In my opinion - Institute of Management companion and chief executive of Roffey Park Management Institute Val Hammond believes development of staff is vital.
Thirty years ago, Mike Booth, a human resources manager on the fast track, said that, in his view, the only purpose of companies was to develop people. It was a thought that stopped me in my tracks. What would organisations be like if they put people development first?
I believe developing people is not an altruistic activity but an essential one. The question is, what is meant by 'development'? As I see it, it doesn't simply mean training. Development is much broader, with a deeper impact on individuals, organisations and the community. It is defined as growth, expansion, progress, improvement and education.
Employees and potential recruits are frequently keen to explore development opportunities open to them. They want to get beyond the oft-quoted maxim, 'people are our most important asset', to see how this translates into real action to support their aspirations. Some employers, recognising the shift, spell out what sort of development is on offer in their recruitment material as an enticement. As Cap Gemini puts it: 'We aim to take your career in the direction you choose.'
It is a rare recruiter who spells out in a job advertisement for a senior manager that the candidate will have direct responsibility for people development. An advertisement for a director of operations in waste management who must, among other responsibilities, 'maximise the potential and efficiency of all personnel with particular emphasis on training and development', is an exception. Yet, surely, this is the key management skill that really does make a difference? Managers can plan, organise or control; some can lead - but fewer can inspire or coax unfulfilled talent. Development is a means of changing behaviour, adding value and multiplying talent. All managers should take their role as a developer seriously and acquire the skills to do this superbly.
But here is a conundrum for organisations. In the past, personal goals often appeared to be more closely tied to achievement in organisational terms. Today, as people learn to live with the roller-coaster experience of work, they become more independent in their planning and seek development to support their own ambitions, not just those of their employers. They may find their aspirations fulfilled within their employment. More frequently, development is the fair exchange for good work on the journey towards individual goals. The wise employer recognises that this offers benefits to all, especially when opportunities and choices are clarified. But many managers and leaders find it novel to think about development as an employee benefit or perk, rather than a cost. One chief executive said recently that he would not fund long-term development for individuals because 'they always leave when they finish'. A little later, he admitted the company had difficulty attracting and retaining skilled and professional staff. Yet he failed to spot the link between the two facts.
Contrast this with Ford or Unipart, which run employee development schemes that aim to increase the learning capacity of people at all levels. Their employees often start with study related to sports and pastimes but quickly move on to career-oriented development.
In some companies, staff have access to personal development budgets and are more actively involved in planning and managing their own development within an organisational framework. Here, the manager is truly a guide, partnering individuals and challenging and supporting their career decisions. The manager may also gain some self-development on the way. This process cannot fail to develop the organisation.
This way of working with individuals creates a template for managers. It calls for people who can judge how much they should determine the path or follow the aspirations of their staff; for managers who know about personal development as well as how to increase skills and knowledge. These managers are resourceful in how they think about developmental experiences and encourage staff to extract learning from every situation. Their commitment to openness and sharing helps to build intellectual capital for both the individual and the company.
Conversely, other companies attempt to shift responsibility to the individual, charging them to keep themselves updated and equipped to compete. This is unrealistic and simplistic. Learning has become more accessible but organisations must set out the skills and attributes they need for tomorrow. Employees, as well as those aiming to re-enter work, need information, time, space, funds and resources in order to acquire skills and knowledge. Rather than leaving individuals in 'development isolation', organisations should look toward facilitated self-development.
It is time for a renewed commitment to developing people. Workplace changes provide the impetus. Imaginative and resourceful approaches to developing people and organisations show that this is happening in a new way - with individuals as full partners in the process along with employers, providers of education and development, and sometimes government support. As the Learning Age becomes a reality, we shall find the true value of development is that it gives greater choice to individuals and enhances their performance for the benefit of their organisations, as well as providing benefits for the wider community.