Written by:

Holly Macdonald


May 21, 2009

coverI’ve heard a lot of stories of budgets being slashed and training projects being put on back burners, professional development monies being frozen and other challenges that organizations are facing.   I’m sure you have, too.  Back in February, when things seemed really bleak, I read an article in Harvard Business Review called “Seize Advantage in a Downturn”, and the authors suggested that now is a good time to invest in people.

How could that be?  After thinking about it for a bit, I realized that frankly, cutting some training was probably a good thing.  Just because we offer training, doesn’t make it good.  Organizations will often do some strange things around training.  For example – when retail employees are the audience, scheduling can be a challenge, so sometimes organizations will say “make the training a full day, because it is just too hard to coordinate the schedule” and you end up with two hours of necessary training material and five hours of padding.  I’ve also worked with organizations that provide training to everyone, regardless of whether or not they need it, a practice that’s not uncommon.  How about the “refresher course” – make people take the same course every year to demonstrate that the organization has fulfilled it’s due diligence to offer training, even if people already know the material.  If you need other examples, you can read Elliot Masie’s article in Chief Learning Officer magazine.  I’m not even going to mention the training that is bad or poorly designed, stale or misguided.

So, how can an organization invest in a staff during an economic downturn?

Here’s some ways that you can keep costs down without cutting the learning experience:

  • Boot camp – hold an internal development session, organized and instructed by peers
  • Lunch & learns – offer short sessions that are focused on personal and/or professional development – you can even create a shared pool of experts with colleagues in other organizations and trade
  • Mentoring – this takes time, but not really any big outlay of capital, and can be a really rewarding development option
  • Targeted resourcing – task forces, committees and advisory councils may not work for everyone, but if your organization has these, it may be a learning opportunity for someone
  • Book clubs – some organizations hold these
  • Scavenger hunts – challenge your staff to find the best free/low cost learning option to share with co-workers
  • Volunteering time in your community as a team can be a great team building activity (no need for the fancy retreat)

Why not take a look in your organization and see if you could cut some training that is simply not effective, which will save your organization some money (and give you some street cred with the C-Suite) AND where you might add some lo-cost development options that tells your employees you really do want to provide them with learning + development options, even when they aren’t formal training courses or programs.  It’s a Win-Win-Win.