By Mark Matthews
Small business owners must continuously invest in their staff if they don’t want to keep losing them. But if I train my staff, will I have to pay them more?
Unfortunately, this is how I used to think 20 years ago. I have, since then, definitively changed my outlook. But, unfortunately, I know that other small business owners still think the same way, and this is why I have written this piece in the hope to change, or at least challenge, this belief.
When I started in business in the late 80s, the majority of my team was IT engineers. Something that all engineers need is to be competent in whatever they are employed to do, and this requires constant training to keep up with the ever-changing world of IT. This is where I made one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made as a business owner.
“An investment in your employees’ knowledge and skillsets is an investment in your company.”
YOUR EXPECTATION OF EMPLOYEES
At the time, as an owner, I just wanted my employees to come to work, do the work they were paid to do, not give me any problems, and then go home when finished. Sounded easy to me. After all, that’s what I did, so why shouldn’t they do the same? All IT engineers seemed to ever want was to go on Microsoft training courses, not the cheap home-based, in-their-own-time courses, but the most expensive Microsoft courses that were in a classroom, in working hours.
Now I was working 70 hours a week, I did my learning and keeping up with the industry in my own time, so why couldn’t they? After all, I was paying them well, and they were all professionals. Why couldn’t they just study after work in their own time and then take just the exam in a classroom, which was also the cheapest way? But NO, that wasn’t for them.
So, for me, unless we 100 percent needed to do the course for a business reason, we didn’t do any employee training.
THE COST OF COMPETENCE
The next issue that raised its head just as soon as the engineer was skilled and accredited in whatever course they took — a course that I had paid for — was that I now had to pay them more money! Because they were now more qualified and therefore more attractive to other potential employers, without increasing their wages I would lose them. And all this because I had trained them!
This just didn’t make sense to me back then, so what did I do? Well, unless I really had to, I wouldn’t pay for employee training. In my mind it was a lose-lose situation for me and for the business.
I feel stupid now, but never once did I think about all of the positive reasons for training employees. I only considered the direct costs involved.
One of the reasons I am writing about this today is that I was recently reminded how I used to feel about training employees while I was on a 10-day course with nine other people who were from all different types of industries.
I was shocked to hear that virtually all of the other course participants were looking to leave their current job as soon as they could for something that they considered better.
Most of the reasons for wanting to leave seemed to lie with how they were treated at work, whether it was the hours they were expected to work, even though they weren’t paid for this extra time, or how they felt held back due to lack of training or career development, or the stress placed on them by the boss to work quicker, better, and cheaper.
I felt really sad and upset for them, as they were obviously so unhappy. They were working every day to pay their bills in a job where they felt undervalued and unrecognized. Even though they were all good and talented people, wanting to do a great job for their employers, they saw the only option for happiness was for them to move to jobs somewhere else.
I am sure over the years that’s how many of my previous employees had felt and thus left me for an employer who valued them for their knowledge and skills and recognized, rewarded, and developed them accordingly.
“I feel stupid now, but never once did I think about all of the positive reasons for training employees. I only considered the direct costs involved.”
THE BENEFITS OF TRAINING INVESTMENTS
I wish I had realized that investing in employees and having a trained workforce can bring so many benefits to your business, to you, and to your employees personally. Not all the benefits are the most obvious, either!
There are the obvious business benefits: Better skilled staff means better quality work, better customer service, greater competence, greater profitability, new skills and ideas that can improve production, reduction in production costs and mistakes, and less time spent in creating your product or service.
And the ones that may not, at first glance, be that apparent but that are much more meaningful: A happy and motivated workforce fosters loyalty and confidence, a better and more productive working environment, great PR and reputation, improved staff retention and team bonding, and improved employee engagement. Of course, when everyone gets better, everyone gets better.
An investment in your employees’ knowledge and skillsets is an investment in your company.
It’s unbelievably expensive to replace a member of staff, and the more highly skilled, the more 000s you can add. You have recruitment costs, which can be as high as 20 percent or more of salary, time, potential pay increases, and never mind the money lost through disruption between the existing employee leaving and the replacement starting and of course at least three to six months for the new person to “bed-in.” Imagine if we spent some of this money on training and retaining our employees.
BUDGETING FOR STAFF TRAINING
You don’t have any budget to spend on training? That’s okay — it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and some things that are highly valued can be very cheap. Offer to buy any personal development type books, job related or position based, as long as your employee agrees to read them and write short pieces about what they learned from them. You can offer one to two hours a week in work time to improve skills and personal development through online learning (try Future Learn at www.futurelearn.com), again with an element of summarizing that learning and sharing their experience with the rest of the team. Set up mentoring and coaching programs whereby employees learn from and support each other. The options are only as limited as your creativity!
As I type this, I am reminded of an Old GPO Busby advertisement from many years ago. The ad said something along the lines of, “Instead of looking for new customers, why don’t you look after your existing customers better?”
Just as you should with your staff.
MARK MATTHEWS is a family man, business leader, and visionary (Dad taxi). He has been running a multi-award-winning IT MSP, based in Bromsgrove, England, since 1989. For the last five years he has been a changed man as his philosophy is now “It’s my fault, so I’ll get out of the way and let my team do its job,” which is serving him well after the last 30 years, now enabling him to empower his people to be the best that they can be.