Following on from Becky Mee’s blog ‘6 top tips to help SMEs break traditional training rules’, our client Laura Morris from Trinity McQueen discusses her company’s approach to training.
By Laura Morris
Trinity McQueen are a medium-sized market research agency employing 40 people across two offices in Leeds and London. Our business is fast-paced and varied, with clients across a range of sectors from retail to consumer technology and media. One minute our people can be out researching film advertising, the next minute they could be looking at the customer journey of taking out a funeralcare plan (no, really!).
Because of the fast-paced and creative nature of our work, like many other research agencies of our size, we have an informal company culture in which teamwork plays a huge part. We are a relatively young company and we have an ethos of ensuring business gets done in a fun and relaxed environment.
Our people are our greatest asset (after all, we don’t sell widgets we sell our thinking!) and therefore investing in developing their skills and capabilities is fundamental to delivering on our promise to our clients and unlocking the talent and full potential of our people.
Because of our culture and the unique nuances of our business, we adopt a varied approach when it comes to learning and development. Formal training is certainly a part of what we do but by no means the only avenue. Here are just some examples of the more creative and informal aspects of what we do:
Monthly ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions
These are informal, hour-long lunchtime sessions led by someone in the business regardless of level– junior or board director. The idea is the presenter imparts a useful bit of knowledge or thinking on a topic that could help us all as researchers. Recent topics have ranged from a highly practical session on Microsoft office shortcuts to an introduction to ‘Regulatory Focus Theory’ and ‘How to apply Behavioural Economics to Research’.
As well as the wide range of topics, the free lunch is no doubt another drawcard!
These are a recent development in the business based on our recognition of a need for much punchier and more regular inspiration sessions. Taking it in turns across the company, each person has 5-10 minutes to share a trend, a bit of inspiration or some theory on any topic they are passionate about. The whole business huddles round to listen in. Sessions have varied from ‘Dealing with difficult clients diplomatically’ to ‘Changing the perceptions of the Market Research Industry’. All sessions are filmed so that anyone out of the office can catch up at any time. At the end of the huddle we have a group discussion on the implications for our business or how we do our research.
These sessions really get people thinking. It also gives our more junior members of staff an opportunity to practice their presentation skills on a friendly internal audience. We’ve been really taken aback by just how well our young graduates and executives have risen to the challenge!
Another plus is that they are short sessions so the task of preparing the content is a welcome creative challenge rather than a daunting, time-consuming one.
We encourage all our employees to invest in their own private learning and development. The MRS (Market Research Society) recently ran a series of webinars on back to research basics, which we signed up to as a business at a relatively low cost. The webinars can be watched in someone’s own time and slotted in when it suits them. If there’s enough demand we huddle round a laptop / TV screen and watch the session as a group to spark debate.
We also use webinars to deliver our IT security training where we need formal records that everyone has watched and absorbed the content.
Where we can, we encourage our employees to go along to specialist marketing or research conferences to hear best practice case studies and papers from other agencies and clients. Recent conferences have included the annual MRS conference, and 1-day conferences on Kids & Youth research and Travel research. In return for their attendance we ask our people to write a blog post summarising the main themes of the conference and to live blog on our social media channels.
Doing this helps to ‘bake in’ their learning even further. It’s also a chance to step out of the office and network with industry peers.
When it comes to more formal training we use a mixture of trusted external experts and some of the seniors within our own business to deliver this. We recognise that there are times when training simply must be done offsite and for dedicated 1 or 2-day periods in a group context. Training is tailored to suit our business strategy and helping to develop the behaviours and competencies we want our people to demonstrate. Taking this time out of the office to reflect, collaborate and learn via an external trainer is invaluable. Our people have reported that they really enjoy these sessions and we’ve seen a noticeable improvement in their confidence afterwards.
Our advice to other SMEs would be to be creative: think about your culture, your people and what would work best for them. Try out different approaches and get feedback from people. And if they don’t quite hit the mark, don’t be afraid to try alternatives. Don’t forget that your own people can be some of the best trainers and often really enjoy the process of cascading their knowledge and experience down to others. Factor this into your senior employees’ objectives and encourage a culture of sharing and learning. It’s a virtuous circle.
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