Gain an edge in the market with learning and development

December 31, 2018

This post originally appeared as a ghost-written piece for a HRTech start-up. 



The battle for the best talent can sometimes feel like David versus Goliath. Against the Googles of the world, it can be tough for a start-up to compete. However, offering a generous pay package, free lunches and ping pong tables aren’t quite the attractions they used to be. Employees are now considering the overall ‘deal’ that they get when they work for a company, including career development and work/life balance.


The attraction of development


Millennials and Generation Z, in particular, are driven by learning and development (L&D) opportunities. They’re going to make up the majority of the workforce very soon, so it pays to invest in the areas that matter to them. Plus, younger employees share information with their peers a lot more (especially online) - including the pros and cons of working for their employer.


But it’s not just younger workers who benefit from a good development culture. Every employee appreciates being given opportunities to learn and grow. L&D is a key driver of employee retention, for instance. Leavers are 38% more likely to feel that there wasn’t a development opportunity for them at their company; whilst 24% of employees who stayed said that they had access to good L&D perks. Having a strong development programme, therefore, won’t just help you attract talent but keep them for longer too.


L&D is well-suited to start-ups


Many people join start-ups because they want to be challenged and to grow quickly. Working in a start-up often requires wearing many different hats and mucking in on a bit of everything, which can be great for gaining experience and a range of skills. Of course, if the start-up hits the big time then there’s room for quick growth and promotions too. It’s an attractive proposition for those willing to take it on, and one that can be complemented well with L&D.


Some companies are even struggling to keep up with start-ups. Recently, the former CEO of an innovation consultancy shared her experience of hiring talent with us. She confided that it was becoming more difficult in her industry as talented people can jump ship to join start-ups in much more senior roles earlier in their career - such as Chief Commercial Officer. Plus, many employees in start-ups can shape their roles much more than in an established organisation. This attracts a certain type of worker who, again, is likely to value development more than a hefty pay packet or free lunches.


How start-ups gain an edge


L&D has become so popular, in fact, that many established companies offer it to their employees as a strategic priority. It helps build the skills within the organisation whilst keeping employees satisfied and more likely to remain for longer.


Therefore, start-up founders should embrace a similar initiative. But many start-ups have an advantage over traditional organisations -  their employees are already the type to want to learn and grow.


Have a budget


Having a budget set aside for learning can also help. It doesn’t have to be four figures either. 


Culture Amp has a unique approach to learning where it offers a quarterly budget. Everyone can see what the budget has been spent on, via a shared spreadsheet. The budget can be spent on any kind of training, from work-related to personal interests such as wine tasting. It also wants employees to understand the value of such training, so when they sign up and use some of the budget, they have a pay a small contribution towards whatever training they have chosen as well. This ensures employees are invested in the learning that they’re undertaking.


Carve out time


Creating time for learning to take place is vital for it to work. In a fast-paced start-up where there’s often not enough hours in the day, this can be tough. Instead of carving out regular time in the diary, you might choose, like Propellernet, to encourage people to take a day a month for personal development. Or you can take inspiration from Google’s famous 20% time. Try an approach that sounds interesting and stick with it for a few months to test results and iterate.


Recognise and reward


Recognising people who are investing in their development is a powerful way to encourage others to develop themselves. From the CEO to the newest joiner, encourage your team members to share what they're learning and show that you value their efforts.


For example, if someone in the team has recently been to an interesting event or learnt something new, ask them if they’d organise an informal ‘lunch & learn’ where they can share some of their takeaways and others can ask questions.


Create a conversation


It’s also important to regularly check-in with employees to make sure that their development goals are being met. Honest conversations between a manager and their team can prove invaluable - identifying gaps in someone’s learning or potential next-steps in their career journey.


These don’t have to be a formal appraisal. In fact, informal chats or using technology to prompt these conversations and help employees reflect can be even more effective.


Make it yours


Every development culture is unique to its company. By all means, take inspiration from others but don’t copy and paste their approach. Your employees work for your start-up because it is unlike any other company - use that to your advantage. Offer a development programme that reflects your ethos, journey and goals. For some, that might look like a weekly event or monthly budget, for others, it could be a dedicated development day and others still could be more ad-hoc. Just make sure that it happens.


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