Laura Raines, for the AJC
It’s a familiar cycle to corporate educators and trainers. In good times, companies often expand their corporate learning programs. In belt-tightening times, training is usually the first thing to go.
“The demand for corporate training has dropped dramatically in the last 18 months,” said Kim Groves, marketing director for continuing education at Kennesaw State University, which offers professional management courses and customized programs for individuals and organizations. But she knows that when companies can fund it, business will pick up.
“Most companies realize that not developing their talent isn’t good for the long-term health of the organization,” she said. “Education is power.”
Tough times are when companies should maximize their employee training, said Gary Cruze, a senior instructor with Emory Corporate Learning.
“People like to be developed, and companies that provide those opportunities generally find their employees are more committed,” he said. “Loyal and committed employees are more likely to consistently give that extra effort. … They’ll be less likely to jump ship when the economy comes back.
“Corporate learning is also important for succession planning, building a leadership pipeline and creating a stronger organization. Knowing that, why wouldn’t companies operate from the philosophy of always developing their people?”
“Whatever learning takes place — whether it’s internal from subject matter experts or external from educational institutions or consultants — it’s going to have to directly support core objectives of the business,” he said.
Nagravision, a Swiss-based global leader in digital TV security, recently contracted with Emory Corporate Learning to provide formal management training for an Atlanta team of new or aspiring managers.
“We’re a very technology-focused company,” said Ted Grauch, a senior vice president with Nagravision. “It’s not unusual for our leaders to have strong technical backgrounds. They know how to think like engineers and scientists. What we need them to do is also think like business people.”
Nagravision worked with Emory to design a curriculum that would improve its decision-making, show it how to lead by example, as well as provide it with knowledge of financial concepts.
“These are the kinds of things they would learn with an MBA, and not what they got in engineering school,” Grauch said.
He believes it’s a good value. Not only are employees learning exactly what they need to do, but learning it together in one classroom keeps the cost reasonable.
Grauch sees the program enhancing the level of trust between senior leaders and managers.
“To delegate properly, you need to be able to trust. Knowing that someone has the skills to do the job is one factor in trust,” he said. “We expect our managers to come away able to make better decisions, which means they can take on increased responsibilities.”
To get the best return on investment, Cruze encourages corporate clients to have an action plan of how employees will apply the new skills they are learning. “Bosses should have a conversation with their employees before and after classes to ask how the training will make them better employees,” Cruze said.
Clear expectations strengthens engagement and can lead to employees better understanding the value of their contributions, he said.
Georgia Power, an affiliate of the Southern Co., has always had programs and activities to identify and develop top talent. It recently beefed up the academic component, bringing managers from across the state to get to know one another and learn more about managing, motivating and coaching in a changing business environment.
“We wanted to make our programs more meaningful and robust, to give managers more tools to help with their objectives,” said Toni Hannah, a talent management consultant with the Southern Co.
While it’s hard for companies to think ahead when budgets are tight, Hannah says learning strengthens employees and improves retention.
“When you invest in your employees, you show them that you value who they are and how they are contributing to the organization. It makes a difference when people are emotionally attached and like what they do. They tend to work harder,” Hannah said. “We have people who have been here forever and a day.”