The importance of continued learning and up-skilling in 2021.
14th April 2021 by Brielle Hewitt
It’s a cliche to say that the best investment you can make is in yourself, but only because it’s true. The last year has made it abundantly clear that the ability to learn and adapt can be the difference between life and death for many companies. The shift to a remote-first culture means companies and individuals must now keep pace with a global level of competition.
Meanwhile, the rate of technological change adds a further complication – as new and better ways of doing things continually emerge, the spoils will increasingly go to those who are best able to adapt to new technologies. Everyone else, meanwhile, will find themselves in the same place as Alice In Wonderland’s Red Queen – running as fast as they can just to stay in the same place. As legendary executive Arie De Geus liked to say, the only sustainable competitive advantage may be the ability to learn faster than your competitors.
In light of this, upskilling and continual education doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as it deserves. Too often it is seen as a cost or even a liability, rather than the core necessity it should be. The focus is frequently on tick-box training for compliance purposes rather than enhancing a firm’s most valuable asset – its people. We held an interactive webinar with The Broker Club to discuss why.
The value of a good education
When we looked at why learning and development is so often overlooked, One reason immediately sprang out. Fundamentally, decision makers struggle to assign a value to training their staff. This emerges in two ways.
The first is the misplaced belief that investment in training is throwing good money after bad, as staff will take the training, then leverage it to find a higher-paying role elsewhere. This may be true in some cases – and is often protected against with clawback arrangements – but it also points to a simple lack of understanding around motivation.
“When we talk about learning, development, training, coaching, we’re really talking about people and how to maximise their performance and fulfilment,” said Paul Adams, founder of True Reflection Coaching. “If people within an organisation are disengaged then the turnover of staff is often very high, So, a lack of learning and development can be a huge cost on an organisation.”
He added that highly trained and motivated staff are (unsurprisingly) shown to lead to greater performance in study after study. Even if stifling the development of your staff leads to an increase in retention in the short term, it ultimately leads to increased cost and lower performance.
The other way the value problem manifests itself is when it comes to soft skills. Firms struggle to assign a value to training in areas like communication, leadership and management. The clawback arrangements we mentioned above are frequently applied to formal professional qualifications because it is relatively easy to assign a value to, say, a qualified accountant versus a trainee, but what is the value of a good manager?
Ironically, soft skills could well be more valuable than hard ones, as they become increasingly important as people move up the chain in their firm, and especially for Compliance and Risk professionals who may spend a large percentage of their time having difficult conversations, and dealing with ever increasing external pressures.
Indeed, Warren Buffet likes to say the most important qualification he ever earned was a $100 public speaking course, and when we asked members of the session to name the most impactful piece of training they had ever received, the first one mentioned was a course in transactional analysis – a psychoanalytic theory frequently used to improve communication and conflict resolution.
Development must be top down AND bottom up
Reorienting your firm or career to be more learning-focused offers huge benefits, and those who have the greatest success with it often find that its implementation must be both top-down and bottom up.
Trying to convince leadership to invest in ongoing development is an uphill battle if they cannot see the benefit, but if those at the top have experienced its value for themselves, they are far more likely to make it a part of the firm’s culture. But this is not about building a factory line, and management must resist the urge to be overly prescriptive in its training. There will of course be professional qualifications staff need to attain, but Adams said the highest levels of performance and engagement came from staff who were actively directing their own development.
“Until you know what interests your staff has, what strengths they have, where they’d like to go in their career, it’s very hard to start thinking about a learning and development plan,” he said.
He added that this also requires leadership, as often young staff will come into a firm with the attitude of wanting to be directed in what they should do to improve their value and advance.
For those working in firms where there is a weak culture of learning and development, employees often found it was best to frame it in cost benefit terms. Decision makers can find it easier to grasp the value if a request for training is explained in terms of the value it will generate for the firm or the pain it will alleviate.
The opportunities for learning are greater than ever
The average person still has no conception of the education opportunities facing them. It is often noted that the average 13 year old with a smartphone in 2016 had access to more information than Bill Clinton did when he was president. For those willing to grasp that opportunity, the potential upside is enormous.
What we need is a direction and a guide. This is where top down and bottom up can help, but we should also look to our peer group as a source of feedback and support. Events such as those run by the broker club can be a great way to keep up-to-date with the latest thinking across the industry.
Of course, willingness to embrace and engage with technology can be a key advantage here too. Finding a partner that can leverage the latest technological developments to help you and your firm perform better is a crucial way to stay ahead of the curve. For more information on how we can bring your compliance to the cutting edge, please contact us, for a chat about how we can support your firm: