Imagine this: You’re a skilled widget maker. You’ve been around long enough to ride several waves of widget fads, and you’ve kept your skills on the cutting edge. One fine day, you’re promoted to Widget Production Manager. Suddenly, you’re in charge of coordinating widget production across the company. Instead of making high-quality widgets, you spend your days managing budgets, sorting out personnel decisions, and translating between the higher-ups and your team. Some days you even find time for lunch.
What you’ve just discovered is the gap between training and development, and why good organizations need both.
Training versus Development
Training typically refers to the skills that employees need right now to do their job tasks. This could be anything from using Excel to speaking Spanish to understanding safety procedures. Training programs usually have a specific timeframe, such as a week-long group training session or a series of online modules that need to be completed by January 15. The knowledge associated with training programs is easy to assess: Does Jane know how to operate a snowplow? Can Bill help library patrons open new accounts?
Development, on the other hand, prepares employees to grow into future roles. It’s focused less on the here and now and more on how employees can grow personally and professionally. Examples of employee development include things like leadership skills and professional growth.
Corporate training programs get a lot of attention, maybe because it’s easier to assess an employee’s knowledge of the sexual harassment policies than, say, her ability to lead a team in crisis. Development also takes time away from daily tasks. Organizations spend a lot of money on training and development–to the tune of $164.2 billion dollars–but still struggle to do it right. Or worse, they leave it to chance.
Ongoing Development: Good for Employees And Organizations
The kinds of technical skills and task-related knowledge associated with training programs are crucial to day-to-day operations, but they aren’t necessarily going to help the organization prepare for future challenges. Nor are they going to prevent top talent from leaving for greener pastures. Although exact numbers vary, surveys consistently show that many Americans are dissatisfied at work.
Effective employee training and development programs can counter these trends. While good training programs can help people be more effective in their daily tasks, a manager’s focus on employee development can develop loyalty and engagement among employees.
This is equally good for the organization and for the employee. As Victor Lipman points out, “good talented people naturally want to advance, and appreciate meaningful support in the process.” These kinds of programs reduce costs by lowering turnover and creating more engaged, productive employees.
Crucially, an environment conducive to ongoing learning helps create the kind of workplace culture that attracts talent in the first place.
Integrating Training and Development
Training and development plans should be integrated, and they should be ongoing and responsive to changing needs. One way to do this is to automate the training process through an online training platform. Trainers and instructional designers can add to the training library as new skills become necessary, and employees can brush up on technical skills at their own pace.
Automating this process personalizes training. This individualized approach to training and development can increase employee engagement across generations, appealing to younger as well as older employees. It can also be a way to mitigate some of the costs associated with turnover by reducing overall training costs and helping to onboard new employees quickly.
Task-related training needs to happen within an overall plan for employee development. An effective employee development plan requires thoughtful design and attention to the needs of the individual and the organization. The growth of online coaching and mentoring platforms shows that not all employee development has to be face to face, and organizations are finding creative uses for online training platforms and learning management systems (LMS) beyond task-based training.
What matters most is that engaged managers give employees the kinds of assignments that help them develop over time. Examples of ways to encourage employee development, as Jerome Ternynck describes here, include things like stretch assignments, mentoring and coaching, job shadowing, and job rotation.
Sure, your best and brightest widget makers can probably figure out on their own how to make the leap from individual contributor to leader, but why leave something that important to chance? In general, smart people like to learn, so give your employees ways to keep developing skills.
I'm endlessly fascinated by how people learn, and I'm happiest when I'm in the process of learning something new myself.
When I'm not working on marketing for Avizr, I can be found teaching Spanish, working with my student teachers, hanging out with my dogs, and exploring the many trails around Bellingham.