In The past two and a half years have seen almost every business – large, medium and small – struggling to make its way through a treacherous dark tunnel of economic uncertainty. This period in our history has become known as the “Great Recession” of 2007-2010. The very name “Great Recession” reminds everyone that this difficult economic period represents the worst economic downturn since the “Great Depression” of the 1930’s.
While a number of unfortunate companies will never emerge from the tunnel, a great many are now seeing a light at the end that grows brighter with each day. While there is still a long way to go, many of these businesses are optimistic that they will return to growth and prosperity.
While austere cost cutting measures such as downsizing, postponing capital investments and reducing expenses were likely a major part of their formula for survival, so too for most was pure and simple ingenuity. New market strategies may have been implemented, new products or services offered new systems and core processes put into place, or a new business model adopted. In a word, these resilient companies began a process of reinvention.
The biggest mistake these organizations could make moving into a new economic environment would be to forget the very things they did that helped them to survive – particularly the ways they may have to re-invent themselves. Going back to business as usual is a risky option.
Organizational structure, processes, product mix and even the underlying business model may have changed as a result of tough economic times. In larger companies, a merger or acquisition may require large numbers of employees to learn how to navigate new business processes and systems. In addition, doing business in a new way may have changed your company’s mission, vision and values. New approaches to leadership and management may be required.
If any of the above ring true for your organization, then it’s a given that the needed competencies and skills of your workforce will need to change as well. Your employees’ skill sets that were essential for success in the pre-recession environment may actually be of little use in the new economy.
Re-Skilling Your Employees for Success
The most critical question now is what to do to prepare your employees for what is needed for success as a result of the changes your organization have been through – and how to do it quickly. The following steps provide a methodical way to get your employees prepared with the skills they need for success.
Step One: Examine the new environment
After your company has emerged from the storm of the recession, step back and consider characteristics of the new environment relative to your business. Find answers to the following:
• What are the new success factors? Are there capabilities needed to succeed now that may have been insignificant in the past?
• How has the market for your products and/or services changed? Are there new expectations for quality, quantity, pricing? Has the competitive environment become more of a challenge?
• Are there new products and services you have begun to offer? Have these required re-tooling, new systems, new business processes or new policies?
• What are the skills needed to deliver? How have the success profiles or competency requirements for the various positions in your organization changed?
• Have your mission, vision or values changed?
• In the new environment, what will set you apart from the competition?
Step Two: Determine where your company stands
Now that you have a clearer picture of the characteristics and requirements for success in the business climate, the next step is to figure out where your company stands relative to those factors. Consider the following in assessing the current state of your company:
• Recall the skills and competencies that made you successful in the past.
• Identify the skills and competencies that are required both now and in the future.
• Use assessment methods (observation, interviews, customer feedback, surveys, and skills assessments) to determine the current skill level of your employees.
• Identify the skills gaps.
Step Three: Develop and implement a strategy to fill the gaps – FAST!
If weathering the recession has taught us anything, it’s that speed is everything. In today’s environment, resources are scarce and the competitive environment is more challenging and unforgiving than ever. Speed to competency is critical. At this stage, it is time to quickly move to determine a way to re-skill your employees to meet the demands of the new marketplace.
There are several approaches for rapid re-skilling of your employees. The one (or combination) you choose is entirely dependent on your company’s unique circumstances and priorities. The following represent a few of the strategies:
• Re-training using your internal training staff
While this approach has many advantages and is predictable and safe, consider the current capacity of your internal training staff. Are there other “business as usual” priorities that can not be ignored such as compliance training, new hire orientation, etc.? Will this approach be fast enough for you to keep pace with your competition? Do your internal trainers have a firm grasp of the new skills needed? Is there instructional design capability and capacity available?
• Augment your training staff with external contract trainers and utilize internal staff as master trainers to conduct train-the-trainer sessions.
Depending on budget considerations, this approach can have many advantages – particularly with regard to speed to implement and the ability to touch multiple geographic regions simultaneously. The key is to carefully select external trainers who are not only skilled facilitators, but also have some familiarity with your type of industry.
• Utilize distance learning techniques
Depending on the targeted skills, distance learning can be an effective and speedy approach to re-skilling. If the content is related to transferring knowledge of new processes, policies or use of a new system, tools such as Webex, GoToMeeting, Live Meeting, etc. can be very useful. Employees from multiple geographic locations can all attend a single webinar and hear the same message simultaneously without travel expense and with minimal time away from the job. Once again, a determination should be made as to whether to utilize internal staff of contract staff for delivery of webinars.
• Leverage eLearning Technology
Today, rapid design and development of eLearning has become a reality. There are a number of considerations to determine if eLearning is the right approach. Does the content require practice, observation, coaching and feedback as would be the case with many interpersonal skills? If so, eLearning may not be the best choice. Other considerations such as stability of content, bandwidth, computer skills of your target group all need to be factored into your decision as to whether or not to use an eLearning approach.
Today’s learning technologies offer a number of innovative approaches to developing skills that may not have been available in the past.
The key to ensuring that your company not only continues to survive, but also grows and thrives in the new economy is to recognize that there have been fundamental changes. With those changes, it is critical to take a careful look at your employees’ skill sets, assess the skill gaps and quickly move to equip them with new skills to excel in a new economic climate rich with opportunities.
TrainingFolks is a full-service performance consulting firm that has worked with some of the world’s most successful organizations to help implement changes and to build higher performing employees.