Focus:  Where has all the money gone?

Developing an organization’s human resources in a period of limited budgets has always been challenging.  In the year 2002 it seems even more daunting.

Today employees have little experience with economic downturns or have simply forgotten the difficulties they faced during previous downturns.  They have operated with a mindset of constant personal development, multiple employment options, and continuous personal economic growth.  Our economic environment has provided several consecutive years of dynamic growth, allowing this mindset to become entrenched.

Unfortunately, today’s business periodicals are replete with examples that a dynamic economic climate no longer exists … for organizations or for individuals.

·        An organization that invented and introduced leading technologies just a few years ago is now out of business because they failed to keep current and were replaced by low cost competition and new innovations.

·        An executive that had stock options “worth” forty million dollars last year holds paper worth less than $2,000 today.

·        An employee is laid off and finds that his/her pension funds, which were worth over $500,000 in company stock last year, are now almost worthless.

The economic downturn has turned personal.  It isn’t just our organizations that are suffering.  It is every stakeholder in our organizations… including our employees.

So what is our responsibility as members of our organizations’ leadership?  Do we have the option to merely accept the situation and do nothing?  What can we do, if anything?  A famous quote comes to mind:  “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!”

Our At Issue article deals with employee development actions we might take to help our organizations survive this current situation.  Employees expect us to lead.  Even with the recession, we must find ways to improve the skills and knowledge of our employees.  This will help employees be more productive, allow them to improve their feelings by making a positive contribution to the survival of our organizations, and help motivate them to stay with our organizations during and after these trying times.

We have an opportunity to make a difference.  An economic turnaround will occur sooner if we are true leaders.

John C. Wills

At Issue:  How can we stretch limited employee development budgets?

We face a year of significant challenges.  Employee development budgets have been cut to a minimum in many organizations, and have even been eliminated in others.

Employee morale is low in many organizations due to the economic downturn, layoffs, bankruptcies, and the fact that some organizations have even disappeared completely.

For organizations that want to survive, failure to develop their employees is not a viable option.  However, funding and staffing constraints make it more difficult to ensure that our employees have the skills and knowledge they need to be productive on the job.

We do have one very positive thing going for us.  Employees want to support the success of their organizations.  But, they can’t be as successful as they would like to be, unless we provide the leadership role that is needed to give them appropriate support materials and clear direction.

As Peter Drucker once said, “The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder, friction, and malperformance.”

Yes — We Have Options!

Even with these constraints, there are options that will allow us to deliver valuable development opportunities to our employees.  It will take ingenuity on our part and support throughout the organization.  But difficult times call for creative solutions that involve everyone in the organization.  Without a consistent effort on everyone’s part our organizations won’t have much opportunity to achieve future goals.

Here are a few employee development options:


Suggested Approach

1.     Link your employee development initiatives to your organization’s strategy[1].

·        Review all initiatives within the context of the organization’s strategy.

·        Eliminate projects that don’t contribute directly to high priority initiatives. 

·        Communicate how remaining projects help employees contribute to the organization’s strategy.

2.     Identify required employee skills and knowledge and prioritize the skills and knowledge areas that are most critical.

·        Identify the skills and knowledge employees need to support the organization’s strategy.

·        Conduct an assessment of employees to determine their proficiency levels in these key skill and knowledge areas.

·        Establish a priority list of the skills and knowledge areas where employees rate lower than needed as a guide to focusing your employee development efforts.

3.     Reuse training materials that already exist.

·        Check the files and bookshelves to see what’s been used in the past.

·        Update the materials to focus on priority skills and knowledge areas.  Do as little “rewriting” as possible.

·        Get the materials into the hands of the people that need them.



4.     Send employees to programs at local universities and training centers.

·        Order catalogues from local universities, colleges, and other adult education programs.

·        Review course descriptions and staff qualifications.

·        Distribute a list of approved/ recommended programs.

·        Follow up with employees that need the available courses.

5.     Draw upon existing funded initiatives to support the organization’s strategy and priority skills and knowledge areas.

·        Assess all current projects for support of the organization’s strategy and priority skills and knowledge areas.

·        Partner with “field” groups; get their people assigned to help meet the organization’s priority needs.

·        Re-design materials, if necessary, to reflect the organization’s priorities.

·        Re-deploy funding that is freed up from projects that are not directly contributing to the organization’s strategy (a good idea, that is not always possible due to political issues within an organization).

6.     Design employee development materials based on specific, measurable objectives to support multiple audience groups.

·        Identify desirable employee development objectives for each employee group.

·        List all common skills and knowledge areas that apply across employee groups; for example product knowledge and presentation skills could be useful to sales, sales support, and customer support personnel.

·        Create a common skill and knowledge “data base.”  This can be delivered in a variety of formats — such as a Web-site that is accessible to all of the employee groups.

·        Develop separate access paths for each employee group, designed to help them focus on their specific development objectives.

·        Provide evaluation tools tailored for each employee group to help them self-assess their success at developing the skills and knowledge required for their specialty area.

7.     Organize mentoring and coaching programs.

·        Assign every experienced employee a less experienced employee to develop.

·        Confirm that employees accept responsibility to help each other develop … if some employees don’t want to participate it sends you valuable information about them and their inability to be team players. 

·        Make sure that everyone gets a mentor or a coach; even a CEO can find one helpful.

·        Follow up with mentors and coaches as well as the employees they are responsible for helping.

8.     Where appropriate, replace traditional classroom lectures and workshops with e-Learning offerings.

·        Identify topics that are appropriate for an e-Learning approach.

·        Create a justification for the investment required to convert selected courses to e-Learning, including conversion cost and savings, such as eliminating travel, instructors, etc.

·        Convert programs that promise to provide a clear savings to the organization.

9.     Conduct employee development sessions using phone conferencing and e-Meeting technologies.

·        Identify opportunities where face-to-face interaction is not imperative.

·        Use available tools to conduct “remote” sessions … saving travel expenses and time.

·        Re-direct savings to employee development effort.


This is a short list of possible options.  See how many more you can add as you think about the needs of your organization.

As we said earlier, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

I hope you will choose to lead … it can make a big difference for you, your employees, and your organization.

John C. Wills



“The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder, friction, and malperformance.”

Peter F. Drucker

[1] If your organization doesn’t currently have a strategy or you are not sure what it is, you might want to reread At Issue: Where have all the successful organizations gone? in the last issue of Pathways.  By the way, if you misplaced your copy you can access it at