Developing People in Tough Times

How do firms carry on developing people  when times are hard and sales and profits are hard to come by?

It is only natural that firms look closely at how they can make savings.  All too often this will include cutting training budgets, but in my view this is a short-sighted move, which can put companies at a disadvantage in both good times and bad.


  1. Given that it is people who deliver a company’s success (try running a business without them) it makes sense to continue training them in order that they can perform their jobs to the optimum level.
  2. In the situation where some staff have been made redundant, then it is important that remaining staff have the necessary skills, motivation and confidence to ensure the company can continue operating at its optimum.
  3. Redundancies and recessions make workers very nervous. By continuing to invest in training it sends a message of confidence that can help ensure productivity and motivation.
  4. Even in times of economic downturn it is likely that customers will still be seeking products and services – even in smaller quantities – so ensuring that they seek them from your firm rather than more energetic is key to maintain your relationship with them. Remember, it’s 5 x the cost to find a new customer than to keep an existing one.
  5. Cutting overheads and making savings where possible are sensible moves when the economy slows down, but so is seeking to maintain sales.
  6. If we use a sporting analogy – let’s say you are Team Manager and your team talk goes something like: ‘Team, we’ve got a tough set of games ahead in a hostile environment and it’s everything to play for, in fact the survival of our team depends on it. All training and practice has therefore been cancelled. Just turn up on match day’. Doesn’t make sense, does it?

Times of adversity can bring out the best in your people and forge a team spirit. In fact, difficult times can also prompt a great deal of creative thinking as companies endeavour to find new ways of doing things or of grabbing market share. Again, staff training can input into this process and be the catalyst for greater success.

Employees’ skills and knowledge are the foundation of a company’s success and what enable it to compete for business. Ensuring these skills are up-to-date will mean a company is in a strong position to compete not only in hard times but will be well-placed to benefit when the economy is booming again, as it inevitably will.

It is important to remember this point, because business success can be very cyclical. In order to always be in the best position, it is important to have good, well-trained staff. A haphazard, inconsistent approach to training will show. Training cannot be a short-term objective – it has to consider the future.

This is exactly what the Government-commissioned Leitch report did when it outlined a number of recommendations for ensuring Britain’s workforce have skills to compete on a global scale.

The report highlighted a chronic shortage of skills and basic ability that must be addressed if Britain is to continue to compete in the world and maintain a high standard of living.

As well as looking at how schools, colleges and universities can help produce a highly-skilled population, the report stressed that employers must also play a part. And given that 70% of those will form the 2020 workforce are already in employment, this point is clear.

While colleges and universities can adapt curricula and course content to suit the demands of business, the demands of business may have changed by the time students graduate, whereas businesses can respond to their own needs much more quickly.

There are some who fear that, by training staff, those skills may be lost to other companies and give this as a reason why they don’t conduct much training – i.e. ‘we train them and they leave’. There is an outcome that’s even worse – you don’t train them and they stay.

While you can never stop people leaving, companies who have a good training record are much more likely to attract and retain staff. Trained staff have greater motivation and confidence to carry out their jobs and feel valued by a company.

The important thing when training staff is to identify what it is you want individual employees to learn and then to ensure that they put their new skills or knowledge into practice to good effect. Post-training evaluation is essential to ensure that training has worked.

Success in any field is built around your people. Accept that the economic climate will wax and wane like the seasons but make the development of your people an ever-present. It will ensure survival when times are tough and growth when times are good.

If you would more information about the training we can provide to your company, please call us on 0131 220 1180 or email us on