How do I manage expectations for development in my small business?

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    Claire Ward

    Claire Ward UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    Personal growth is an innate desire that we all share, which can be used by any business to gain competitive advantage.

    The great Albert Einstein once said: “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death”. It is human nature to grow and our bodies and our minds naturally want to become bigger and better than they are. While our physical growth slows over time, our desire for development never goes away – something that Daniel Pink in his book Drive refers to as “mastery” – remains a key driver of our motivation.

    Personal growth is often tremendous during the startup phase of a business. Most people are learning nearly 100% of the time and pitch in on technical areas that they wouldn’t normally associate with. It’s as you start to scale and evolve, and structures and roles become more solid, that those informal learning opportunities become a little more restricted.   

    But if business owners disregard development skills get stale, knowledge becomes out of date, motivation levels stagnate and careers begin to drift, and these factors have an obvious impact on hard measures like productivity and staff turnover. 

    Too often, though, training and development comes last on the to-do list, with a common reason being ‘we just don’t have the budget for it’…

    The good news, however, is that opportunities for personal growth, which also support your business are within reach for any small business. And, crucially, they needn’t cost the earth. 

    If you’re prepared to think creatively and invest a little time, you can easily organise all sorts of focused and robust learning activities. What’s more, your team will thank you for it by being brilliant.

    1. Peer-to-peer learning: Having the respect of our colleagues means a lot to us, so encourage people to speak at conferences, enter competitions or host meet-ups with their peers to share knowledge with others. Sometimes it’s going to be necessary to fund employees’ attendance at these external events, so make it a condition that staff share their learnings when they are back in the workplace to maximise your investment
    2. Everyone needs a sense of purpose: It may be that you aren’t setting out to save lives or for some other noble cause, but chances are that your business has a higher purpose than just simply seeking cash. So, help staff understand how they fit into this bigger picture by spelling it out in order to capture people’s true potential
    3. Allow people to show off what they’ve learnt: Decide on the core skills for your business and each technical function and assign different levels of expertise required for each (competencies), which people can earn tokens or badges for to show they’ve attained the level (think McDonald’s badges, only aided with technology for a bit of fun and competition)
    4. Share best practice: Bring in a recognised expert for your employees to spend some time with: use your network and contacts to find someone you admire and value and bring them into work with you. Get the more experienced members of your team to share some of their past notable successes
    5. Give them wings: Give your new employees more responsibility or ask them to undertake a challenging piece of work or project and don’t be surprised when they rise to the challenge and hopefully surpass your expectations! Give a mini group within your company a real business problem and challenge them to come up with a solution
    6. Use skills already in-house: There are loads of ways you can do this, depending on the circumstances which include asking team members with specific areas of expertise to deliver short training programmes or presentations for other staff, focussing on their specialist areas; promote inter-departmental sessions, for example by organising ‘brown bag’ lunches with each hosted and run by a different department in turn
    7. Time out to play with new ideas: Encourage your team to pursue their personal goals by allowing flexible work schedules, the freedom to work remotely and arranging social gatherings outside work
    8. Explore e-learning: Training courses are no longer just about hotel conference suites and flip charts. These days there’s a whole new world of virtual training on offer, with courses available on almost any topic imaginable. Online training means staff can learn at their own convenience and pace, with costs generally low and many even held for free. Check out websites such as Learndirect, Learning Tree and Dale Carnegie to find out more