If junior members are staff are expected to eventually take a step up and start embracing extra responsibility then training and skill development must be part of their day-to-day lives, as Be the Business found out from three forward-thinking SMEs.
Developing the talent and skills of its employees has become an “out of world” experience for social intelligence group Brandwatch.
As part of its people team strategy, Brandwatch has devised what it calls “career universe” workshops and mappings – a set of actions that involve the development of ten-year plan documents for employees to lay out where they see themselves in one, five and ten years.
“The manager and employee can then work together on achieving these goals,” said Derek Eassey, VP, people team. “We also have team matrices which are career ladders for teams so that employees can see where they currently are and what they need to do to move their careers forwards. In addition, we have mid-year check in performance reviews and end of year full reviews where the employee and manager visit where they currently stand and what commitments are being done on both sides to push and evolve their career.”
To help in that endeavour Brandwatch has also devised what it terms external enrichment training programmes, during which managers have a set budget to spend on schemes for rising employees.
“As to who is a rising star, it is up to the discretion of each individual manager,” outlined Eassey. “But, as a people team we encourage managers to give stretch projects to rising employees as well as encourage them to work in cross-functional projects. This will help develop relationships and skills within different areas of the business.
“Career development is an ongoing topic that is to be discussed during one to ones, team meetings and performance reviews. Career aspirations should never be a surprise to a manager and it is the responsibility of them and the employee to keep these aspirations top of mind and to push each other to developing skills to get them there.”
Eassey stressed that it can be a challenge finding a “happy medium” between leveraging someone’s existing skills and developing new ones. “Becoming a manager is a common career path but is not meant for everyone, and it is important to guide employees to discover other ways to develop themselves and their careers,” he said.
“But there is a notable positive correlation between development and high performance. When people are inspired and motivated they tend to do their best work. They also become a more well-rounded employee and understand the business better. Hiring and retaining top talent is important for our business, and a positive benefit of internal development and training programs is that it improves employee retention rates of our best talent. If we are not giving our employees an opportunity to innovate and do more, they are more likely to look elsewhere in this fast and everchanging job market.”
Ally Maughan, chief executive officer of HR group People Puzzles, also believes steady, up-skilling of employees is crucial to success. It encourages its staff in all departments to attend special monthly training sessions which focus on developing commercial acumen.
“We also have more intensive training schemes four days a year where we look at sector trends and new and better ways of working. How can we react to a changing world and add value to our clients?” she stated. “It has certainly helped with our long-term client retention.”
Employees are also encouraged to look at specific TED Talks and are recommended books to help them up-skill and develop. “You have to invest in training your staff to develop management skills,” she explained. “There are too many SMEs, in particular, where you have a whole generation of younger people who are not offered any formal training in management practices. People have to be nurtured and encouraged to want to go on the next step of their career. They need to see why.”
She believes in a very tailored approach to training staff. “You can’t have a one-size-fits-all policy. People consume content in different ways,” she explained. “Some will respond better to videos, others to books or on the job learning. We break down the training and the information that we want everyone to hear, such as the commercial side and then the more personalised training to do with leadership and personal or softer skills. We look at where each individual is at in their career, increasing the amount of training and information we give them if they are making the transition from one role to another.”
Bake training in
Over at accounting firm Accounts and Legal, director Keir Wright-Whyte said it can be easier to determine which stage each individual employee is at because they are working towards professional qualifications.
“We can gauge who needs time off to help them prepare and assess precisely what they need to progress,” he explained. “But we are also getting better at listening to what else our employees want to learn. Where someone shows an interest, we help them pursue that. For example, one of our employees recently wanted to develop SEO skills because they knew that it was something their clients couldn’t afford to do by themselves. Helping them gain those skills is a really easy win for us and the client.”
He explained that all members of staff get five allocated days of training a year and a set budget to spend on it. “We have flexibility in that allocation,” he added. “Also, on Fridays we have an hour long session in the afternoon where we look at upskilling in a particular subject ranging from cryptocurrencies to self-assessment forms. We do three of these a month and encourage our staff to send through discussions ideas. It is light-hearted, but we share a lot of knowledge during it.”
The company uses a lot of “signposting” – keeping a close eye on staff to see what their next stage of development will be. “We will sit an employee down and tell them that say in one year we see them being a manager. So, we outline all the little steps they will need to take to get there,” he explained.
“The small size of our team and the geography of our office helps us determine who is ready for the next step. We sit together so we see exactly what each other is doing. We also do a bit of deputising, which means they fill in when a manager is away. That way more junior employees can see partly what the job entails.”
Wright-Whyte says the benefits are seen in a happier workforce and better retention. “I hate recruitment. I see it as rolling the dice, especially with more senior employees. I always worry why they have left a previous job, if there has been a problem,” he stated. “I like the guys that we work with and I want them to develop their careers, character and behaviour. Ideally, they will stay with us.”
Matthew Thomson of Fifteen Cornwall says drawing on your team’s knowledge can drive up productivity.