Training: The key to staff retention

Learning on the job can be vital when it comes to retaining employees. Improved skills can lead to a more motivated and productive workforce and enable your staff to keep up with the latest trends.

For small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), providing high-quality, cost-effective training and development can be difficult due to the pressures of time and money.

Training can be a distraction

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), training is often seen as a distraction from the day-to-day running of the business and attention to areas such as people management can be squeezed by work pressures. Its survey, ‘Who Learns At Work’, found that staff at small businesses are more likely to feel they are offered insufficient training opportunities than those in larger firms.

According to the CIPD, one of the main reasons for staff leaving a company is the lack of development or career opportunities. Training and learning is no longer seen as something that is done to employees by the business, it is something staff members look for to increase their employability

With a plethora of training programmes available, choosing which option is best for your company can be something of a minefield. But with the growth of mobile technologies and the internet, there are many different ways you can deliver training to your staff — the majority of choices comes in the form of on-the-job training, external courses and coaching and mentoring.

‘Once a company has identified its employees’ training needs, whether by discussing with management or analysing issues that come out of staff appraisals, the options for training need not be prohibitive’, asserts Jessica Jarvis of the CIPD. ‘In fact, coaching and mentoring, where you learn from senior staff that already possess the relevant skill sets, is becoming increasingly popular — and it’s a very cost-effective method.’

Interestingly, the CIPD notes that coaching and mentoring has seen a 51 per cent increase in training provision over recent years.

Time need not be an excuse

To get over the problem of lack of time for training, Jarvis suggests that companies consider providing ‘bite-sized’ chunks of learning for employees, organising training courses outside core work hours or reducing the length of training courses – no company can afford to ignore the importance of continuous training, she warns.

Shirley Darby, founder of Direct Approach, which specialises in business training and coaching, believes that communication is a vital component to building an effective training policy.

‘Admittedly, smaller companies face a predicament on whether to invest in training. They may argue they can’t afford it but if they do not sort out their communication skills, they may not even survive as a business,’ she asserts.

Building a better team

Using a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) methodology that enables people to understand other peoples’ behaviour and respond accordingly, Darby trains and coaches groups of up to 18 people on one-day courses. She focuses on teaching effective communications, boosting confidence and building up a positive rapport amongst company staff.

‘Communication skills are vital for a company, both internally and externally. Someone who is promoted may need to learn to re-bond with colleagues who were peers but are now answerable to them. This is just as important as teaching staff how to win business,’ believes Darby.

Simon Wilsher, founder of training organisation The Wilsher Group, delivers a series of programmes geared to help individuals who are due to take on more responsibility within a company. The aim of the training is to help staff focus on their strengths, as he explains.

‘Business life can leave individuals and organisations burnt out, and it is common for people at all levels to lose the freshness, enthusiasm and character that made them successful when they first started out. Bright sparks get turned into bureaucrats, teams become de-motivated and fast track companies lose their distinctiveness and direction.’


The following organisations provide information on training courses:

Case Study – Flexible training delivers fast results

Open Accounts, founded in 1990 and based in Daventry, develops corporate accounting and financial management systems. The company has been growing at around 20 per cent each year.

As a fairly young business, the company wanted to develop skills across all functions, including business development, customer service, and management teams.

However, time off the job was considered a major obstacle, so Open Accounts sought courses that could be tailored around an existing day’s work. It plumped for TMI and its Take90 programme, which offers 90-minute training sessions in areas such as email, stress and time management, customer satisfaction and teamworking.

‘There were 80 employees undertaking training over the course of a year. One part was a corporate push, explaining who the company was and what we are looking to achieve,’ explains Open Accounts’ finance director, Paul Janes.

Other training was focused on technology and management skills. As Janes points out, Take90 is not in-depth but the bullet-point format means ‘that people’s memories are constantly refreshed. There was not a lot of time for theory, but we found this could be picked up after.’

There was some frustration from company employees that the training was not detailed enough. But, as Janes explains, that was not the point of the exercise, and training in group sessions, rather than individual ones, meant less of a drain on management time.

‘People here are reasonably intelligent – the 90-minute slots offered concise training and it gave everyone a boost, clearly setting out what was expected from each team. We could pick one- or two-day courses, which enabled us to constantly keep people up to speed.’

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.