Staff development

01 November 2019

This article was featured in the November 2019 issue of the magazine. 

Jerome Smail, freelance journalist, uncovers and conveys the views and guidance of industry luminaries

The hiring process is crucial to finding the right talent, but the journey doesn’t end there. No matter how competent, skilled or experienced your new recruits are, there is always room for development. What’s more, workplace learning is crucial for ensuring staff at every level fulfil their potential.

Offering a worthwhile and robust workplace training programme brings other benefits to both employee and employer, too; according to LinkedIn research, workers who receive opportunities to learn on the job are 47% less likely to be stressed, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, 23% more ready to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy.

However, analysis of ONS (Office for National Statistics) labour statistics has found that lower-skilled office workers are not being offered training opportunities of those higher up their organisation. This is not only limiting their earnings, but also means they are not reaching their full potential, stifling productivity, and find they can only go so far in their career.

...not only limiting their earnings, but also means they are not reaching their full potential...


“Although many organisations declare their people are their most important asset, they don’t always follow this up by assigning funds to develop their human capital,” says Glynn Roberts, managing director of training organisation Global Knowledge. “However, when not nurtured, people’s skills depreciate and organisations can find that, without the prospect of training and career development, their staff take their skills and experience elsewhere.”

Lack of available inhouse talent has serious consequences on a business’s effectiveness, says Roberts, citing increasing stress on employees, resulting in missed project goals. “Workload is often used as the reason why training isn’t authorised” he explains, “as some managers think they can’t afford to have employees away from their desks taking a course. But productivity lost due to skills gaps costs their employees between three and eight hours per week.”

It’s clear, then, that workplace education is an essential component of an effective organisation. So, what makes a good programme for staff development?

Dr Sue Smith, CIPP education director, believes that accessibility is key. She says: “Many of our students are full-time practitioners and have other personal commitments, so time and cost are big considerations. We try to make learning accessible by using more electronic platforms and resources and by offering multiple opportunities to learn, not just classrooms.”

According to Mark Judd, vice president, HCM product strategy, EMEA at Workday, business leaders need to get ‘personal’ to maximise the effectiveness of workforce learning and development. “Rather than a ‘collective’ approach to training, employees want personalised recommendations that take into account their position in the company, and connect them to opportunities to hone their expertise” he says.

Dr Smith believes organisations should look to lead by example and have sound role models in place for their staff to aspire to. “Staff at different levels require different aspects” she explains. “Operational staff might require more technical skills and managers might require more people skills.”

This all feeds into a ‘partnership’ approach to workplace learning and staff development – a strong advocate of which is Teresa Boughey, CEO (chief executive officer) of Jungle HR and founder of Inclusion 247. She says: “Managers are key to identifying areas for development for each of their employees and highlighting opportunities where they could develop these. This may not always be within formal training workshops or courses. It will depend on the learning preferences of each employee. However, it is vital that employees also take ownership of their development and be committed to not only fulfilling the requirements of whatever they undertake, but also embedding this into their day-to-day role.”

Boughey stresses that it is important to consider who is putting themselves forward for each stretch and learning opportunity – particularly important when creating an inclusive culture. “Some less confident individuals or those from underrepresented groups may be less inclined to put themselves forward for these opportunities and this is where line managers are important” she says. “If the managers have created relationships with each employee then they will know which development opportunities they require and will encourage them to put themselves forward. This will increase wider participation and ensure every employee feels valued.”

Lizzie Benton, culture consultant for Liberty Mind highlights four big considerations when devising a workplace learning programme: skills gaps, learning styles, outcomes and budget. She explains: “Many organisations believe that they need large education budgets in order to meet the needs of their team, but the reality is often far from it. With a better understanding of the talent you currently have and open sources available online, there are many ways you can devise education strategies without it requiring large budgets.”

Both Boughey and Dr Smith agree that training does not have to be formal and does not need to be costly, with the latter commenting: “There are many ways to learn and apply knowledge and skills but it is important that the process includes a good-quality management process so that the quality is not diluted through organic growth.”

...a good-quality management process so that the quality is not diluted through organic growth


Boughey offers some practical suggestions for informal ways of developing skills: “You could boost the confidence of your employees by rotating the chair of meetings as this will bolster the confidence of each individual, but also give a voice to those who would ordinarily hide away in the meetings but have very valuable contributions.” 

She adds: “You could also match up members of different branches of your organisation to build up each other’s skills, as this encourages learning and the building of organic relationships. For example, if someone needs to build up their awareness of sales, you could match them with someone from the sales team.” This, says Boughey, not only imparts knowledge but also encourages employees to form relationships and learn about each other’s experiences, “which is a great way to incorporate training with organic development”. Similarly, team-building days can build up organic relationships, with employees learning about each other and their roles.

Mentoring is, of course, one of the most potent tools available to organisations for staff development. “It helps new employees become settled and confident in their contribution to the company as quickly as possible, develop good working habits and helps them understand what makes up best practice within their organisation” says Claire Milner, head of customer experience at Symatrix. “It provides new staff with a sounding board and confidante to help with difficult questions and scenarios as they find their feet in the business. More broadly, mentoring helps them build connections. Not only is it a source of personal support, encouragement and motivation, but it also provides ‘professional socialisation’, which in turn helps stimulate and drive the development of the new employee.”

Dr Smith agrees, commenting: “If done correctly with the right relationship and structure, the mentee can learn from the mentor’s previous mistakes and enhance their own capabilities without going through so much first-hand pain.” However, she observes that sustainable mentoring programmes are hard to come by, adding that “a good chemistry between the mentor and mentee is critical”.

It’s worth bearing in mind that staff development and education needs to cover more than just the day-to-day. “Life skills are important at all levels so I would also encourage someone to gain experience. Emotional intelligence and personal skills are also key,” says Dr Smith.

Benton comments: “Soft skills are also becoming vital in the workplace, yet they are so often overlooked. Many education programmes may look to fill skills gaps or support technical training, but areas such as communication, confidence and creative thinking are all just as important. Developing staff in these areas should consist of a well-structured learning programme, as well as support from a mentor or coach.” 

Paul Russell, managing director of training company Luxury Academy, places an even higher value on soft skills, saying: “Most payroll professionals will come to their role with their functional skills in place, the skills that allow them to do their job, and often it is their soft skills that require further development.”

Meanwhile, Donna Walsh, head of customer and workplace proposition management at Standard Life, emphasises the importance of employee financial education. She says: “Embedding it into an organisation’s wider business strategy as a priority, rather than simply viewing it as an added bonus, will go a long way to increasing the effectiveness and the continued evolvement of employee benefits and reward programmes, helping ensure that employees get the best out of them and value them more too.”

CPD (continuing professional development) is also an important consideration, with Milner pointing out that it plays a crucial role in staff development and workplace education: “helping to ensure individuals keep up to date with best practice, standards and trends in the industry, while at the same time keeping them engaged and interested. 

“CPD also helps employees develop confidence in their own ability. All this is especially key in the fast-moving worlds of HR [human resources] and payroll, where change is continuous and it is vital that employees keep pace with it.”

Dr Smith concurs, commenting: “Keeping knowledge up to date and relevant is critical. It’s one thing to achieve competence, but application and keeping it current are also vital to success. The application of knowledge and skills should be a key driver for development and education.”

It’s important for the organisation to be attuned to this need to keep pace, says Russell: “For organisations to prosper, innovate and adapt to the changing market, workplace education and development of staff must remain a priority. Customer needs and those of the market can alter rapidly, and the organisation that succeeds is one that can anticipate these changing needs.”

On ‘change’, there are innovations and developments within workplace learning itself. Dr Smith observes: “Learning through electronic resources is a convenient and accessible way for many students to learn. With the explosion of development in this area, students have a great choice of platforms so that learning can be done from their own home and at a time and pace that suits them. 

“The traditional routes of formal qualifications remain but many of these are now presented and delivered in more modern ways, using better technology, by practising professionals who have current experience in the application of their teachings.”

Danny Brooks, CEO and founder of VHR Global Technical Recruitment, says that while digital education is becoming adopted into many L&D (learning and development) strategies across industries, the real innovation lies in “placing employees at the heart of your workplace education strategy”. He concludes: “Workers who feel listened to, cared about and valued will be far more invested in their professional development and therefore will get the most out of workplace education. Employee engagement is the most important factor in recruitment, retention and company growth, and professional development is no different.” 


...application of knowledge and skills should be a key driver for development and education


Staff development – maximising effectiveness

Top tips from Colin Adams, director of Henley Training

  • Job shadowing – A simple way to facilitate upskilling is by allowing your employees to shadow another colleague’s role. This could be someone from another department or someone at a higher level of management. Even ten to fifteen minutes of sitting with another colleague can be a way of sharing skills and understanding how each role works with one and other.

  • Allocate time for personal development – If, for example, a typical working month for an employee is 140 hours, then consider allocating 20 of those hours to allow them to factor in personal development. This could be through listening to a podcast or attending an industry conference – in a Gallup poll, 87% of millennials said that professional or career growth and development opportunities were important to them in a job, and 69% of non-millennials also agreed 

  • Consider external training – For example, if you are a SME (small- to medium-size enterprise) and don’t have a dedicated in-house learning and development team, then you may want to get someone to deliver training at your workplace instead. These can be one-day or half-day workshops on anything from communication, time management and project management, which can help keep your business moving as optimally as possible. It can also boost morale and increase worker happiness. Motorola, the telecommunications giant, found that for every dollar it spent on employee training, productivity increased by 30% within three years.