Good leaders understand the importance of professional development for their employees, and they know that if there is a slowdown in their workload, that offers an opportunity to step back and fill that empty time with training and education. Understanding that, however, and making it happen, are two very different things.
A manager at a large design firm in Sydney told me earlier this week how her company’s leadership decided that, with the amount of work decreasing but with no desire to cut people, they would use this as an opportunity to send people for training. But that has not quite worked as well as they planned, which could lead them to drop that idea.
It is easy to say “go get training,” but making it happen is not so simple. There are some things you can do to make it work.
The most important thing is to make sure people actually attend the training they have arranged to take. Chances are that if you sign them up for it you are going to have to pay for it whether they attend or not. Since wasting money is a big no-no, you need to impress upon your employees that if they are scheduled for training, that is their job for the day. If the training is off-site they should not come to the office for anything, and they should leave their cell phones turned off for the day. They need to understand there are no extra points for skipping training in favor of work.
One reason people may skip out is that they see their leaders doing it. If you and your peers arrange training for yourselves, then you, too, have the obligation to go. You will be setting a pretty poor example if you do not. It is easy to think that you are so important that you cannot afford to be gone for a day, but trust me, you aren’t. If you are really that critical, that is a sign you should be delegating authority a bit more, or perhaps you have hired employees who need waaaayyyyyyyy too much supervision.
Another reason they might miss training is because you tell them to go, but then do not let them. If the firm’s leadership agrees that training is important then you need to release people to take that training. You may need to schedule their training around projects, or their projects around training, but whatever you do you need to deconflict their work requirements with their development requirements. Do not schedule someone for a class when you know they have got a deadline, or something — either the training or the deadline — is going to be missed.
One reason you might not be letting people go is because you really do not have enough people to afford to have someone gone for a day or two or five. While some firms may be facing a slowdown, your company may actually be doing very well and keeping very busy. That does not mean you should not do employee development, but it does mean you have to do it smarter. I once had a boss who said she couldn’t send people to training because she did not have a “float,” that is, enough extra people in her department to be able to cover for absences. Her point is well taken: in order to be profitable you have to make sure the work gets done even when people are off doing something important like professional development, so when you design your workforce, you need to account for regular absences.
Lots of people talk about developing their Creatives, but many of them don’t follow through. It’s the kind of thing that sounds good in a meeting but can be tough to carry out. If you’re going to decide to take a step forward and provide training and education for your Creatives, especially if you see a good window of opportunity right now, then make a little extra effort to ensure it actually happens.