Budgets. They dictate everything in business, not least an organisation’s approach to Learning and Development. Does a tight budget to develop your staff and organisation sound like an impossibility? Perhaps a tight budget is not the enemy it initially seems.
What a tight budget does demand is focus, an honest overview of what can be achieved, and transparency and collaboration between provider and client. And these elements are often harder to stump up than the budget from the board in the first place!
Budgets are always going to exist, knowing where to spend them is key. If organisations are going to get meaningful value from a programme, the exercise that they really need to spend the budget in on is the initial diagnosis – the Training Needs Analysis (TNA). To change the culture or the behaviour of people and teams, it is vital to have a clear idea of what exactly needs to be addressed.
Put a plaster on it
Learning and Development is easy – appoint a provider, endure some PowerPoint presentations, maybe have some one-to-one coaching if you’re lucky. Fix the problem or develop the people, exercise complete.
Not quite. If organisations don’t spend the time or allow their provider to conduct a TNA, so they can truly understand the needs of that organisation, and the organisation still expects to see results, they are essentially putting a plaster over a long-term issue which will inevitably persist. It’s akin to asking a builder to plaster over a crack in the wall, without having taken a precursory look at the property. The builder may well be equipped with all the right materials and skills to do the job on the day, but an initial look at the crack might have revealed that its root cause is subsidence. The visible crack is just a hint at what is really going on, and by being vague with the builder the outward problem can be patched up while the root cause goes unaddressed. In the long term, this ends up costing more money, as the subsidence worsens and more and more cracks appear.
It’s a similar scenario with diagnosing systemic issues in organisations and teams. Yes, meeting with providers who will be scrutinising your organisation is daunting, in the same way that meeting the builder is daunting: you know there is a cost attached and perhaps your fear that he might discover more work that needs to be done, and you’re on a tight budget. And of course, a TNA takes time, as does carrying out building surveys. This foreknowledge equips the professionals with what they need to carry out the job efficiently, effectively, so that your house continues to function as it should.
Allowing Learning and Development providers space and time to observe the organisation, to challenge you, and to make suggestions ultimately makes the process much more efficient. Providers that don’t take undertake a TNA, either because they aren’t afforded the time and space or because they don’t have the conviction to challenge their client, are not helpful in the long run and could end up costing you more money.
Budgets vs. Diagnosis
A tight budget doesn’t mean that the quality of the programme has to suffer. In reality this is, unfortunately, what happens when organisations or providers try to cram too much into a programme relative to what the budget allows. Another common hurdle we see often is when organisations try to take shortcuts around the budget restrictions. The above lead to programmes that are watered down and significantly lose their impact. Having a budget is not the issue; being realistic about what can be done with it and what outcomes to expect is what matters.
We work with our clients to establish achievable aims that will make a marked difference to the organisation. It could be working with dysfunctional senior teams, tackling a culture of fear or bullying, or equipping leaders with the skills they need to make decisions calmly in the heat of the moment. If the budget dictates that only one issue can be tackled at a time, then the client will need to be honest with themselves about which issue will have the greatest impact.
It’s really important too that senior leaders buy-in to the programme and are genuinely committed to change. If they aren’t, that will be sensed by junior leaders and staff, and all the budget in the world won’t be able to buy a programme that effects real change.
Prioritising systemic issues in this way can only happen if there has been a thorough TNA. This is really the hinge on which the rest of the project’s success hangs and as such this is where any portion of the budget needs to be allocated first and foremost. Investment in that process gives the provider the information they need, pulled together from observations, confidential interviews, and consideration of what you hope to achieve, so they can establish where the focus needs to be. And it’s usually not where those on the inside think it is!
Finding a partner that will work with you
Organisations and Learning and Development providers often say, at the risk of sounding clichéd, that they want to work together in a partnership; in practice, a genuine partnership is difficult to achieve. If there is going to be true collaboration between provider and client then there has to be two-way transparency. In terms of the budget, organisations have to be open and honest about their limits; likewise, providers need to be transparent about their costs.
The onus is also on providers to be upfront about where they can help and where their expertise will have the biggest impact. If after the diagnostic phase it emerges that three issues need attention, the two parties can decide between them how the resource is best distributed. A fair provider will have the conviction to say “OK, the objective is Z; to get there, you have the capability to carry out X in-house and our expertise will bear the most fruit by doing Y.”
This kind of frankness can only be underpinned by transparency, with neither party trying to shut the other out. Otherwise, the outcomes are severely undermined and, tight budget or not, unlikely to be achieved.
Designing programmes on a budget: an aid to clarity and focus
A tight budget may influence the way in which an effective Learning and Development programme is designed; it should not impact on the quality of the work or be cause to skip over the initial TNA. Handled effectively, a budget can be the carrot that focuses the mind by encouraging organisations to really think about what they want to achieve. When organisations take responsibility for their own outcomes and work with a provider who supports, challenges and expands upon those outcomes, there’s no reason why a budget should stand in the way of a successful programme – and ultimately an organisation that’s more effective commercially.