Training and development for competitive advantage - best-in-class practices
by SUSAN NWANORO, HR Advisor and KATHERINE KAWAMOTO, IACCM
• retain high performing employees by providing them with challenging opportunities, a documented development plan and recognition process.
• ensure that the skills and knowledge necessary for success don’t slip out the door, as they often take years and much investment to develop
• recognize that ‘soft skills’, such as collaboration and innovation, change management, and cross-cultural project skills, are becoming increasingly important, as shown by the 2008 IACCM Training and Development Survey.
• understand the need to develop leadership skills at all levels in the organization — failure to do so was linked to dissatisfaction with a job or company in the IACCM Talent Surveys 2006, 2007.
• use assessment tools and managed learning programs, such as IACCM’s, to help identify skill gaps and provide focused training to close them.
Best-in-class organizations understand that a robust training and development program is critical to their competitiveness in today’s complex global business environment. But they know they must also focus on the skills and training needed for the future, as they are crucial for maintaining competitive advantage.
Listed below are just a few of the key areas to focus on, as a best-in-class organization, while preparing for the challenges of the future.
Key focus areas to meet future challenges
Retaining high performing employees
Many organizations spend an enormous amount of time and resources recruiting top employees, but then fail to invest time and resources in retaining them. When it comes to retaining talent, you need to look beyond compensation and explore other aspects of the work environment that compel high performing employees to stay with the company. By providing challenging opportunities for individual employees to achieve their highest aspirations and goals, you will draw the high achievers. These include training programs to prepare individuals for those opportunities, and establishing a clear and documented development plan. Establishing a consistent recognition process is another way to satisfy the esteem needs of employees.
Employees whose basic needs to excel and be appreciated are met by their employer will continue to perform at high levels and will want to contribute more to the organization. Recognition programs and processes should be creative and well managed, ensuring recognition and reward in a timely manner. Studies continue to show that the cost of replacing a high achieving employee is much greater than retaining one. Therefore, continue to invest in your employees long after the hiring ‘honeymoon’ is over.
Employee engagement, especially Generation X and Y
Be willing to change some behaviors in order to meet the expectations of Gen X and Y. The following key attributes keep Gen X and Y engaged.
• Job enrichment: Gen X and Y are competitive in nature; they thrive on new challenges and experiences, and hence they seek new roles and opportunities where they can add value and be recognized for their contributions. To keep them engaged, create an environment where their innovative tendencies will flourish. Identify opportunities and encourage them to ‘stretch’ their capabilities. Use cross-functional teaming as an effective approach for exposing employees to different areas of the business, providing them with a variety of learning and leadership opportunities.
• Promoting a culture where employee input and feedback are encouraged: All employees, and Gen X and Y employees in particular, want to feel valued and respected. By encouraging and incorporating employee input and feedback, you are more likely to keep employees engaged and feeling like valued team contributors. This kind of a culture helps develop employees’ problem solving skills, creativity, and innovation — all key skills and attributes for businesses. Place a high value on two-way communication with employees; and provide processes and forums — live, online, formal and informal — to allow rapid and targeted communication and feedback.
Aging workforce: knowledge transfer
With the workforce aging, companies are challenged about how to effectively transfer knowledge from retirees to future leaders and professionals in their organizations. Ensure that one of your primary sources of competitive advantage does not slip quietly out the door, as the skills and knowledge necessary for success often take years and much investment to develop. Consider various options in addressing the issue of the aging workforce. Cali Williams Yost, President and CEO, Work+Life Fit, Inc., a flexibility strategy consulting firm says:
Best in class companies have gone on the offense to retain employees eligible for retirement, rather than playing defense. They’ve expanded the scope of their flexibility strategies to make sure people know that it applies to everyone, including people who are retiring. This includes all types of flexibility such as reduced schedule, seasonal work, project-based consulting work, etc. But the key is that the companies are ‘partnering’ with their employees to redefine retirement otherwise people may not believe it’s possible. And it is!
The challenges and opportunities for learning organizations
• The changing trend of professions: Building a best-in-class training and development program requires recognition that professions as we know them are changing. The skills and attributes once considered critical to individual roles are also changing. We are seeing less emphasis on traditional technical skills as organizations are becoming more aware of the correlation between effective relationships and higher performance — what are often called ‘soft skills’. In the 2008 IACCM Training and Development Survey respondents rated collaboration and innovation, change management, and cross-cultural project skills at the top of the list as being specific skills more important today than two years ago. In preparing for the future, organizations need to equip employees with the right set of soft skills and technical skills. The assessment of current skills and knowledge needs to become a high priority for organizations who want to effectively manage the changing trend of professions while staying competitive. Understand what skills are required, what gaps currently exist, and make a plan for closing the gaps.
• Strategic leadership/management training and development: Studies show that employee dissatisfaction and turnover is closely linked to poor leadership. IACCM members have consistently rated poor leadership, lack of a clear career path, and an organization’s failure to invest in its people as the primary reasons for their dissatisfaction with their job or company (IACCM Talent Surveys 2006, 2007). Recognize the need to develop leadership skills at all levels in the organization. As organizations flatten, supply chains lengthen and relationships become more important, all members of the organization need to be well equipped to take charge. Whether one is within a small work team or leading a strategic negotiation, leadership skills are becoming more important. Author and leadership consultant, Nancy D. Solomon writes of the ‘Unheard Third’™ — the people in the middle who, for one reason or another, fall through the leadership cracks when they are passed through or passed over. These latent leaders are the next-generation achievers whose potential has yet to be, or may never be, turned into performance. Do not overlook these employees when it comes to development opportunities.
• Effective employee training and development: According to the IACCM 2008 Training and Development Survey, 83 per cent of the individuals surveyed have an organization dedicated to employee training and development, yet only a little over half of the survey respondents said they have a formal training and development plan. Use assessment tools and managed learning programs, such as IACCM’s, to help identify skill gaps and provide focused training to close them. Have a documented training and development plan for individuals with clear expectations as well as a process to monitor performance. The use of these individual plans makes sense for both the employee and the employer. Employees benefit by having clear training objectives and expectations about their future with the organization, which in turn leads to increased motivation and engagement. Organizations benefit by having a mechanism for monitoring the company’s investment in employee training and development. The plan also serves as vehicle for instigating conversations on employee performance and goals. Organizations that simply offer training opportunities that do not correlate with the employee’s individual career path and future plans will struggle with employee retention.
Susan Nwanoro is a HR Advisor for a non-profit organization in California. Over the years she has successfully managed several employee training and development processes. Susan has recently developed and implemented a Professional Development Academy in California. She is also a graduate student at California State University Bakersfield where she is obtaining a Masters of Science in Administration. She will be graduating December 2008.
Katherine Kawamoto is responsible for developing IACCM’s research and advisory services and has been heavily involved in building IACCM’s relationships with academia. Prior to joining IACCM, Katherine was the Worldwide Director of Contract Management at NCR Corporation. Her experience spans more than 25 years and includes both buy and sell-side leadership roles.