6 top tips to help SMEs break traditional training rules

September 27, 2017

Everyone knows that training and development is an essential tool to help companies thrive in their sector.

However in many businesses, finding the time and motivation for training courses can seem like a chore, with pressures like time and money often getting in the way of employee development.

So is it possible for you to train your staff in a flexible way, which is also fun and engaging to be a part of?

Becky Mee, HR Partner here at HR180 has some top tips on how to make this happen.

By Becky Mee

Let’s face it, for many of us in SMEs, training is a “nice to do” activity and learning is more “show and tell” – sitting next to someone hopefully more experienced showing us what to do.  Plus, it’s often something we’re expected to do in our spare time and pay for ourselves (not likely!).

Having come from a more corporate background, learning was a structured and expected part of life. So a recent conversation with a former colleague – now working for a large US corporation – intrigued me.  In quite a senior role and increasingly being asked to be a leader, she faces the common challenges of goal setting, getting the best from her colleagues, building collaborative relationships, and challenging conflict between teams with different objectives.

What surprised me was the company has no formal development program in the traditional sense. Instead, they develop the softer and behavioural skills needed for leaders as well as the business to thrive, through a structured mentoring scheme.

This then made me ponder…

What’s the alternative to formal learning and development, particularly for SMEs?

The challenges faced by many SMEs (like our clients) when developing their teams are often around the following:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Trust in the trainer/ provider
  • Access to knowledge
  • Relevance – whether the training will deliver what the business needs


You want something:

  • Flexible
  • Quick
  • Low cost
  • Related to their sector and social (i.e. collaborative)


So, what can you do to break the traditional system and come up with something that both meets these needs and actually works?

  1. 1. Look at what you’ve got alreadyWhat talent and knowledge have you got in the business already?  Can this be tapped into and utilised in a creative way to give everyone a chance to share knowledge and develop others?  Have you got anyone you work with already who can help you adapt your approach to learning?
  2. 2. What works for your company?Your company’s culture and values are key to developing something that works.  Are you a quick and on-the-go company?  If so, make your training short and sweet.If you’re more laid back, then give it an informal feel, with a social aspect. Or if you like to do things yourself, experiment with a self-paced, ‘dip in and out’ approach.And if creativity or curiosity is more your thing, harness a collaborate approach.
  3. 3. Make it the normEncouraging proactivity will mean leading from the top initially, but breaking the system and encouraging ‘grass roots’ learning to take over is the end goal.  Remember, we’re all responsible for our own development and that of others.
  4. 4. Focus on the sticky bunIt doesn’t have to be food orientated (though that always gets my attention), but Social learning makes it fun and encourages other ideas for further learning opportunities.  Get-togethers, ‘flash-mob’ style sessions and social media all play a part here.
  5. 5. Mix it upHave fun and play around with your formats.  Want to have a 10 minute get together over a coffee and watch a TedEx? Do it.  Want to have a go at creating your own TedEx style talks?  Look for ideas and do it.  Want to get a guest speaker in?  Use your LinkedIn network to make it happen.  Need a reference point for mind-blowing articles relevant to your sector?  Create one and encourage contributions. Want to share knowledge and build relations in the business? Develop a team mentoring scheme.
  6. 6. The Piggy BankLearning doesn’t have to cost money, but if you need more structured help building your team’s skills where can you access it? Your Local Education Partnership (LEP) has advice on growing your business, access to Growth Hubs and potential funding for SME development.  The big banks also offer support, such as HSBC Connections Hub and NatWest Entrepreneurial Spark. Your greater network can help too.

Whatever you chose to do, make sure it works for your business, fits your ethos, and encourages the skills you need now and for the future. Have fun breaking the system!

Part 2 will be a case study of this in practice from Laura Morris, Director at Trinity McQueen

Leeds based HR180 is a team of superheroes in HR Outsourcing, Projects and Consultancy committed to work in partnership with organisations of all sizes to establish working policies to go above and beyond Employment Law requirements, to protect both employees and employers alike. We love to hear from you, so call us on 0113 287 8150 or hit the Rescue Me button.

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