How Businesses Can Facilitate Development On A Shoestring Budget

How can businesses facilitate learning and development on a shoestring budget? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Susan Anderson, Chief Services Officer at Mineral, on Quora:

The learning and development gap is widening between enterprise organizations and small- to mid-sized businesses. According to Mineral’s 2022 State of HR Survey, 84% of large businesses report their employees engage in regular training, compared to just 58% of small businesses. How does this gap play out in the real world? Just this year, Microsoft flexed its L&D investment muscle by creating a fully-produced TV series – Trust Code – exclusively for its employees and strictly for the purpose of promoting compliance training. Meanwhile, only 47% of small organizations increased their investment in HR compliance last year. Of course, we could never expect a small business to produce a TV series to improve its training efforts, but there are substantive steps SMBs can take to develop their teams without breaking the bank.

Before we dive into the best practices for budget-friendly L&D, why should SMBs care so much about training? For one thing, it’s the most reliable way to retain your employees. Recent research suggests that the Great Resignation not only isn’t over, but it’s more of a long-term trend than we initially thought. That argument should be convincing enough to free up some L&D budget, especially when you consider nearly all US employees (94%) agree they are willing to stay longer at a job that invests in their professional development.

Another good reason for SMBs to care about training comes from the recent Supreme Court decision on Affirmative Action. The ruling that colleges and universities must stop considering race in admissions could lead to a less diverse pool of job candidates graduating with higher education degrees. Nearly 70 employers – including Google, Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks and Uber – stated in a brief to the Supreme Court that the absence of Affirmative Action could cause them to lose a “pipeline of highly qualified future workers and business leaders.” That doesn’t have to mean a less diverse workforce, however. Organizations that want to continue promoting diversity may need to increase their emphasis on skills-based hiring over degree-based hiring. While degree-based hiring may now exacerbate systemic inequities post-Affirmative Action, skills-based hiring widens the talent pool and can inject a ready-to-learn mentality into the workplace. As degrees become less important, on-the-job training will become more important.

Now that you’re (hopefully) convinced of the importance of training, how can budget-constrained SMBs get the most training bang for their buck?

Invest in 3rd party training

In a recent webinar on employee training, Steven T. Hunt – Chief Expert at SAP and author of the best-selling book “Talent Tectonics” – noted that technology is removing one of the biggest development hurdles that used to face SMBs. It used to be that a small business’ inability to create an in-house Learning Management System (LMS) meant they couldn’t train their employees as well as enterprise organizations. Now, online learning libraries have democratized the access to high quality training, such that SMBs can now afford much of the same training content as their larger counterparts. Rather than investing in a massive suite of training materials with categories they don’t need, SMBs can invest in a right-sized LMS solution through a third-party provider.

The best bet for an SMB to find a solution that fits their budget is to only pay for the training packages they need. For most organizations the hierarchy of learning needs – where training for job basics and compliance represent the base of the learning pyramid – will provide a good reference point. The more appetite for training an organization has (and the more budget), the higher on the pyramid they will go – to more advanced needs at the top of the pyramid, such as culture development and leadership skills. Most organizations will pay to train for the basics of the job, which could also be described as job-specific skills training. Considering the increased importance in skills-based hiring, this is a crucial place for any SMB to start. Compliance training may not look as sexy at an SMB as it will at Microsoft, but your organization doesn’t want to foot the bill for a compliance violation. Not only will compliance training greatly help out your HR department – 68% of HR departments reported that maintaining compliance was “a very time-consuming effort” in last year’s Mineral State of HR Survey – but it is also required in several states. The most budget-conscious organizations will start there. As they grow, the right LMS partner can help them scale their training offerings to meet their evolving needs.

A great way to supplement these up-front investments is to deliver training in a group setting where participants can discuss key learnings and apply scenarios to their specific business. Free training resources like Coursera or Alison don’t come with certifications but can also help businesses supplement training.

Generative AI

If leveraged properly and with thoughtful precautions, Generative AI can be a powerful tool for creating and developing a training program. There are two perfect situations that would position an organization to do this effectively, both of which involve collaboration between a human expert and an AI tool. Situation #1 involves an organization that employs in-house experts on key training topics, but that doesn’t have a dedicated L&D professional on staff. A company may, for example, have an expert in Leadership Skills who has no background in L&D and thus is not proficient at creating a training program. The expert could collaborate with Generative AI to build a Leadership curriculum, ideally leveraging a library of preferred content on the subject. The AI could read and use this Leadership content as the basis for creating learning materials and curriculum flows. Generative AI can even create quizzes and answer keys based on instructed parameters.

Situation #2 is the exact opposite – an organization has a skilled L&D professional but doesn’t employ an expert in a key training subject. A skilled L&D practitioner can effectively leverage AI to design and deliver meaningful training for a subject in which they are less familiar. Perhaps your company’s L&D director needs to develop training for new safety protocols. While they aren’t familiar with the subject, they could use AI as a means of gaining functional or technical knowledge on the subject before they develop a training program.

Regardless of your situation, if you choose to leverage AI for training, it is imperative that you are thorough in their research. Carefully craft the prompts you feed to the AI tool and cross-reference any answers you receive before developing training to guard against potential misinformation. It is also best practice to follow the ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) framework – a recognized best practice methodology for developing training.

Tap Into Thought Leaders

Training resources abound online. By leveraging insights from thought leaders via webinars and podcasts, organizations can access best practices and resources on topics like emerging technologies, customer engagement, culture building and beyond. The key is first to find thought leaders that are trustworthy and that you find engaging, and to make sure you are always mining for the most up-to-date information available. Yesterday’s best practices could change tomorrow, which makes it important to find a range of experts whose content you can source. Speaking of best practices, it’s definitely a good idea to supplement this strategy with other training materials, unless you want to spend all your time searching for your team’s next webinar.

Leverage in-house team members

An uncomfortable reality in every business is turnover – it is inevitable. While eliminating it is impossible, there are development strategies that can help position your organization to fill roles quickly and effectively when someone leaves. Promoting job rotation and cross-training is a particularly effective method, allowing each member of an organization to learn different skills by rotating roles. This practice helps develop a universal understanding of the business and can also position employees for promotion to new roles in the event of turnover.

In a similar vein, teaching others can be the best way to master and share skills. SMBs can empower their team to choose different topics to research and organize teach-back sessions to build expertise within the organization. These groups should regularly rotate topics, allowing everyone to experience the material as both a student and a teacher. This is also a great way for organizations to improve engagement in their training. Not only is it a safe learning environment, but it also enables inquisitive learners to use their own research to fill gaps in knowledge from previous teachers, creating the potential for thoughtful dialogue on each subject.