learning and development

3 Ways to Implement Learning and Development on a Budget

Editor’s Note: This article is the first part in a series on the importance of Learning & Development.

Learning and Development (L&D) continues to be one of the most important factors the modern day employee considers when evaluating a job. In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, 87% of millennials today feel that L&D is “very important” to them in the workplace, and only 32% of US employees feel “engaged” in their work.

It’s also become common knowledge that when employee engagement is low, retention slips. In order to retain talent and instill higher engagement levels, it’s imperative to offer employees creative L&D opportunities. For large companies that have cushy L&D budgets set aside, this is no issue. But for growing companies that don’t have the extra cash to play with, the mere thought of L&D can be stressful.

The good news is there are a number of ways you can challenge your employees and expand their skill sets without spending a dime. Below, we explore the benefits of three simple, cost-effective L&D strategies that small, growing companies can implement starting today.

1. Rotational Programs

It’s a common misconception that rotational programs only work in large companies. They can be just as effective in smaller organizations or startups with the same positive impact on the employees who participate.

According to NACE’s 2016 Recruiting Benchmarks Survey, companies that offered rotational programs had 18%+ higher employee retention rate than those that did not. Rotational programs are a chance for employees to gain a broader understanding of how each team/function operates, and provides insight into how the different units depend on and interact with each other. Rotational programs are also a great way for employees to get rare in-depth exposure to other skills and jobs, and a deeper understanding of how different departments should be aligned.

One Deloitte study illustrates the benefit of rotational collaboration, reporting that 80% of workforce learning happens on the job through interaction with peers. For smaller companies or in startup environments, consider putting a cap on the amount of time employees spend doing rotational activities (i.e. 10% of the work week).

2. Stretch Projects

A stretch project is defined as a task or undertaking that reaches beyond an employee’s comfort zone or immediate skill set, and that in turn “stretches” them developmentally. Not only are stretch projects an opportunity for employees to challenge themselves and expand their expertise, but it’s a great way for employers to suss out who in their organization has leadership potential. The outcomes can be quite impactful to the business, and are typically cost neutral.

Stretch projects can also be a great way to leverage the talent you already have in bigger and better ways than you currently are. For example, let’s say you have a Sales Director who has done a great job of managing the southeast territory for the last two years, but who has expressed a desire to move back home to California, a geography that you haven’t yet expanded the business to. This presents an opportunity for a stretch project, giving this top-performing Sales Director the chance to tackle the buildout of a new region, while also retaining the talent.  It may be true that this employee hasn’t had experience building out a new territory before, but what you do know is that he or she has been invaluable to the company so far, and that by giving them this opportunity to go above and beyond, you’ve got a good shot at retaining the employee.

Don’t have any stretch projects top of mind? Have your employees drive the process. You’d be surprised by the different ideas your people have when it comes to opportunities for advancement and improvement for themselves and the company. Not to mention, many of their ideas could serve as ideal stretch projects which will benefit both the employee and the company.

3. Action Learning Projects

An action learning project (ALP) is when a cross-functional team is tasked with addressing a business-wide issue. An ALP is an easy way to offer employees a chance to flex creative, critical-thinking muscles that they may not be utilizing on a day-to-day basis in their official roles. Some examples of potential ALPs include increasing customer retention, redesigning quarterly firm-wide strategy meetings or transforming the candidate interview experience.

A good ALP typically consists of three main components:

  1. A real life, and often complex, business problem
  2. A cross-functional team with a desire to learn and develop new skills
  3. An actionable outcome

Similar to the benefits of stretch projects, ALPs can be a great method for solving some of those ever-present, overreaching business issues that can go months and sometimes years without being solved due to lack of required cross-functional attention. In fact, according to a survey conducted by ClearCompany, 86% of participating employees and executives cited lack of internal collaboration as a cause for workplace failures. However, there are many studies that speak to the powerful, positive impacts of such collaboration including a survey by the Institute of Corporate Productivity and Babson College, which found that companies that promote collaborative working are 5x as likely to be high performing.

In order to get the most out of ALPs, group members should be made aware that this is meant to be a highly self-regulated process, and measurements for success should be defined in order to evaluate the actionable outcomes.

L&D is now considered by employees to be one of the most important components of a job. It is therefore crucial that all companies, big and small, find a way to incorporate L&D activities. By adopting the three aforementioned cost-conscious programs, you’ll provide your workforce with coveted opportunities to broaden their professional horizons and learn novel skills, while retaining top talent.

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