Ignoring the view of CFOs, I would like to mention the value of investing in the development of staff. For many years I was an Executive Director of an organization that had the schedule flexibility to allow me to implement a policy that would encourage staff to continue their professional development. The policy was simple. The organization would allow staff half-a-day a week to continue their formal education on any subject that they wanted. It had to be formal, meaning that they had to receive some kind of certificate, diploma or degree. In addition to that, if that subject had a direct relationship to their daily work, the organization would consider supporting their studies financially depending on the cost and the financial capacity. As a result, I, and other staff members pursued Masters degrees, Project Management Certification, a Bachelors degrees, a culinary arts specialization and barista training.
My reasoning behind this was simple. Without fail, every time, the organization benefited from those of us on staff who continued our education.
Staff that are being further developed bring new ideas and insights that they want to implement. Those ideas are fresh, and if the education is formal and of quality, they are stemming from best practices. Oftentimes, we on staff can get stuck doing things a certain way, because "that's the way they have always been done." One of the best ways to break that cycle is to have others speak to us about better ways to operate. This is especially important for those of us in leadership roles, because there is nothing automatic about a leadership role that suddenly makes us more knowledgeable about best practices. We, of course, have to be open to learning from our own staff... but that's another post, another day.
Staff that are being developed, tend to value the opportunity to continue learning and appreciate the organization for allowing them to further their education. This can result in very positive morale and a reduction of staff turnover. Both of these have a very direct correlation to productivity. Staff that are happy with their organization and are growing in their role will be more productive, and the organization will be more successful.
People who love what they are learning, also love sharing insights about what they are learning with others. This will allow the organization as a whole to learn new things, and can create a sort of domino effect. Others want to learn, so they too can have things to teach. As an anecdote, one of my favorites moments was when a staff member who was taking a barista course wanted to try new coffee drink recipes on me. As I write this, I remember one specific drink he brought to my office, which was exceptional. For the first and last time of my professional career, I had a staff member who would bring me coffee to my office. I could say the same about the staff member who was taking cooking classes and wanted me to try some of the new recipes he was learning. To be honest, most of my favorite moments with regards to this policy were centered around food.
A fourth benefit, which addresses the hypothetical concern of the CFO in the above quote is this. Staff will leave. That's just a reality. I am one of those odd leaders that actually hope for their sake, that one day staff outgrow their role. I often tell staff, "I don't believe in lifers." That is, I don't believe that a person will work for me or the organization that I lead for the rest of their life. The organization I led at the time when I implemented this policy had only twelve staff, and therefore very few opportunities to move up the ladder. I have found that many people who do the same job for many years, don't actually expand their future opportunities, but their opportunities become more narrow. This might make them stay because they are stuck and can't move forward, and not necessarily because they still have a passion and a vision for the mission of the organization. Personally, that motivation is not one that I want in my staff. I want people who love what they do, and want to be the best at doing it, for the time they are with us.
It is always my goal that the exit door of any organization that I lead be wider than the entrance door. I want people to leave because they have greater opportunities ahead of them. Without fail, I saw the value of having people grow out of our organization to do great things in other places. I'll even be honest and say that I envied some of the wonderful opportunities of those staff members. Having them look back on the organization I was in as a stepping stone to the greater things they accomplished later,was much more valuable than it would have been had they looked back and considered it the greatest obstacle to their growth. Now, I had champions for the organization in great roles, and not people who resented their years there.
This week, I am at a training. This training was provided to me by two different organizations. The organization in which I am employed by, and an organization that I am on the Board of. Both organizations believed that helping me further my capacity would be of great benefit to them, and to the people I lead. I can say openly, I don't believe in lifers. That means, I may not be with either of the organizations 25 years from now, but as the above quote says, think of how much worse it would be if I was, and didn't receive any further training during that time. Invest in your staff. Invest in people. It may cost money, but the return on investment will be much higher than what you will obtain, if you choose not to invest.