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Building a culture of training

Sue Weekes

Building a culture for training can improve performance - men holding up a growing chart

When budgets are tight, training is often the first thing to go – but Sue Weekes asks if businesses slashing their development budget are missing out

Learning and development budgets are frequently on the frontline of cuts when difficult times hit. However, the lengthy economic downturn has taught many organisations that this can be a false economy. Recent research suggests that if employers want employees to go the extra mile in this era of more-for-less, they need to invest in their people. A survey carried out by the training company People 1st for its State of the Nation 2013 report found that more than half (53%) of employees would work harder if training opportunities are made available to them while three fifths (60%) would be less likely to leave their company.

HR and learning and development (L&D) departments must not only fight their corner to preserve learning and development opportunities but demonstrate a long-term commitment to training their people by establishing a culture of learning across the organisation. They must show employees that training is something that the organisation values at all levels and that its benefits are well understood from the shop floor up to the boardroom. “People need emotional investment and they also need to feel time is being invested in them,” says Sharon Glancy, managing director of People 1st Training Company. “And training is a great way of doing that.”

Invest in people

Sophie Ling, chief people officer at the global marketing and technology agency, LBi, describes training as one of the single most important “engagement levers” it has. “People need to feel they’ve grown, evolved and developed,” she says, also stressing its importance to the company. “We are about innovation and change for our clients so without that commitment to continuous learning, improvement and growth for our people, we wouldn’t exist.”

People need to feel they’ve grown, evolved and developed

Glancy believes that L&D departments have a better chance of ensuring training is valued and instilling a learning culture across the organisation if it is directly linked to business objectives. “L&D needs to look at the strategic business plan and the business growth opportunities alongside that and assign to it the skillsets required for growth,” she says. “Then they need to look at what skillsets they have and which ones they need to realise the growth.”

Managers are a crucial layer when it comes to embedding the culture but they can also be one of the chief stumbling blocks. L&D therefore needs to spend time making sure managers understand the value of learning and how they can derive a return on investment from it. “One of the biggest problems we notice is that managers don’t have the time and space to identify the career steps an individual needs,” says Glancy. “They understand what they want that person to do operationally but they don’t know how to help them get there.”

Glancy adds that the return on investment can be maximised and the training culture further embedded if the person undertaking training shares the newly acquired skills once they return to the organisation. This could be done in a formal ‘train the trainer’ type of approach but also less formally. “For instance, a business could be losing time because of some challenges around the use of Excel but if someone is trained in it and is then able to help and coach others in the business that investment pays back tenfold.”

Train the trainer

LBi is taking a ‘train the trainer’ approach as part of its revamped learning and development offering. Ling explains that previously there was a tendency for knowledge gained on an external course to be lost and so she wants to move the organisation more towards an internal training model. “So we buy train the trainer, roll it out and then keep the content, where I can negotiate it,” she says, adding. “We also make sure that people are rewarded and recognised for their ability to share knowledge and skills and we really look for role models inside the agency.”

In addition to this, LBi demonstrates senior level buy-in and commitment to learning and development by having its training programme sponsored by executive members. For instance, the commercial awareness programme is called Latarche’s Commercial Awareness, sponsored by chief financial officer Simon Latarche, while the sales course is called Fern’s Pitching Bootcamp after director of strategy Fern Miller. Another of its initiatives is a programme called 40 ways to learn other than a course in which it harnesses the power of some of technologies that have emerged in recent years as a way to share and build knowledge. “These include communities of practice, quality circles and something we call podworking, which is about working around a problem or challenge,” explains Ling.

The advent of collaborative software, the wave of Web 2.0 tools that appeared several years ago along with the rise of mobile and social learning means there are many more delivery methods for learning than there have ever been. Significantly, as well as vehicles for delivery, these tools and technologies support the shift away from training being seen as a one-off event to something more continuous. For instance, Glancy says that many more peer-based learning networks are being set-up following formal learning sessions. “This helps to embed and continue the learning,” she says. “There are a lot of interventions that don’t have to be off-the-job but are in the workplace, such as peer-to-peer learning and coaching and mentoring. They also help everyone embrace the culture of learning, which has to be a positive.”

Tips for embedding a learning culture

  • Align the training directly with the aims of the business
  • Work with managers to identity the right training for their teams and explain how they will derive an ROI from it
  • Ensure learning and knowledge obtained on external courses is shared with others in the organisation and look at train the trainer options
  • Find ways to clearly demonstrate top-level buy-in and show training is valued across the organisation
  • Explore what other delivery options are available and what tools and techniques can be used to continue the learning


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