Modern learning strategy for the small business

Though I’ve spent most of my career in organizations’ with 1000+ employees, I’ve actively networked with peers in businesses of all sizes. I know first-hand the huge difference between Learning & Development in a large organisation and a small one.

The large organisation is likely to have a dedicated department, with a defined resource and specialist professionals in roles like LMS administrator, e-learning designer, a team of trainers and so on.

This is something that small businesses can only dream about. If they have anyone at all, it is likely to be someone with responsibility for training as an ‘add-on’. The busy HR person will have to juggle recruitment, contracts, restructures and grievances, plus be responsible for organising any training that is required. This usually means that any training provision is arranged on a reactive, rather than a proactive basis.  It’s unlikely there will be a dedicated budget. which means they will be more cost-conscious and risk-averse to doing anything outside of the conventional.

While those responsible for learning in larger organisations can take advantage of the different approaches espoused by modern learning, for example using technology to customise learning solutions, the smaller organisation with its limited resource base, could get left behind through lack of time or knowledge of where to turn to for help.

There are however more opportunities for smaller companies than there may seem to be on face value. The essence of modern learning strategy is a more flexible and individual approach, that allows for customisation, training at point of need, and minimal time off the job.

How do the four key themes of modern learning strategy stack-up for smaller organisations?

Strategy – an awareness of the role of learning and how it can help the business meet its strategic objectives.

For smaller organisations it’s crucial to understand overall strategic objectives and to have a clear succession and skill development plan, as they need a limited workforce to be as productive as possible to compete successfully. Smaller organisations can have strategic advantage through being more agile and being able to change and adapt quicker, if they can leverage their skills sets accordingly. Key personnel may be required to be more fluid and adaptive, so learning and development strategies that support this are critical. As mentioned in this whitepaper by Skillsoft ‘the mega trends in technology …. affect many business practices. Keeping pace with the demand for technical skills is often a major challenge for organisations of all sizes – and SMEs need to be able to compete’

We also know that salary trails behind training and career progression as the top priorities for job interviewees, so in smaller organisations with fewer positions available, having happy employees is vital.

Larger organisations may be able to offer their own in-house development, something that the smaller business can’t do – so having budget set aside is crucial.  They need to be clear about how it is to be used. Gaining that all-important loyalty with development on offer for team members is critical. Buying in contract skills in the new gig economy may seem like an obvious solution too, but to garner loyalty and to grow their own capabilities, developing the team’s skills as the business grows is a strategy that needs to be front and centre.

Skills – a recognition of the different skills required by L&D professionals (to meet the strategy) and a plan to meet them

If smaller organisationsare lucky enough to have anyone in a learning & development role, these individuals will need to be broad in their skill set with the ability to flex their job role, enabling them to adapt as required. Having in-house expertise on every aspect however isn’t a requirement, as the availability of freelancers in almost every area, that can be brought in as needed is something that gives choice and opportunity to smaller businesses that want to provide learning for their employees.

The swathe of technology-based learning solutions, and the opportunity to harness mobile and social learning – are ideal for smaller businesses. Although not as clearly defined as traditional formal classroom-based solutions, it’s is worth taking the time to understand what’s on offer and how these new solutions can be used effectively. The rapid development of technological solutions may feel daunting, but taking time to do proper research and seeking advice from others in your situation, will ensure you get the right fit for your business.

Content – a broader understanding of how content can be used and re-used in multiple formats

The way employees want to learn has changed dramatically in recent years. They no longer want to have learning content chosen for them and delivered to them at their employers’ schedule. The trend has shifted from “push” to “pull”. Employees want to be able to access content and learning at their own pace, at a time that suits them.

Successful SMEs are acknowledging this and seeking to satisfy employees’ needs for L&D content on demand, in bite-sized chunks, in consumable formats such as video, to suit individual learning style.

The very concept of re-using content is one that is based on efficiency, and doing more with less, which is perfect for the smaller organisation. It is however, challenging with a reduced team to master the various tools required to re-purpose content, whether you want to convert your PowerPoint to a video, turn a presentation into a recorded webinar, or make a training video from a team briefing using just a smartphone. The important thing here is to go where the skills are in your team. Ask who has the skills and get them involved. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Culture – helping organisations embrace the shift in responsibility for learning towards self

 In terms of modern learning the key cultural element is the shift towards employees and teams taking individual responsibility for their own learning. For larger entities this quest requires conscious effort and stripping away barriers, for example between departmental silos. For smaller businesses learning is more likely to be organic and shared more naturally, as learning forms part of the problem solving that is required to get the job done. This ‘learning through doing’ and ‘learning to problem-solve’ mentality can be a key cultural driver that small to medium-sized businesses can role-model easily as this is the best way to ensure it is replicated.

The first step for any organisation is to take the conscious decision to invest in training and development and commit to it.


Want to have a conversation about implementing a modern learning strategy for your business? Drop me an email at rachel@talentstorm.co.uk, I’d love to talk to you.

Our Modern Learning Strategy workshop is great for small to medium organisations, here we can work with your key stakeholders to set your strategic direction and work up action plans. 

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