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SME’s – max out on your investment in L&D

Learning & Development (L&D) falls into the discretionary spend category of a business. However, since L&D is a business critical investment in people, it should be a top priority in all SME’s

For a business to be at its best, the people in the business need to be as good as they can be. Here are some guidelines to help embed a people development strategy into your business.

Sponsorship & Engagement

Sponsorship from business owners is essential if L&D investment is to add value. You need to engage with your learners to encourage them to recognise the importance of L&D to both them and you.

You need to know what type of development your business and people need and to know that the selected training providers are capable of delivering against your requirements.


Look for providers with a honed range of key business disciplines rather than a list of training options. To ensure consistency in the messages and standards being delivered to your people, select a limited number of training providers to manage your L&D needs.

Practical Learning

Theory is interesting, but if it can’t be applied in the workplace, why bother? Ensure the learning content is relevant and that part of the learning experience involves the learner undertaking work-based assignments within your own business. That way the business owner gets to learn something from the learning of their people.

Learning Reinforcement

Before enrolment on any L&D programme, explain to your people what it is they are learning, why it’s relevant to them and the business, and that they are committed to their own development. Once enrolled, check in to see how they’re progressing, what they’re learning and how this can be put to good use in the business.

The purpose of L&D is to bring about behavioural change, which should be in evidence back in the workplace. You need to encourage your people to put their learning into action and build their confidence to operate differently. If you don’t practice what you’ve learned you forget what you’ve learned.

Recruitment & Retention

People influence on the performance and reputation of an SME in a more acute way than in larger organisations. Having a well-conceived L&D programme confirms the importance you place on people development. This makes you a more attractive proposition to join and also to remain in. People need to feel challenged and want you to have a personal interest in their development. Why else would they stay with you and be committed to your business success?

Contingency Cover

Unlike a larger organisation, if an SME loses a key person for any length of time the smooth functioning of the business suffers. An L&D programme won’t magically produce extra staff, but the more depth and breadth of skills and commercial understanding your people possess the more likely you are to have capable cover.

Development & Growth

Whatever your aspirations are for you business, you’ll only succeed with these if your people are capable of journeying with you. If Jo in stores needs to take more responsibility for inventory and purchasing to allow Sally in accounts to project manage the introduction of a new accounts package, then how do you support their transition without investing in their development. It doesn’t happen unless you make it happen.

External Perspective

SME’s tend to be self-contained units in which the business owner is the font of all knowledge.   As part of your L&D strategy look for providers with personal experience of running business, not just delivering training. These people can bring a diverse perspective to freshen up your long held views and support you in managing your people development programme.

An abbreviated version of this article appeared on the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) website.

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