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Training For A Turnaround
Aditi Sharma affirms that there is no time like the present for companies to strongly advocate training, learning and development opportunities for their employees, and that this reskilling is critical as the first step on the road to economic recovery
As organisational leaders search for ways to cut costs, training and development budgets appear to be one of the most common items to face the axe. Taking the axe to learning and development, without some serious strategic thought, might however have a long-term negative impact on an organisation. True, adjustments may be needed and training department should cut costs just like everyone else, but we suggest the use of a precision scalpel instead of the axe. It will be prudent to take a hard look at the activity schedule and possibly do away with the ‘nice-to-do’ programmes and focus on those that are crucial for survival and growth. In a knowledge economy, we just cannot afford to let our human resources rust, recession or no recession.

We, at The Human Factor, strongly believe that the current economic situation is one of the best times for companies to advocate training, development and continuous learning opportunities for their employees. It is crucial that companies realise that the amount spent in learning and training for the employees is an investment, rather than a cost. It is a long-term process, and while the results of technical training may be visible comparatively sooner, most other types of training begin to show results only when employees have had a chance to implement their learning into day-to-day interactions and operations.

On the road to preparing for recovery, the wiser companies may want to gain an edge over their competitors so that they come out on top when the crisis is over. It is with this view that the concept of reskilling needs to be brought in. There is no better time than the current for companies to give their people the skills that they will need as soon as the downturn passes. Not only will this help the smarter companies gain a sharp edge when the world markets start to recover, but this will also ensure that employees are more productive at the current time – they will get more work done through the same or lesser amount of resources. Moreover, the cost of training employees now is much lesser than recruiting new and untrained employees, since the existing lot of employees would anyway have the new skills required by the changed business environment. Dr. Herminia Ibarra, Director of the INSEAD Leadership Initiative, explains how continuation in training helps, “The best companies do not slash training budgets in a downturn because they know they have to develop people who can navigate rough waters and make sure they have a leadership bench ready for the inevitable upturn. Especially when it comes to leadership development, which naturally takes time, long-term vision is essential.”

Every company has certain key people it likes to call ‘star performers’. These are the employees whose skills sets, values, attitudes, aspirations and goal achievements correlate at the highest possible levels with the values and aspirations of the organisation. Simply put, such employees are invaluable to companies. When there is a slump in the economy, it is a known fact that there will be lesser work than usual for employees to do. This is because orders will come in slower than usual, and business will be hard to come by at a time when cash flows are tight across most industries.

During such tough times, it becomes all the more imperative to ensure that star performers are engaged and committed towards the company, even as competing firms will jump at any opportunity to lure them. It is here that training plays a huge role, keeping in mind the fact that such above-average performers remain mobile whether the economy is booming or in recession. They command a high price in the market, and deservedly so. If companies slash training budgets everytime there is a slump in the economy, they risk losing credibility and loyalty, while getting themselves branded as bad employers at a time when it is most important for them to prove their commitment towards the workforce. Star performers will become disillusioned if they see one of the basic components of the employer branding package being taken away from them. This disillusionment may force them to look for more suitable options outside the organisation, and the cost of replacing such high performers for a company will be much more than providing learning and training opportunities for employee engagement even during lean times.

The morale of employees across many industries definitely is low at present. With the inevitable layoffs and salary cuts taking their toll, it is time for companies to prove their long-term commitment to employees by helping to rebuild their levels of confidence. For average employees, a dip in morale and motivation levels during times of slowdown is not likely to make them want to look for another job for the simple reason that there are not too many jobs available in the market at present. The lack of enthusiasm will only lead to them doing their current jobs in a dissatisfactory manner, which may have far-reaching effects on profitability, the most critical one being the loss of existing customers. Dr. Pi Wen Looi, who has led a global research team for Hewitt’s Best Employers Study, says, “If you have had a layoff, some of your employees are likely to take on additional responsibilities and have increased workload. Sometimes employees are asked to take on roles that they are not trained for and are beyond their current capabilities. At best, this can result in employee resentment and burnt out. At worst, it can cost your company its reputation and lose its customers, as employees who are not trained for their role are more likely to make mistakes and the quality of products or services will suffer.” To avoid such a disastrous scenario from unfolding, training is the single most effective measure of keeping employees engaged when times are tough.

Hewitt Associates’ Global Best Employers Study has tried to answer the question of what makes a ‘best employer’ through its survey conducted every year. The company clearly says that “best employers have a commitment to people that is more substantial than the latest fad in employee benefits”, and that this trait of a best employer is “consistent across national culture, economic conditions, and political situations”. This would suggest that the current global economic downturn is no different a situation for those companies which take the responsibility for ‘taking care’ of their employees seriously. While the specifics of how this is done may vary across industries and regions, there is no doubt that training plays an imperative role in keeping star performers engaged at a time when the economy as a whole may be going through a tough time. Moreover, continuous learning opportunities reinforce the organisational values and commitment within the workforce and this especially helps in maintaining morale and motivation levels across all levels of employees.
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