Paul Stephenson, MD
Paul Stephenson

Member Article

Developing People ? Why bother? And how

Paul Stephenson is managing director of Results International, talent development specialists. Paul is a qualified chartered management accountant (ACMA) and has recently been awarded an MBA from Warwick Business School. He offers his expertise in developing a workforce.

For some businesses the idea of developing people is a ‘no brainer’, whilst for others it conjures up visions of complexity, time sapping and high cost. Wherever your company is along that spectrum, there’s no doubt, investment in people provides significant commercial benefits.

Why Bother?

The main benefit of an organised people development programme is the securing of key skills. This is particularly important in industries where some specialist skills are in decline such as machinists and screen printing. Without investment in transferring these skills from one generation to the
next, businesses end up relying on technical advancement, but not all skills can be replaced in that way. Of course many other roles require specific qualifications or experience, including warehouse and distribution centre staff or health and safety specialists. Furthermore there are soft skills for
customer service teams, sales staff and managers in general. Without a programme, gaps in such key skill areas can emerge.

Aside from the fact that people now expect, and have a legal right to it, training also supports individuals in their career development, and enables structured succession planning which is good for the company. Furthermore, if people development is managed well, an organisation can build up a flexible, more nimble workforce equipped to cope with change and short-term pressures. Additionally if staff are stimulated and motivated then there is a strong likelihood that there will be a positive culture within the organisation. This helps with staff retention, attracting people to work at
the company, and can positively impact on the reputation of the business in its industry.


So how do you create such a programme? Firstly an assessment of the training and development needs of the organisation should take place. This kind of project can be somewhat daunting, however there is plenty of support available, particularly from government funded services.

In addition to consulting external supports, I urge companies to consult internally too. Fully involving employees in the process, rather than foisting training upon them, will deliver a much more effective programme.

Once training and development needs have been identified there are numerous approaches to consider:

1. On the Job Training – This is one of the most effective routes and includes induction, apprenticeships, job shadowing, work experience and job swops. Sadly apprenticeships are in decline due to cost considerations; however they do offer an ideal way for individuals to develop skills in a relatively safe environment, particularly if they are highly specialist. Job
shadowing enables people to see how it’s done in a shorter timescale than apprenticeships, so this tends to suit unique tasks and can broaden an individual’s understanding of a whole process. Job shadowing also provides an excellent opportunity for employees to find out what another job is like before deciding whether to apply for an internal move, as do job swops. Work experience is ideal for school or college leavers to help them assess a job and for the prospective employer to assess the individual before making a commitment.

2. Formal Training – This can be done in a classroom, via distance learning or structured experiential training known as work based training. NVQs are popular. So too is training provided by suppliers of specialist machinery and software. There are numerous companies that offer training for other skills such as sales skills, customer service skills and generalist management skills. How these courses are delivered will vary from the classroom to on-line packages or sometimes a combination of both.

3. Performance Management – Proactively managing an individual’s performance is key to establishing what the company and the individual expect of each other. The manager should provide regular feedback so that the employee has a good understanding of what they are doing well and what needs to be improved. If there are development needs, the manager should establish what support might be necessary to facilitate the improvement e.g. training, coaching, individual focus. Formal performance reviews help to keep the process transparent and directed.

4. Coaching and Mentoring – Using a professional coach for senior staff can be extremely helpful to the individual and the organisation. A good coach will challenge assumptions and help the individual to gain clarity around issues. However for more junior employees, on the job coaching from managers can be just as effective. Do ensure that you train your managers to adopt a coaching style; this is now widely acknowledged to be the most effective way of managing staff. Alternatively some favour pairing the employee with a
more experienced or senior team member who takes on a mentoring role.

Whatever approach you take, do monitor to ensure your programme is having the desired effect. That means carrying out a thorough evaluation of any training and development. This will help you not only spot any issues but also make necessary adjustments.

Getting the development of your staff right isn’t that difficult to do and does deliver real commercial benefits. So I urge you to go to it!

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Paul Stephenson .

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