PEOPLE investment, in the form of learning and development, is often not a top priority during times of economic turmoil. Some companies view people investment as an expense even during good times.

During an economic downturn, budget cuts are inevitable in most organisations and cash-strapped companies tend to decrease or abandon altogether their people-investment programmes.

Back to basics

During a financial crisis, organisation leaders have to make their businesses more flexible and adaptable. Revisiting corporate strategies and putting in place plans to help the company adapt to the changing marketplace are fundamental goals.

People investment has a direct relevance to changes in business strategy because a company’s learning and development (L&D) programme will ensure that staff are aligned with the new business goals and achievements.

There is no better time to reinforce a company’s corporate values and beliefs than during times of economic turmoil.

If people are truly an organisation’s greatest asset, as is claimed by many companies, investing in good people does not come to a halt even during bad times.

The Singapore Government encourages organisations to foster a strong learning culture by implementing various initiatives that subsidise training like the Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience or Spur.

Maximise investment

If companies realise the importance of continuing to invest in developing their staff, but are also faced with the realities of conserving cash, it is clear that every training dollar spent will have to be maximised.

Human resource development (HRD) practitioners can begin with developing an L&D framework that is aligned with their company’s business strategies and plans.

This framework could comprise blended learning methodologies to meet business objectives, provide maximum learning benefits and stretch the available training dollars.

Here are some suggestions on what to put into the L&D framework:

* LEARNING NEEDS AND COMPETENCIES DIAGNOSIS

Identify and update or develop competencies for the required skill sets for the various stakeholder groups. Ensuring that learning and development programmes have clearly specified learning objectives and outcomes is the first step to avoid putting employees through non-critical training and wasting precious training dollars.

* MANAGING L&D ADMINISTRATION

While some HRD practitioners outsource L&D administration and retain a rather lean team internally, others may still be operating the company’s L&D programme at departmental/business unit levels.

It may be worth considering L&D consolidation. Outsourcing is one way and the use of technology is another. There are several learning management systems available to assist HRD practitioners with tracking and managing performance development plans at fairly reasonable costs.

As the general strategy of most corporations in a recession is to do more with less, line trainers and HRD practitioners can then deliver additional internal programmes and retain the training dollars for customised programmes to meet specific needs.

* BLENDED LEARNING METHODOLOGIES

Having identified their learning needs, HRD practitioners (working together with management) can select a variety of training methodologies. Most of these creative blended learning methods have not been explored to their fullest potential.

Companies can review the process and effectiveness of blending e-learning, classroom learning, customised delivery and on-the-job training with the knowledge and skills acquired through social networking, seminars and conferences, interest groups and professional associations.

E-learning is another popular avenue for training, but face-to-face learning cannot be totally replaced with technology-based learning as social networking and teambuilding, for instance, come with different dynamics.

Long-term returns

Employees want to know that their skills and knowledge effectively contribute to the organisation. And they want to remain employable.

People investment is one of the positive ways in which companies can give their staff the encouragement and motivation to continually upgrade themselves.

Some of the common grouses of people who leave their organisations are the lack of people development interest and the feeling that their contributions are not appreciated.

Research has shown that if corporations want to reap consistent rewards in good or bad times, their commitment to staff development needs to be unwavering.

People investment produces long-term returns. Companies often overlook the costs of knowledge bank depletion, rehiring and learning curve periods before new hires reach desired performance levels.