Small businesses share tips on how to promote learning without breaking the bank
If you’re struggling to make learning a priority at work, you’re not alone! Small businesses often find that their desire to build a learning culture is limited by their budgetary and time resources.
In order to help those who want to create a learning environment for their colleagues, we asked small business owners across a range of industries for their top tips on how to promote a robust learning culture with limited resources. Read on for their top 5 tips!
#1. Start with your company’s mission statement
Regardless of the size of your company, mission statements are essential to your business. A mission statement demonstrates your values and guides the direction your company takes.
Research by Iterable shows that in 2020 - a difficult year by any measure - 90% of UK marketing leaders doubled down on their brands’ missions in a bid to stay connected with customers. This highlights the importance of knowing and communicating the mission and purpose of your business.
Since mission statements are so important to an organization, a powerful way to promote learning in your company is to put it in your mission statement. This is precisely what Abby Ha, Co-founder & Head of Marketing at Cloom, has done.
Ha says, “I started by creating a mission statement for the company that included the words ‘learning’ and ‘education’. I repeat that mission statement to remind my team why we are doing what we do; it defines what we stand for. I also created an official policy for continuous learning.”
Moreover, research from Deloitte supports Ha’s action in prioritizing education in her company’s mission statement. The Deloitte research shows that ‘mission-driven’ companies have 40 percent higher levels of employee retention and 30 percent higher levels of innovation.
#2. Make informal training intentional
Employees in small businesses often receive informal training. However, these types of training are often overlooked because they are ‘hidden’, as observed by Heather Short, a researcher of learning in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Short writes that much learning in SMEs is socially situated and appears to take place as part of their everyday, operational business.
Hence, one great tip is to identify the informal learning that takes place as part of your employees’ jobs. You can then make the process and outcomes of this learning more overt and obvious.
Ralph Serverson, owner of Flooring Masters, is a strong proponent of this approach. Serverson says they “remind everyone regularly that learning happens every day whether we realize it or not. This makes everyone much more intentional about their learning.”
Further, Severson “makes certain that anyone looking to learn has access to people who can teach them. Management is taught coaching strategies, and employees are trained to teach one another in every way possible.”
Similarly, RHEI-MAID, a small business with family employees, recognises that informal learning is one of the main ways employees learn. For Mary Rhei, President of RHEI-MAID, ‘teaching by doing’ and ‘explaining your reasoning’ are 2 main elements of this training process.
Rhei says, “Show employees the process by doing, integrate the employees and hand over the process. In concert with teaching, explain your reasoning. This not only shows your competence, but addresses the goal for your method.” Rhei adds that employers should “be open to suggestions” from employees.
#3. Dedicate time for learning
We may be aware of the benefits of continuous learning to both individuals and organizations. Nevertheless, many of us often find that the urgency of work-related tasks take precedence over learning.
Research by LinkedIn shows why we should set aside some time for learning. Compared to light learners (who spend less than an hour a week learning), heavy learners (who spend more than five hours a week learning) are 39% more productive and 74% more likely to know where they want to go with their career.
Ha says that her company encourages employees to “have dedicated times set aside for learning.” Additionally, her employees have a goal of “spending time working on one personal growth project (relevant to business) each month.”
#4. Curate shared learning resources
A popular tip from small business owners is to create a common shared resources folder for employees. You can gather relevant existing content from both online and offline sources, and help your employees access them all in one place.
Ben Lamarche, General Manager at Lock Search Group, says “There’s already plenty of excellent information online so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel and create new content.” Lamarche shares the steps his company takes to curate the most relevant learning content, as follows:
- What we’ve done is identify key in-demand skills sets and competencies and then leveraged the existing content on trusted learning platforms to meet employees’ learning needs.
- We match the training content to the skills and competencies and compile the links and resources on our learning management system (LMS) for easy access.
- The LMS is regularly updated to keep information accurate and relevant to organizational goals.
#5. Go online
Virtual training has been around for a while. Nevertheless, the pandemic has sped up the adoption of online learning. This has been one of the silver linings for small businesses looking for more affordable training options.
As Mike Germade of Empire Abrasives puts it, “Covid turned a lot of conferences and events into virtual gatherings. We have been trying to take advantage of these ever since joining Ad World last year.”
Germade highlights the time and cost benefits of attending online events: “It's way more affordable than going to an in-person event. And you can head back to your desk during breaks or when there aren't any sessions you want to join at a particular time.”
In conclusion, regardless of whether you’re an L&D professional whose learning budget is under constant scrutiny or you’re running your company’s training program on a shoestring budget, the above tips can help you build a more robust learning culture at your workplace.