PD-2Surveys show that one of the key factors in keeping employees engaged and motivated is the opportunity to learn and grow. For small companies, however, who often have limited (or non-existent) training budgets, providing those opportunities can be a challenge.  Yet there are a variety of ways you can develop your employees without a lot of expense. Here are five of them.

Cross-training. Consider putting together a program where employees cross-train each other. Not only will the “trainee” learn new skills and knowledge, the “trainer” will improve in their job by having to teach it to someone else. This also can build closer relationships in the organization and a better understanding of the company overall. When employees learn what others on their team and other teams do, they have a better appreciation of how all the roles fit together to keep the company operating.  It can eliminate silos and increase organizational communication.

Internal skill sharing. Identify employees who are particularly skilled in an area and give them the opportunity to share their knowledge in a workshop or “Lunch and Learn.”  This increases the knowledge of the participants, and gives the employee sharing the knowledge the opportunity to develop and improve additional skills – leadership, facilitating, organization, communication, etc.

Mentoring. Create a mentoring program or identify individuals who can coach others in areas where they’re struggling or want to develop. This is a great way to tap into the knowledge and skill base of your more experienced employees to ensure that your company mindshare gets transferred. And the beauty about mentoring relationships is that there are benefits to both mentor and mentee as they learn from each other.

Online courses/books. There are myriad free and low cost online courses available on a variety of topics from business knowledge to leadership skills to software. Books are another way to provide learning. Consider setting up a small library or book sharing program.

Special projects and stretch assignments. On-the-job training through a special project or stretch assignment can be very effective when combined with adequate management support and/or a mentor or coach. Have a special project coming up? Consider assigning someone who wants to develop leadership skills to head up the project.

Be sure that you include in your employee development program not just the job-related skills tied to your future needs, but also soft skills that have been identified as essential for the 21st century: communication, emotional intelligence, collaboration, problem solving, and adaptability.

Recognize that the time spent in learning activities – whatever those may be – is an investment in the growth of the company and in the growth and satisfaction of employees.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin