In my days as Training and Development Manager, for Africa Online a large IT company I used to spend several weeks a year in various countries bringing training to the country operations.  I had a heavy travel schedule. It had its rewards, and its downturns. Now, corporates are replacing this kind of schedule with other means.

The world economy has taken a nose-dive. When companies are pushed to the edge with lower revenues and profits, training budgets are the first to get slashed.  However as HR professionals we need to continuously find ways to fill the gaps with in-house initiatives that are cost effective.  Sometimes, these in-house initiatives have a greater impact than more costly alternatives.  Some of these initiatives are well-know, but we don’t utilize them well.

To do more with less, I recommend focusing on peer learning, keeping instructional modules simple, leveraging technology and maximizing what you already have.

Highlight internal talent: Instead of hiring external consultants, turn to the real experts; your own employees.  At UUNET, a leading ICT company, internal talent that has specific skills are keen to impart this skills to their peers.  This ranges from Technology (Vsat, Wireless technology) to Personal growth (personal financial management, debt management, self-branding or career management). Training evaluations are done after each session. This serves both the trainer; to know his improvement areas and the Training Manager; to understand the impact of the training on the trainees. HR professionals can take this further and include Peer training as an aspect of the employees’ Key Performance Areas and hence enhance his eligibility for growth within the company.  Employees who attend the training learn techniques and the trainer gains recognition, boosting morale.

Implement Job Shadowing. Job shadowing involves more than just following a colleague around all day. Shadowers end up viewing the company from a more wholesome perspective.  They learn firsthand about the challenges facing their colleagues in other departments.  This new perspective helps employees realize the impact that their decisions and actions have on other departments.

Create or expand formal mentoring.  Mentoring yields cost effective training – and incredible results. Freshers learn about company culture and history from the more seasoned staff. Senior managers are able to see the organization from the directors’ view point. And a lot of times, these viewpoints give employees a totally different perspective of the company than the one they have been holding.  Using this approach, young managers will move into management after learning about management style, situational leadership and skillspers

Invite industry leaders and industry experts to give free presentations.  It is amazing how many senior industry leaders are willing and eager to give free presentations.  It is also amazing how rarely they are approached to do so. The Kenyan industry is an emerging market; yet very competitive.  The earlier we learn that co-operation is more fruitful than competition , the better for all involved

Focus on Product knowledge.  During tough economic times, CEOs pull back and instruct managers to concentrate only on the core of the business.  Leave out the frills.  Training should reflect this focus.  Give attention to training that is immediately applicable to every employee’s job. Focus on product knowledge.  The administrative assistants, telephone receptionist, drivers should all learn the core of the business – learn the basics of beer making, soft drink business, mobile phone technology or media.  This is cost effective training.  Senior employees teaching the less experienced. And it yields immediate results.  Employees who understand their organizations’ products can discuss them articulately with suppliers, co-workers and customers.  They are the first product and brand ambassadors of your company.  Relevance to their jobs becomes clear and these employees become truly engaged to the company.

Cross – train. Employees with more than one skill are more valuable and flexible.  At The Beck Group, a commercial architecture, construction and development company in Dallas, employees take 40 hours of continuing education annually. Eight of the 40 hours represent cross – training or training outside your department or function.   For example, the chief information officer spent over three months on a construction site as a project engineer.  Less dramatically, we can implement this in our organizations.

Host Interdepartmental events. In many companies, the right hand does not know what the left hand does for a living. Simple tasks get duplicated.  Work takes longer because employees are unaware of knowledge existing elsewhere. Your valuable employees spend weekends in the office trying to dig out information or to tie loose ends. This information could be in a file cabinet next door or on the company intranet – available to all!  Introducing members of one department to another builds networks to share information and get that job done faster! Two features departments could hold an open day (as is done in many schools in Kenya) where they inform the rest what their department does and how they collaborate across the organization.  This is a chance to connect people, departments and skills in an open and unthreatening forum.

Give job rotation assignments. In this part of the world, job rotation has been very popular with management trainees and new hires.  However, even older employees can benefit from it. Such assignments boost employee engagement and knowledge transfer

Leverage Technology. Some technology is expensive.  However, many companies have already invested in computer hardware and other technology required for e-learning.  This is the time they need to use it to reach the most employees with little additional cost.  While creating e-learning content may be outside the realm of the HR professional, implementing the content proves cost effective.  People can always learn about other functions or other products and services. So if you are not working in the WAN (Wide Area Networking), Fibre or Vsat area, you can still learn the terminology and workflow – the basics – so that you can have an intelligent conversation with someone from that product line. It is a really good return on investment.

Create an online bulletin board, email discussion lists, blog or other intranet forum for employees to share best practices and ask for help.  Adding a bulletin board feature to your intranet is not a complicated matter and most techies in town are able to do that.  A staff member might post “anyone has experience using xxyyzz equipment on a fibre network?” And someone else will pick up the thread.  At the end of the day, invaluable information will have been shared

Video conference. All you require is a video conferencing kit, adequate internet bandwidth, your training material …and voila; you have all your staff in distant offices ready for training.  This will also help tap talent from your head office experts from Europe, America and other parts of Africa; time differences allowing. In this way, employees will learn the best practices across regions. Remember the video-conferencing equipment will also be used for board meetings and other business communication in your organization.

Marketing. In good financial times, HR professionals can be so eager to obtain the latest training material that we buy more than we can actually use.  Lean times provide opportunity to exploit our library of training material.  Market the training materials you have.  HR professionals may find some real good resources, but we’re not the best marketers of them.  We launch our training programs with little fun-fare and we don’t keep promoting them.  This is the partially the reason why e-learning hasn’t taken such a foot-hold in companies that have the facilities.  HR professionals don’t market their wares.

As HR professionals, we need to capitalize on opportunity.  The impact that internal talent and innovation can have on our organizations is enormous. We will be able to do more with less.  We should never underestimate the ability of the internal teams. Engage your workforce in helping find answers. There is no one-size fits all type of training program.  By working closely and collaborating with the people who have the learning needs, and the supervisors who have the training ability, our employees become skilled and efficient.  Training takes a lot of time, effort and imagination, but it does not have to take great amounts off your bottom line.

Gladys Ogallo

Head of Human Resources, UUNET

For Business Daily – SBS – Nov 2008

www.businessdailyafrica.com