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Developing people, Part I: A worthwhile investment


By Dr. Carol McCoy

Let's say you're a manager in a growing company. As the business year ends and the company wants to reduce expenses, senior management asks you to trim your budget.

What's the first area you think of cutting back? Is it training?

Why is training and development often the first area to go when the budget must be cut? Has your manager ever held you back from training or have you ever cancelled training because of immediate job pressures? Why is personal development seen as expendable?

Perhaps it's because the benefits are long-term compared to the benefits of addressing what appears to be a crisis. Unfortunately people often treat any immediate business need as a crisis. They put out the fire, but at the expense of their long-term growth.

You may not be able to see the immediate payoff of increased skill or knowledge as easily as you can see the emotions of a disappointed customer. Stephen Covey in First Things First discusses the pressure that people feel to respond to an immediate situation rather than to pursue activities which support their highest, long-term values.

Why is developing yourself and your employees so important? What's the big deal about skipping development opportunities?

First, there are obvious benefits to companies that develop people. Jack Quirk, Performance Management Consultant, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, explains the business imperative of developing people:

"The most important asset that any organization has is its people. To remain competitive, organizations must be constantly changing, improving their methods of doing business, getting people to work harder and smarter. If you want to change and be more competitive, you have to train everybody. Developing people is the only way your business is going to stay in business."

Skilled and knowledgeable workers not only do their jobs better and provide better service, but they are also in a better position to take on more responsibility. No one wants to feel poorly equipped to handle a work situation.

Recently I went shopping at one of the mega-stores to get a bargain on perennials. When I asked a nearby worker for help on selecting plants, he actually said to me, "All people with knowledge of plants have left the building." I heard similar comments about lawnmower knowledge when I was trying to buy a new mower.

No one wants to say to customers, "I'm sorry I don't know that. I'll have to call my supervisor." Even worse, "my supervisor doesn't know either."

Studies by the American Society for Training and Development show that companies who are willing to invest in the developing people tend to have better business results and better stock performance. Furthermore, training and development can help companies meet one of today's biggest challenges -- attracting and retaining competent people.

People on the fast track want an opportunity to grow, and want to know that they can keep current by learning new knowledge and skills.

Carol Ryan Ertz, Co-Director of UnumProvident Leadership Development, explains why investing in people is so important:

"Any company that is not developing its people is in danger of losing its competitive edge and its institutional knowledge to a competitor. According to a recent Gallup survey, two of the 12 key requirements of a Great Place to Work point to the value of investing in employee development -- 'Is there someone at work who encourages my development?' and 'This year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow.' If the company is not providing developmental opportunities, employees leave and prospective employees never sign on."

Unlike workers who expected to stay with one company for their entire career, today's workers expect to change careers and employers several times. They are looking for ways to make themselves more marketable by learning transferable skills.

Some companies are afraid to invest in training and developing an employee, because that skilled worker becomes more attractive and marketable to other companies. On the other hand, investing in an employee's development tends to increase the worker's positive feelings and loyalty about their company as well as their ability to contribute to the company's success and to assume increased responsibilities. Development also gives them feelings of job satisfaction because they can do a competent job, enhance their skills, and move up in the company.

Jean Whitney, Director of Education and Training, Banknorth Group, Inc. is a strong proponent of the value of training and development. Jean explains the benefits of training this way: "As organizations grow, positions become more complex and job responsibilities increase in their scope. Training and development of employees is critical to success in achieving business goals and it also helps to attract and retain top notch people. People want to feel good about what they're doing and be able to take on new projects and initiatives. Development helps people to succeed in their jobs and supports their growth both in their current positions and in new positions. "

So, the next time you think of cutting the training budget or skipping personal development, think twice. Next month's column will focus on ways to develop your skills and knowledge.

Carol P. McCoy, Ph.D. is President of McCoy Training and Development Resources, a consulting firm in Falmouth, Maine. Her mission is to help organizations and individuals increase their effectiveness in a constantly changing world.

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