a qualification at the end of the training – such as passing the Google Analytics exam – or they’re learning a concrete skill, they’ll have something to show to prove they’ve completed the training. But what about when they’re learning ‘soft’, non-tangible skills, such as better communication or teamwork? From the employee’s perspective, measurement could take the form of regular appraisals during which their training progress can be discussed, concerns addressed and goals set.
You can also measure the impact of your L&D programme by looking at how your business is performing as a whole. If your objective was to improve customer satisfaction, for example, then measuring the success of your L&D programme might mean analysing customer reviews and satisfaction scores to look for changes. If you’ve invested in SEO training for your employees, you might use Google Analytics to look for increases in the amount of search engine traffic coming to your website since the training was completed.
We’ve seen in this article that it doesn’t matter how small your company is: investing in your staff is a surefire way to invest in the future success of your business. Even if you have just one employee, your business will reap the rewards if you put some thought into their training and development. However, to avoid wasting time and money, it needs to be done in a carefully considered manner with a way of measuring return on investment. You’ll find lots more advice on running and growing a small business here.
Rachel Ingram is a freelance copywriter with a background in digital marketing. She's written copy for clients ranging from the United Nations World Food Programme to The North Face, and particularly enjoys working with lifestyle and travel brands. In her spare time, she volunteers for Guide Dogs and flies light aircraft and helicopters.Read full profile