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3 Ways to Continue Employee Development When Budgets Are Cut

3 Ways to Continue Employee Development When Budgets Are Cut

3 Ways to Continue Employee Development When Budgets Are Cut

Story Highlights

  • Employee development has great returns for companies
  • Before cutting your training budget, consider development alternatives
  • Discover three ways to continue development right now (beyond online options)

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, organizations have swiftly made a number of workplace changes -- going entirely remote, cutting employees in some industries, or rapidly hiring more employees in other industries.

Recent data from a Gallup Panel survey finds that 57% of U.S. employees are working from home -- and that number is rising.

And employees are anxious about the future --fewer than four in 10 feel very confident that they will be able to continue to meet the requirements of their job successfully, should the outbreak continue.

During this time of crisis, how are leaders thinking about training and development? Indeed, as leaders contemplate their medium- to long-term strategy, they might be considering how to cut nonessential expenses -- and that might include investments in employee development.

Organizations typically spend 11% of their budgets on training. During an emergency, it's common for companies to scale back their development efforts. When cost-cutting becomes the new normal, training and development are likely added to the list of things to downsize.

That's a mistake.

The impact the right employee development process can have is massive ---Gallup finds that organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees.

With many cities locked down and many employees working from home, opportunities for classroom training are non-existent -- at least in the short term. But learning was already moving toward remote e-learning anyway, so investing in more online education seems like a no brainer.

But is online learning the only answer?

Consider the following alternative strategies to keep investing in employee development during this crisis:

1. Offer ongoing support and coaching.

One in two U.S. employees feels well-prepared to do their job considering the COVID-19 crisis. Prior to COVID-19, Gallup research found that 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.

During a crisis, organizations must acknowledge and address anxiety and uncertainty. Employees want an emotional outlet. Equally important, they want to talk about how they can continue to do good work and contribute in the future. Managers play an important role here -- specifically by operating more like coaches than bosses. More frequent check-ins and coaching conversations are a necessity right now.

Many companies make employee assistance programs (EAP) available to employees. These programs are a vital lifeline for employees in distress. Consider establishing an EAP-like communication channel for employee coaching, career counseling and performance development, too. Trained coaches would be available to counsel employees as they navigate these uncertain times -- listening, giving advice and preparing employees for when things return to normal.

2. Emphasize critical skills, but don't forget behavioral skills.

Here's an eye-opener: 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't been invented yet. The advent of AI, automation and machine learning are rapidly reshaping the job market. As this crisis fades, there will be greater urgency felt to prepare leaders and employees for the future. This will require HR and learning professionals to dramatically reorient and revise their training calendars.

85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't been invented yet.

While these next-generation skills are indeed essential, a 2019 IBM survey showed that, in the future, behavioral skills will be the area with more significant gaps than digital skills. Gallup's latest research highlights some important ones -- seven key expectations stand out as necessary behavioral skills for the future of work:

  1. Build relationships. Establish connections with others to build trust, share ideas and demonstrate care during challenging times.
  2. Develop people. Help others become more effective through strengths development, clear expectations, encouragement and coaching.
  3. Lead change. Recognize that change is essential, and disruption is expected. Set goals for change and lead purposeful efforts to adapt work to align with the stated vision.
  4. Inspire others. Even in the most trying times, encourage others through positivity, vision, confidence, challenge and recognition.
  5. Think critically. Seek information, critically evaluate and help sort through the available information, apply the knowledge gained, and solve problems.
  6. Communicate clearly. Listen, share information concisely and with purpose, and be open to hearing opinions.
  7. Create accountability. Identify the consequences of actions and hold yourself and others responsible for performance.

In spite of organizations' tightening budgets, the COVID-19 pandemic can be a significant development opportunity to focus on these behavioral skills that are key to high performance.

The mounting human cost of the pandemic will be immense, and it's important not to overlook the social and emotional costs that will come with it.

We can often learn the wrong thing from crises: fear, risk avoidance and a survival mindset. That's why it's so important that leaders use these experiences to develop people to adopt a problem-solving, opportunity-focused mindset. Not only does this help employees throughout their careers and lives, but it also ensures that organizations recover faster and adjust more effectively to the new future of work, post-pandemic.

3. Create a virtual network of learners.

Before the crisis, alternative and multiplatform learning modes were on the rise. Many organizations have successfully implemented e-learning. Cloud-based learning, the use of virtual reality, augmented reality and AI in learning are also gaining prominence in the workplace.

But the actual effectiveness of these methods remains uncertain -- primarily because few organizations have tested them out. Less than half of the chief learning officers surveyed by McKinsey said they offer peer and self-directed learning, educational initiatives that take participants outside their comfort zones, or risk-free learning environments.

What we do know for certain is this: Gallup's research shows that developing a blended learning approach (online and instructor-led) is most effective. Gallup's own learning interventions feature a blend of synchronous and asynchronous experiences, integrated with consulting and coaching, to create a "learning journey" that unfolds over time.

In fact, Gallup recently reviewed our virtual learning -- amid the pandemic -- and found there was a more individualized focus on participants, along with greater connection and intimacy. Indeed, as many people participate in remote education from their homes or preferred settings of choice, often while dressed down, a sense of inclusion is rapidly created.

During the crisis, virtual learning must be emphasized, but companies ought to encourage open learning and peer-to-peer learning with other employees. This requires investing in the right learning technologies. But equally important, it requires creating a culture where open feedback and dialogue, and collaborative decision-making are encouraged.

Your opportunity to reassess your employee development strategy.

Even as the uncertainty amid this disruption continues, companies would do well to keep investing in employee learning and development. It matters now, for employee support, and it matters for the future of your company -- however that may look after this crisis abates.

This time is an opportunity to curate a balanced learning and development program -- one that brings the best of online, instructor-led, and experiential learning in a way that best supports employees during this crisis. Doing this effectively will continue to motivate and inspire them beyond the crisis.

Continue developing your employees during COVID-19:

Vibhas Ratanjee is Senior Practice Expert -- Organizational and Leadership Development at Gallup.

Ryan Pendell contributed to this article.

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