Learning & Development

Whether you’re onboarding new employees, ensuring legal compliance or improving your team’s soft skills, a thoughtfully created learning and development (L&D) programme is essential.

When integrated with your business strategy, L&D can become a competitive advantage. Not only will it give you better qualified employees, but you’ll also benefit from more productive employees who are less likely to leave you for another employer.

Let’s start at the top…

The right learning and development plan will grow your business

Just like using an expensive oil in the engine of a high-performance sports car, investing in L&D will pay back. However, it can be easy to view investment in learning and development as an expense – both financial and from an hourly perspective. After all, if your employees are spending time on study instead of work, how will you increase sales, analyse data for opportunities or produce enough product to grow your business? And wouldn’t the money you invest in training be better spent on advertising or new equipment?

This view misses the point about training and development. It is less about an immediate benefit and more about a long-term result. Just like that top-notch car, you could get away with using a basic oil for a few runs. But after a while the engine will groan, the speeds will slow, the gear changes will crunch. Neglect the oil for too long and you’ll eventually see your prized automobile begin to fail. Suddenly, saving money on the oil you use seems like a false economy.

It’s the same with your business. Keep to basic training only, and you’ll run along just fine for a while. It may even be enough to see you continue for many years. But eventually your employees will leave for another employer or will stay yet work at a lower rate of productivity, impacting your company culture and productivity. The people that could set your business apart – an incredible customer service manager, innovative thinkers, a highly driven sales team – will have lose their sparkle or leave your business.


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What’s the link between L&D and business growth?

Used strategically, your SME’s learning plan builds capability in the areas needed to grow your business. You can of course recruit or outsource to fill those capabilities. But a more cost-effective way to fill those skills gaps is to train your existing employees.

For instance, if you wanted to increase your business’s presence on social media you could outsource social media management to an agency or you hire a new employee. Alternatively, you could upskill an existing employee to enable them to take on that role.

Choosing to upskill an existing employee creates a team that can deliver against your social media objectives without relying on an external provider. Bingo! Not only can you now deliver against your business growth objectives, but it’s highly likely the team member who is responsible for this exciting role will feel motivated and enthusiastic. And that brings us neatly onto the next point.

Learning + development = increased motivation

By training your employees, you do more than improve their technical expertise. You increase the satisfaction they get from their job. And small wonder – if someone knows they are doing a job well, they’re more likely to feel confident and enjoy the task. In contrast, with insufficient training, they may make mistakes, take longer to complete a task and suffer doubts about the quality of their work. None of these factors create a satisfying work life.

What is it about learning and development plans that can increase employee motivation?

  • Investing time to discuss learning and development with an employee demonstrates that you care about that individual and want them to succeed.
  • Creating an individualised plan shows that you see them as a single person with a unique contribution rather than a cog in a machine.
  • Investing in learning for an employee, whether that’s on-the-job coaching, attending a seminar or even studying a specific online module, shows an employee that you’re serious about their future. Why else would you pay for a training course for them? As well as improving their sense of relevance to your organisation, this gives them a greater sense of job security.
  • By linking a learning plan with an employee’s career aspirations you show them that you see a future for them in your organisation. Indeed, career opportunity is shown to be the number 1 reason behind employees changing jobs. Don’t lose a star employee because you didn’t invest in their development.

Learning and development is relevant for all employees, regardless of their age

When we think of training, it’s natural to assume younger, less experience employees need the most support. And that’s true to an extent – a school leaver will need to learn the ropes and may take more time to get up to speed than a more experienced hire.

That said, training should be part of an employee’s workplace experience regardless of their age or lifestage. Have you considered L&D for parents returning to work after parental leave or a career break? And what about older employees? These groups of people will be experienced but may lack technical knowledge or awareness of more recent practices. This can impact their decision making, productivity and confidence. Would you believe that the UK has one of the lowest levels of on-the-job training for older employees? Given that 78% of small UK employers have at least one employee over 50, it’s important to consider learning and development for all employees.

Learning and development plays a significant role in employee motivation. Even so, without planning it can be easy for L&D successes to become manager- or team-specific. For learning and development to have a real impact, it must be relevant across your organisation. You need a business culture that embraces learning.

The impact of learning and development on your SME’s culture

Building a culture where learning is part of everyone’s job requires you to put learning at the centre of your cultural goals.

This is easy to aim for but trickier to implement.

The kind of learning you prioritise will affect your SME’s culture. For this reason you need to consider the culture you want to build and how that relates to the learning you will need to encourage. Do you want to encourage transparency? Then consider teaching all employees to interpret financial reports. Do you want a culture that champions inclusivity? Then it makes sense to ensure diversity and inclusion is a core module for all employees.

But for L&D to change your company culture, you need to go further.

You must think about the way you introduce learning into your culture. Simply presenting a topic as a mandated training course does little to clarify the rationale for that training. After all, why should a graphic designer on your team care what the financial reports say? However, if you were to explain why you want them to focus on this learning topic, you give them a logical reason for the training. You could explain that you want all your employees to recognise the importance of understanding how the business works. Explain to them that this ensures more transparency by enabling them to investigate something they find troubling or curious.

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The role of managers in successful learning and development

Managers play a crucial role in the success of your L&D programme. You need managers who support their direct reports’ learning. This means direct encouragement, reminders and help in managing their workload to accommodate training. A manager should also be able to identify individuals’ training needs to give you a better idea of the budgets needed to fulfil your training objectives.

Getting managers to behave in this way may prove challenging, especially if your learning culture is in its infancy. To deal with this it’s important for leadership to reinforce the importance of training to managers, creating a trickle-down effect that will reach all employees. Team training can also be built into a manager’s objectives in order to prioritise learning.

How to develop and roll-out a L&D programme

As with any programme in your business, your learning and development programme must begin with the overall business strategy. Learning and development typically sits within the HR discipline so if you have an HR consultant or nominated HR lead in your SME, you would work with them to review the business strategy and start creating your L&D programme.

1. Identify capabilities

Having reviewed the overall business strategy, you must identify the capabilities needed to support the business goals. For instance, do you aim to launch a new service that appeals to a younger demographic? Reviewing the steps needed to achieve that goal will help you identify the capabilities your business needs to deliver against this goal. Does your workforce have these skills? In the example just given, you may identify that:

  • your sales team need to learn how to navigate a new sales channel.
  • the marketing manager must learn new techniques to communicate with a new audience.
  • your customer care team must be able to deal with enquiries in a more responsive manner due to audience expectations.

With this understanding, you can now take steps to build relevant training into your business plan for the upcoming year.

2. Allocate resources

Effective resourcing is at the heart of any L&D programme. Not only must you allow enough financial investment, but you must also ensure employees have enough time to dedicate to their learning. If your customer care team is too overwhelmed with existing enquiries to learn about their new enquiry handling system, there’s little benefit in the financial investment you’ve made. Allocating a set amount of time each year towards learning can help managers co-ordinate their teams’ training calendars for the year. Or you could encourage each team to set up a training morning once a month where personal development activities take priority. Whichever approach you take, you must make sure that sufficient time is dedicated to the job of learning.

Remember to give part-time employees enough time to complete their training in their working day or otherwise consider paying them extra to complete the training outside of their normal hours. The advent of LMS software may give them the opportunity to complete training at home, but doing this outside of normal working hours should be discouraged as this could lead to employees feeling pressured and resentful towards their development plan.


Gone are the days when workplace training meant dreary PowerPoint decks in airless meeting rooms. Learning software gives employees the flexibility to learn at a time and speed that suits them and their work. They can learn in the office, in a dedicated learning hub or at home. Not only is it easier for employees to fit into their schedules, but LMS software also gives an equal opportunity to remote workers, part-time employees and those whose job requires a lot of travel. It also means diary management, meeting room co-ordination and even catering requests are history.


With training in place, it’s now time to review the impact of the learning on business performance. Can you see behaviours changing in line with your goals? Are employees confident about their ability to carry out new tasks? It’s only by reviewing the impact of your learning programme that you can be sure it’s addressing your goals.

Remember that learning programmes will need to be reviewed in line with changes in business strategy. Without regular reviews, your L&D plan could rapidly fall out of line with the business strategy and fail to support business goals.

What resources are available to help SMEs with Learning and Development?

For any SME ready to invest in L&D, there’s a wealth of support available. Here are some of the best places to start:

Breathe Learn. This value-packed learning tool is full of easy-access remote learning training programmes to help your people reach their full potential. It contains a range of ready made courses with topics ranging from time-management to GDPR and gives you a simple and cost-effective way to ensure your team are productive, motivated and compliant.

Apprenticeships. Contrary to popular belief, apprentices can be any age. SMEs can use apprenticeship schemes to improve technical knowledge which will improve their performance and support your business.

HR Consultants. Using a qualified HR consultant will take the hard work out of creating a rounded L&D plan. They’ll also have contacts and recommendations for training suppliers that are local to your workplace.

HR Software can save SMEs up to 4 hours per week on people admin. 


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