17 September 2009

The Necessity for Investing in Employees in the UK in this Downturn Economy : Part 3 of 3

In the previous article we discussed why change management was so critical in downturn economies. Rapid change causes a lot of damage to employee motivation unless addressed by management. 

We also spoke of the effect the current downturn is having on employees.  There is no better time than the present to cement the trust and bonds between employees and use the current environment to drive change through team building. Team building within the company enables employees to face the downturn as a unit - a functioning powerful unit of people rather than scattered individuals.

There seems to be no better time than the present to capture the fruits of experiential learning using a real live environment. Outward Bound Training (as a human resource development initiative) courses involving taking employees to the outdoors to develop skills such as team building, leadership training, project management, handling stress, management training, communication, change, etc. may have been used in the better times as part of a team building program conducted by team building companies. As part of a corporate training program or outdoor leadership training the employees may have been asked to participate in a team building activity. These may have included raft building, kayaking, trust falls, outdoor navigation, etc.

Outward bound training is still popular in the UK, US, West Indies and Singapore. Whilst it has its critics, the proper harnessing of the learning (Transfer of Learning) could prove to have positive impacts within the work organization. The key point to focus on here is to lose focus on the activity and focus on what it is trying to achieve. e.g. lose focus on white water rafting but harness the relationships built with your team whilst on the course. The essence of Outward Bound Training is to place participants on simulated risky environments that would enable them to dig deep into their natural capabilities and resources. In these environments leadership skills, clear communication, resource allocation, time efficiency, etc. are all put to the test. The active learning involved provides memories and recollections which could prove useful to employees. However this learning needs to be addressed as would any change management strategy. The learning needs to be harnessed, reflected upon and actively implemented within the organization by change agents else the transfer of learning will not take place.

Some would argue that going on outward bound courses is the least on managers' minds given the worries of staying afloat. However some might argue that if it is financially viable it is an investment. Employees are under immense pressure and stress. They are expected to perform exceptionally well in a stressful environment where there job security is at risk. They are expected to work long hours while taking on extra work loads. In these economic conditions customers always want there projects yesterday and new ones delivered tomorrow. There does not seem to be a more opportune time to invest in the training and development of employees for this exact environment. Taking the employees out of the current work place to the outdoors not only prepares employees to be trained in the necessary skills to face a stressful work environment and thrive in time management, communication, leadership, etc. but most significantly, and most undoubtedly, it sends a very clear concise critical message directly to the employees. The message clearly states that their management has decided to make an investment in its employees. Instead of laying off and being bureaucratic, the management has made the conscious decision to invest in its employees and prepare them for the future ahead. Yes the times will be tough but the management as confidence that its employees, with the right training, will shine through these circumstances.

This message immediately, like a cork out of a champagne bottle, thrusts employee perception up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Motivation Model. They no longer need to be worried about security as instead of taking the easy option of laying off staff, the management has sent a  clear message that they are still a team and together they can make it. This message also solidifies Maslow's two immediate concerns in the triangle - the need to belong and esteem.

Outward bound training is a unique method in which manager's are able to use experiential learning as part of a human resources development strategy. The essence is in the capture of the learning undertaken and its implementation in the work place which is also undergoing severe stress. The skills captured from the training could prepare employees for the tougher times ahead and it will certainly sharpen their skills. It will also provide a very significant mode of motivation and a clear directive from senior management that it values its employees. The former CEO of GE Jack Welch in his book 'Winning' details that the head of human resources in a company should be given as much significance as a CFO. Whilst Mr.Welch's theories have both criticism and reason by many commentators, it is a winning advantage to invest in employees when it seems that all statistics, media, corporations and managers are working against them.  

Human resource development managers also must focus on ensuring that employees learn from these live non-simulation stressful times. The learning involved in going through risk related environments and overcoming obstacles must be harnessed, discussed, documented and championed by change agents to actively reinforce learning in the future.

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