Employee Development, Investment or Expense?

Companies often say that their employees are their most valuable asset.  If that is true, why are they so often neglected?   When smart companies invest in vehicles or other equipment for production they meticulously follow the maintenance schedule to keep this asset running in top condition.  Oil gets changed.  Machines are calibrated.  Daily inspections are done to check for wear and tear.  Small issues are fixed before they develop into bigger issues or time consuming breakdowns.  We all understand the importance of maintenance for equipment.  Businesses call this an investment. 

 Employee development, on the other hand, is frequently overlooked.   After all the expense of attracting and hiring top caliber employees, businesses often act as if they arrive fully informed, knowledgeable, and maintenance free.  And when businesses do have to spend money on training or employee development, they call this an expense.

 A friend of mine recently started working for a large healthcare company.  This is a large company with thousands of employees in several states.    She is talented, bright, enthusiastic and excited to be working for this company.  They have good pay, great benefits, and say all the right things.

 On the first day, they took my friend to a desk, and introduced her to her “trainer”.  The trainer in this case was the person who was leaving the job.   I am sure this trainer was talented and bright, but he was leaving the job and was more interested in making sure that all his friends knew where he was going.  As a result my friend sat at the desk trying to decipher manuals and procedures with little or no guidance. 

 The company had spent a significant amount of money on recruiting and hiring my friend, but then they turned her loose on the job without any real understanding of what she was supposed to do or how to accomplish the tasks she had been assigned. 

 Contrast that with another associate of mine, a small business owner with under 50 employees.  She also spends a great deal of time hiring and training employees.  This savvy business owner understands that employees are her greatest asset.  Her employees are janitors.   Many people would assume that “anyone can be a janitor” and that little or no training is required, but employers who value learning understand the power of “investing” in this most valuable resource.

 When new janitorial employees are hired by this company, they are given an extensive orientation and basic training in their first task.  They are assigned a dedicated trainer and a supervisor who will be responsible for their training throughout the orientation process. 

 Throughout the first thirty days, the trainer and the supervisor must train the employee on over 20 different items.  Each of these items must be completed proficiently by the employee and passed off by the supervisor.    Both the employee and the supervisor must sign off that the employee is proficient and knowledgeable regarding each item.  

 At the end of 30 days the employee meets with the business owner to review what they have learned.  The employees know they are valued as there has been a significant investment in their training.  As an additional incentive the employee receives a raise once the required training is completed.  The payoff for the company comes in increased productivity, lower employee turnover, higher morale, and improved customer satisfaction. 

 Employers who value learning understand the payoff that comes from investing in their employees.  They also provide opportunities for learning so that employees can be constantly learning and improving.  Here are some examples of how companies can demonstrate a commitment to employee improvement:

  1.  Make learning a part of the company culture. Learning should be part of the everyday discussion.  Employees, from the President or CEO to the frontline employee need to value the importance of continued learning.
  2. Provide varied opportunities for learning. There are many different ways to provide continuing learning opportunities.  Here are just a few:
    • Establish a learning library for all employees where they can borrow books, CD’s, and training programs.
    • Provide online learning opportunities. There are dozens of websites that contain hundreds of topics for employee improvement.  Most of these are low cost, and some are available at no cost.
    • Encourage Participation in Seminars and Certification programs that promote the employees role or growth in the company.
    • Assign reading to employees. I have seen many companies who have read a book together as a team. This can help employees to share values as they learn together and discuss what they are learning and how it benefits the company.
  3. Provide opportunities for employees to share. Staff meetings are a great place to highlight what employees are learning.  Ask employees to teach their co-workers what they have learned in a recent seminar or online course.
  4. Reward learning. Companies who take note of employee improvement encourage employees to learn even more.  Rewards can be small things, such as employee recognition, but may also include monetary rewards or incentives.

 Spending company resources on employee training and ongoing learning can be viewed as an investment, or an expense.  If we view this as an expense, as many companies do, we will look for ways to cut this expense wherever possible to improve the bottom line. 

 If, however, we view training, employee development, and lifelong learning as an investment we will soon come to realize that even a modest investment in our employees will reap dividends many times over and for many years to come. 

 Is your company willing to invest in you?