The importance of training in small businesses
In general, once small businesses meet the minimum training requirements, they focus far more on developing the business. Why spend valuable time and resources on activities considered second class compared to the real business?
The answer is, in fact, very simple. Contrary to popular belief, training is a crucial factor for small businesses. Stimulating proactive thinking from people, and not just reactive, can encourage a small group to work with fluency and creativity. Something which is difficult to find in larger organisations.
Moreover, we must not forget the importance of retaining employees: in fact, the loss of even one employee has a very significant impact on the business. Particularly for small businesses, which, unlike larger companies, are generally not well equipped to handle a high turnover of staff. With this in mind, training is fundamental. With proper training employees are helped to grow professionally, and they often become happier and more productive as a result of this which leads to fewer employees wanting to leave the company.
Establishing a training programme in a small company brings a lot of benefits, but it also comes with challenges. Small businesses, for example, often cannot afford the luxury of a whole team – or even just one person – completely dedicated to training and development. Rather, it is necessary to find ways to integrate training into every day work and determine how it could be beneficial to others, optimising their time and resources.
The first question to ask is "What kind of training are we going to offer?" For most organisations, training still means teaching technical skills or so-called hard skills. This may work for large companies that can afford to take employees with limited knowledge of the work and organise intensive training programmes.
However, in small companies, training is geared towards people who already know every aspect of their work and role. So, if they already have the necessary knowledge, why do they need training?
Again, the answer is very simple: because, in order to grow professionally we need to focus not only on hard skills but also on soft skills. It is essential at some point to switch from a mindset based on "this is what you need to know to do your job" to "this is what you should know in order to grow." If you think of training as an opportunity to create a mindset focused on development and not simply as a time to teach people to perform a certain task, then you are headed in the right direction. Teach employees how to manage people, how to ask the right questions to customers, and how to represent the brand. This helps to expand the company's knowledge while encouraging a common and shared growth of employees.
The importance of soft skills
But how can you create a development-oriented mindset? The first step is to improve the communication skills of both the managers and employees. For this there are two important elements: targeted conversations and feedback.
Targeted conversations are discussions involving a high rate of emotion and whose results are at high risk because, typically, different opinions emerge from them. Small businesses need these kinds of conversations because every single decision has important consequences. In teaching people how to manage conversations, both in terms of listening and speaking, you can make sure that any discussion is constructive. There are even online certificate programmes that, at a more than reasonable cost, teach you how to handle these kinds of conversations.
Another important soft skill is the ability to communicate feedback to your employees. Not only is it important to give feedback, but the manner in which you communicate is also crucial. Ideally the manager should start with defining their expectations and asking questions such as: what will make this situation better and what can be improved?
When putting conversational skills and feedback into practice, it is essential to think of doing so as if you were in a one-to-one conversation.
Understanding the difference between a group meeting and a meeting with an individual is of fundamental importance for a business to be successful. In group meetings, leaders conduct the meeting, make a few announcements and employees get involved, reporting what they are doing and what needs to be done. However, personal encounters are an opportunity for reflection: the meeting should be driven by the employee who discusses his or her goals, concerns and the results, while the manager should respond with feedback, suggestions, and solutions.
The face-to-face meetings are essential for two main reasons: first, for the manager of a small business it is always difficult to be updated on everything and it is an opportunity to receive more detailed information about the company. Secondly, it is an excellent coaching opportunity.
Ultimately, in small business training it is a matter of communication and transparency.