Invest in your critical assets — your people

During challenging economic times, companies often cut back on learning and development programs. But that approach could negatively impact your business. To remain competitive in a down or a thriving economy, companies should consider investing in their most important asset -” their people.

Investments in people development can pay off immediately with improved service levels and expertise to meet customer demands. And going forward, as the economy turns around, that same investment will continue to pay dividends as your people remain engaged and your satisfied customers remain loyal.

At Ernst & Young LLP, we invest in our people through what we call EYU -” Ernst & Young and You. It is a development program that combines formal learning with coaching and practical experiential opportunities. Formal learning can be costly, if you strive to ensure everyone receives the right learning no matter where they sit in your business. Through a diversified approach, the return far outweighs the outlay.

Three keys to success
So how can you make it work? Focus on three key elements for successful professional and personal development: formal learning, coaching and experiences.

Your formal learning should be tailored to an individual’s area of business focus. By tying each learning program to specific competencies of the business, you can help your people succeed.

For example at Ernst & Young, live events, while a significant investment, are an important part of our learning culture. We align each event with our key priorities: market leadership, people development and building an inclusive environment. Specifically, our newly promoted managers through executive directors participate in a three-day learning and development program focused on building foundational skills and knowledge to help smooth the transition into a new or expanded management role. Through such hands-on learning opportunities, your people can receive the required learning for their current level and gain the skills they need to advance. It’s not just about providing great learning opportunities for your employees; it’s about getting them the right learning at the right time.

Another key aspect of effective development is coaching. It is important to create an environment that encourages candid and honest feedback. Meaningful coaching conversations will help people develop new skills and transform learning and experiences into practice. In fact, a study conducted by the Xerox Corporation found that 87 percent of the desired skills presented in formal learning are lost without follow-up coaching. It has also been shown that effective coaching reduces turnover of high performers and attracts new talent.

The types of coaching conversations we encourage our people to have with each other include on-the-job, mentoring, feedback, performance, career and instructing. Everyone, regardless of rank or role, has a responsibility to develop others through coaching.

To help employees with their coaching skills, create a guide that discusses the impact effective coaching (both giving and receiving) can have on one’s career and provide tips and resources for improving coaching skills. At Ernst & Young, we also publish a series of semi-monthly coaching reminders, resources and tips in our internal newsletter. Designed to enhance our people’s coaching skills while reinforcing a coaching culture, the articles align “just-in-time” coaching with key performance feedback and coaching cycles. We have even encouraged effective coaching through a semi-animated video series.

Finally, and perhaps most distinctive to our development program, is the component of hands-on experiences. Research tells us the majority of learning comes from actual experiences. Therefore, a goal of a successful development program should be to equitably and actively provide experience opportunities considered most critical in your market and to your business strategy. These activities will provide people the opportunity to put their knowledge into practice and develop new skills.

For the most part, executing these opportunities will not require a monetary investment. But to be sure both your people and your business get the most out of such opportunities, clearly define the types of experiences people will need to succeed in a particular area. Involve the human resource team and key business leaders to ensure people are assigned to projects that will help them obtain the right experiences.

Theory into practice: a local success story
One of our Detroit-based Tax professionals put his experiences, coaching and learning to the test. He not only completed extensive formal training during the year and listened carefully to the coaching and feedback he received from his manager, he was also given an opportunity to work directly with a senior-level partner and senior manager on a significant tax transaction. This 18+ month experience was a key factor in his early promotion to manager last October. His development cycle began again when he participated in a national meeting we held for all of our newly promoted managers last fall.

Learning and development are worthwhile investments
With the sluggish economy, companies must re-evaluate priorities and budgets; however, now is not the time to scale back on learning and development programs. At Ernst & Young, staying focused on our people remains a top priority, and we’re confident we are making a strategic and worthwhile investment.

Tracey Edwards is an assistant director in the Detroit office of Ernst & Young LLP, a 101 Best and Brightest Company to Work For in Metro Detroit. She can be reached at [email protected].
The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP.