Forward-thinking IT leaders recognize how important it is for employees to have broad and deep technical and business knowledge, and not just a list of skills that looks good on a resume. They need employees who show good judgment as well as technical ability.
The best employees look for employers willing to invest in that knowledge. And that translates into improved employee retention. Everyone wins.
But in an era of “lean and mean,” IT leaders need to develop employees on increasingly tight budgets. So while traditional conferences, seminars, certifications, and degrees still have their place, the best managers are finding ways to substitute innovative education initiatives for formal education programs.
“Less than 20 percent of continuing education comes from structured programs,” says Brenda Gumbs, vice president of human resources at Perfetti Van Melle USA, a global confectionery company. “The rest comes from coaching, mentoring, and … hardships, which include challenging assignments and failures.”
IT executives are experimenting by leveraging temporary assignments, consulting relationships, vendor resources, and technology to
create learning environments rather than education programs.
Rising Above Tight Budgets
A major challenge facing business leaders -- especially those who have a strong desire to develop their employees -- is limited training budgets. There’s simply no money for traditional, classroom-oriented programs. As Sharon Link, chief administrative officer of Gander Mountain recreational retailers puts it, “In a high-growth, fast-paced company like ours, time and cash need to be carefully invested and leveraged. But our IT associates still need both technical skills and business savvy to drive and support growth.”
Gander Mountain has explored alternatives including knowledge-sharing among associates and consultants engaged in current projects, selecting associates to participate on cross-functional teams, creating an internal “business partner relationship program,” and encouraging participation in user and industry groups.
Executives emphasize the need for non-traditional thinking when structuring new learning environments. One of the least expensive alternatives begins by finding ways to better leverage their employees’ knowledge and experience.
Marv Richardson, currently managing director and co-founder of the Trexin Group and a member of InfoWorld’s CTO Advisory Board, has experimented with lunch-and-learn formats. What worked best were tag-team presentations that paired vendor experts (never, he insists, the sales representative) with internal employees who had used the technology in real applications.
According to Richardson, it was easy to get employee volunteers -- they saw it as an opportunity to raise their profile. And where some companies have found it difficult to maintain attendance at this type of event, he never had that problem. “Of course,” he jokes, “the free lunch helped … and what’s best is that the vendors generally bought the lunch.”