Why on-going learning is crucial for small business

Margot GranthamWhen employed in a large organisation we take for granted that we will be looked after fairly. We will receive regular appraisals and reviews where business targets and goals will be set and assessed. We will be sent on training and development courses to assist our progression to the next level. We will have colleagues with whom we can share ideas and discuss opportunities. It doesn’t necessarily matter that we don’t know everything as the knowledge base required in running and growing a company is spread across departmental skillsets. It is important that we perform well and deliver results in our own roles as we climb the career ladder and that we continue to develop as an employee.

However, for those amongst us who run a small business, it is difficult to match the investment in employee development afforded by large companies. The everyday needs of an SME often takes time and attention away from the important task of developing oneself and one’s employees. At times there is a temptation to think that staff can ‘learn on the job’ and that progression through the company is based on willingness to learn by themselves (via internet, social media, books, business talks). When an employer delegates training and development to this sort of third hand learning, he or she is abdicating responsibility and thinking small.

Thinking small is about making a huge assumption that training and development is ‘not for us’. It’s as critical as looking at communication and retail developments on the web and mobile devices and how it affects our business sector, then saying ‘that’s what larger companies are doing, we prefer to keep it traditional’. Unless there is a brilliant strategy for doing so, thinking small can only lead to company demise. Just to keep abreast of the pace of change affecting all businesses, on-going personal development and learning is more important now than ever before.

If there are younger members on the team they will have grown up in the generation where change and ‘the next best thing’ is expected and desired. They will want the company to embrace change and that means working for an employer who is, at the very least, keeping abreast of innovations and moving the business along accordingly. To successfully manage and motivate an enthusiastic workforce requires knowledge in how to do this effectively and it is not a skill that many business owners are born with. The risk of not managing change nor providing adequate training for staff and self is losing dynamic employees and entering a regular cycle of recruitment and leaving do’s.

Personal development is especially relevant when running a business that has employees. Not knowing what you don’t know, but need to, badly, is the danger small business owners take in forgoing any personal development. Quite a few years ago, I attended a peer networking event (I include such events as part of my personal learning) where the speaker talked about staff motivation, setting targets and appraisals. Following this talk my business partner and I decided to review our employee contracts. We had not been comfortable with their adaptation from industry standard contracts, feeling that they didn’t adequately serve the employee nor the company and they certainly didn’t contract us to hold regular appraisals.

This is a specialised task so we called in an HR consultant who looked at the contracts, spoke with the employees, and set about the task of reconstructing contracts that included all the things we delivered, but had never set in stone, defined the use of appraisals, and closed loopholes that prevented misunderstanding. The consultant then reviewed our appraisal system and ‘good practices’ guide which related to all employees including part-time. The outcome of this was that everyone was clearer about their roles and we knew what we could expect from each other resulting in a more efficient company and happy employees.

Learning how to improve in business should be continuous. With sites like LinkedIn and Twitter there is no excuse for not learning and sharing new ideas. Interactive discussion groups, webinars and forums provide a wealth of leading-edge thinking. If formal face to face training stretches the budget uncomfortably there is an abundance of talks and workshops where delegates have a chance to network as well as build knowledge.

As well as looking into industry training, I regularly trawl my social medial connections, highlighting relevant events and workshops suitable for members of the team including myself. Rather than abdicating employer’s responsibility I am sourcing courses and events that are relevant to their role, or may help them get to the next rung.

In my industry (market research) public confidence and progressive thinking is important. It is our bread and butter and our clients expect no less from us. If we do not keep up with social change and developments in communications technology we might as well throw in the towel! Lifelong learning is almost a contractual obligation.

Margot Grantham is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.

2 Comments on Why on-going learning is crucial for small business

  1. Anne Casey // July 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm // Reply

    I think that it is a point well made Margot that small businesses need to understand that in order to stay competitive, their staff must have the necessary skills. Training is not an option, it’s a necessity.

  2. Continuous improvement – in both personal and business terms – requires continuous investment. In training, learning, skills and “life”.
    Far too often do I come across SME/MDO businessess that are in cashflow trouble. This is the effect. The cause is usually somewhere down in the bowels of the operational processes and systems. It is NOT, however, that these are fundementally not fit for purpose (as a rule) but more often than not because the operators, the people, are not trained enough to use them effectively let alone efficiently.
    Brian Tracey’s quote of investing 3% of your income in personal development does not go far enough. Learning to be a better boss will only rea[ so much reward. Having to courage and commitment to invest in your staff, that is a greater challenge.
    In corporate world, budgets are set aside, teams established, courses approved and roll out plans executed – all nicely funded and formalised although of questionable individual benefit. Much traning has become “tool kit” oriented. I attempted to put “personal development” into a corporate transformation program many years ago – the response from the Group Directors was two-fold- “Its too close (to us as people)” and “what is the benefit?”
    My response was singular: “if you cannot see past the first issue, then you would not understand the second.”
    I have yet to see an MD/FD spend more on development and learning than they do on corporate expense accounts. It seems that getting pissed is more important that getting better.
    Nuff said?

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