Why SMEs should focus on more than just technical skills training

Why SMEs should focus on more than just technical skills training

Large corporates spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on training and development for their teams outside of their employees’ technical skill-sets.

The kind of training and development we’re talking about here refers to some of the traditional classroom-based methods that cover off things like effective leadership and communication that are often referred to as ‘soft-skills’ or behavioural development.

Obviously in an SME environment it’s hard to justify spending this kind of money, if any at all for that matter, on training and development above and beyond what is required for the employee to simply do their job.

Those that sit on the side of the argument that training and development for their employees is just a big waste of time and money have their reasons. They argue classroom methods are boring (the kind of boring that puts you to sleep!), the effects are short-lived, it’s irrelevant to the day-to-day work of their employees and impractical to apply back in the workplace.

And if you really need to learn how to do something there’s always the renowned (and free) university of Google at your fingertips.

All fair and valid points. But for those of us that sit on the other side of the argument, here’s our rebuttal.

Only investing in the technical skills of your employees will more than likely leave you with fantastic operators. Sounds great, right? However, fantastic operators don’t necessarily translate into fantastic managers or leaders – something crucial for both the current and future success of any business. 

The ability to motivate and get the most out of your teams so that they can be as productive as possible doesn’t come easily to most people. Spending a little time and money on developing self-awareness and leadership skills can genuinely pay off, particularly if your business is struggling to promote from within or has cultural issues that are damaging productivity.

If you think that by providing one development session a year and nothing else, that will be enough to make a difference, think again. This is often the mistake many businesses make and what turns them off from any future investment into the development of their teams. Behavioural change takes time – often a long time. Change and improvement won’t happen overnight, you’d be crazy to think it would.

Behavioural change also requires constant attention and regular reinforcement, so a one-off, quick-fix development session won’t be effective and this is where the perception that effects are short-lived comes from. And by the way, reinforcement doesn’t necessarily have to equate to more and more training sessions on the same thing. It can be a topic of discussion at employee-manager catch-ups, criteria for reward and recognition or a measure in an employee’s performance review.

In our experience, the best way to make something relevant to someone is to make it all about them! It’s rare that employees get a chance to stop and focus on themselves, particularly if they’re already in a leadership role.

Training and development sessions provide a great opportunity for employees to step out of their day-to-day work and take part in a little self-reflection. Self-reflection is a pretty powerful tool when it comes to self-improvement and from the development sessions we’ve run, employees love it! It’s also a great motivation boost for them to know their employer is investing in their development and does wonders for engagement and loyalty.

Another great way to make training more relevant and get bang for your buck is to combine soft-skill training with technical training. We recently developed some training for a client to introduce a new communication tool for their business. We set up the context for the training by delivering an interactive session on employee engagement, the importance of it and how you can improve it. We were stoked to receive some great feedback from the attendees, who expected the training to be boring and dry, given that it was systems training. However, they found it to be the opposite and commented that they got a lot out of it and actually enjoyed it. Win-win situation for everyone!

Finally, we’re big on having fun at work and this includes when you’re at training too. We’re well aware of that fact classroom-based training can be incredibly boring – we’ve had to sit through a few of these throughout our own careers. That said, there is no reason they need to be. It pays to shop around when looking for the right training and development programs for your team and we would definitely encourage SMEs to find providers that will tailor solutions specific to their business, brand, culture and employees in order to genuinely resonate with their teams and maximise their investment.

For us, it’s a no-brainer. The more you invest in your employees’ development (time and money), the more you’ll get out of them. The benefits may not always be immediate but the intangible, long-term benefits are well worth it not just for the individual but for the overall business.

Janelle McKenzie and Abiramie Sathiamoorthy are the founders of HR firm E&I People Solutions.



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