Here at Greenlight, we were proud and delighted to receive a Skills Development Award at the first Skills Jersey award ceremony in January 2015.
As a management consultancy we advise and help clients with many aspects of their business, from system selection and implementation, through IT governance, technical due diligence and core process re-engineering. However one aspect that we have never consulted on has been training, so in light of our recent award I thought it would be interesting to give you a brief overview of our approach to training and our guiding principles.
Training is a right not a benefit
Staff need training, staff want training and we have a responsibility to ensure they have the opportunity to grow and improve their skill base throughout their career. At Greenlight we don’t believe in “glass ceilings” and have mapped out the career path from graduate to CEO for all to see and understand. We then deliver on that level of openness and transparency by ensuring all staff are given the training to help them through their journey to the top of the company. Therefore we see training as a right for all Greenlight employees, not a benefit to be gifted or taken away.
Don’t be afraid of commitment
Make a commitment to your staff. Tell them what they can expect – whether that’s a percentage of profit, a value calculated based on their own salary, specific training dependent on job and grade. If you have a formal policy be open and distribute it for everyone to see, But if, like many policies, it’s long on detail and short on punch then boil it down to a handful of key points.
Make sure that training appears as a separate line in any budgets and protect it fiercely. When businesses start to feel a squeeze the easiest thing to do is to cut training and divert the budget, and whilst that may help staunch a financial wound, it creates a far bigger personnel issue.
In 2014 Greenlight’s training spend was a double-digit percentage of its net profit for that year. It would have been easy for us to simply stop some or all of the training in order to post higher profits but putting short-term profit over long-term stability and growth is not in our culture.
Greenlight is all about continuous improvement - we preach it to our clients and we practice it internally. People are a key part of any business - ours more so than most - and so it is an essential part of our ethos that we give people the time, the budget and encouragement to continue to develop their skills, no matter how well trained they are.
MIY – Manage It Yourself
This is a recent development for us but we have given all staff their own ‘training account’ and handed them responsibility for managing it. Management can still advise and recommend but if staff wish to attend a single expensive event or several less expensive ones, the choice is theirs. This approach also puts fairness to the front. Many organisations have a single pool of money and as training requests get approved money is removed from the pool. It’s not uncommon for the pool to be depleted before everyone has had an opportunity to request training and once staff become aware of this it can lead to a “training rush”, where staff race to get training requests in as early as possible in the financial year to maximize the chance of approval.
The other major benefit that comes from managing budget’s this way is that at Greenlight we want people to take training so if their account goes massively in the black it’s clear that a discussion needs to be had to find out why.
Focus on feedback
As with all suppliers there are good and bad training providers. However with training there are lots of different factors that can influence the experience –the quality of the material, the quality of the presentation, the logistics, the environment, the size of class, the duration, and many more.
Rather than take feedback in the form of a verbal summary, or via a standard form that disappears off to the HR department and is never seen again, we used our collaboration platform, nPowr, to create ‘Training Advisor” – a spin on “Trip Advisor”. It’s our centralized knowledge base, providing structured and useful data to help staff make informed decisions about training courses and providers. And most importantly, it is available online for everyone to use wherever they are and on whatever device they are using.
Learn as a team
Whenever possible send multiple people on the same training activity, particularly groups of people who do or will work together. If several members of staff attend the same course individually across a number of dates they will all return with the same material and the same vocabulary to draw on, but they won’t have the shared experience and it’s through experience that the strongest learning happens. It’s the specific examples that the trainer uses, the questions that the attendees ask, the discussions during break periods that provide those “eureka moments” when the abstract concept solidifies into concrete understanding.
Learning doesn’t stop when the course ends
Ever been on a course where you learned some really interesting new techniques or gained an understanding of a new tool only to return to work and put the new learning in a drawer carrying on with your job as before? Maybe you got the opportunity to use it much later on but by then your knowledge had faded and enthusiasm for it waned?
Training has to be put to use straight away, to apply the learning while it is still fresh. If you’ve got a new project coming up that needs certain skills, send the team together and try to time the training to be as close to the start of that project as possible. Learning for learning’s sake is an interesting intellectual exercise but has little value to the individual or the organisation. Training gives you skill, the application of it gives you experience and that’s where the real value is.
I hope that gives you a good outline of our training ‘philosophy’. What’s yours? Do you have any guiding principles you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them. This is our current approach but as part of continuous improvement we are always looking to better it.
About the Author
Phil joined Greenlight as COO in 2014 and has really made an impact. An expert in technology and software architecture, Phil has benefited both Greenlight and our clients with his attention to detail.