Developing the skills and knowledge of your staff is critical to your business success and to retaining top quality people. Still, many small business owners do not see the options available to do so at low cost. Like taking vacations, you also need to invest in your own development as well. Here are some ideas to support development.

1. Ask employees what their professional development goals are and how they relate to your organization.

This encourages people to think about their needs. Many will have goals you can assist with at little to no cost. These might include:

  • skills that other employees have and can teach the person,
  • ideas for new approaches or projects which will also benefit your organization,
  • support for volunteer work, and
  • more traditional education or training.

Offer to assist with those which make the most sense to your business.

2. Involve employees in organizing meetings, events, and new hires.

Your first line supervisors and those staff you feel have potential can learn from helping to organize staff meetings, presenting a training topic at all-employee meetings, and/or arranging other events you provide or sponsor. You need to provide clear guidance upfront about what is needed and any resources; then step back and let the person do the work. Be available to answer questions without imposing too many controls.

If you bring in a new hire or have summer interns, select an employee to be their guide. This person could be tasked with ensuring all needed equipment or space is ready, explaining any specific equipment or access procedures, training the new person on your basic practices and security, and making sure that there is someone to lunch with regularly during the first few weeks.

3. Ensure employees have an understanding of the vision, mission, and core values of your organization. Offer some small budget for training or developmental activities to support these.

Employees can help you flesh out the ‘way we demonstrate our core values’ as well. Get employee input by asking. Have an employee hold some meetings to discuss this and prepare summary materials. So often employees know you value ‘customer service’ or ‘respect for others’ , for example, but do not really know what that means on a day to day basis. Those employees who are interested in growing make good candidates for working across the organization to define common understanding and for presenting the final results. This is a solid development project and gives you the opportunity to provide feedback as well.

Once you have the standards developed, use them as part of your decision to spend money on training or development activities. As an example: if you value customer service and the daily actions include communicating effectively with customers, you might

  • send an employee for some local customer service training and require that person to provide a written summary or talk about it at an all-employee event
  • pay for an employee to take a seminar on dealing with difficult people and then prepare a short program for other staff on what they learned that applies to your business
  • have an employee research videos, blogs, or books on the topic and provide a resource listing with commentary to all employees.

Asking your employees about their development goals and how they relate to your business is one more way to understand individuals and support them. Adding ways within the organization to support relevant goals and to grow the knowledge and skills of others helps you attract and retain high quality employees. It also can, with your actions and support, help you to grow your business.

As a founder or organizational leader, you also need to keep growing your own skills.

  • Tap into your network for the best groups and events to do so.
  • Be active in local groups or chapters of national organizations which can support your professional growth.
  • Join local business groups or roundtables.
  • Consider volunteering for a board of a non-profit or business network.

Make your own plan and then execute it. Far too often this need gets buried in the day to day fires of running an organization. That shortchanges you as well as your organization!

Development activities work best when they meet a person’s own goals as they relate to the organization’s goals and when they provide an opportunity to teach and practice the new skills or knowledge. Once you think in those terms, the options become endless.