Social networking. How to do more with less. Helping employees deal with trying times. Transforming the corporate culture. Finding what makes employees tick.

These are just some of the trends in training and professional development today.

When the economy was booming, corporations and individuals built businesses based, in large part, on training for employees that drove workers and the company to greater heights.

The financial quake of 2008 left deep economic fissures, and businesses began re-evaluating everything. In terms of training, the question became: Is it mission-critical?

"With the downturn in the economy, organizations really got a shock, and they pulled back extensively on investment in people, especially training investment," says Rosaleena Marcellus, principal partner of client solutions at Global Novations LLC in Sharonville. Her company, with more than 30 years in business, helps organizations develop talent.

Now, as the economy appears to be moving toward recovery, "what we've been seeing is some progressive organizations  have been holding their managers, holding senior leaders closely accountable for development of people "” through mentoring initiatives, coaching initiatives and on-the-job training," she says.

Daymond Cox, founder of the International Society of Six Sigma Certifications in Blue Ash, says smart organizations are using the economy's downtime to get stronger.

"Companies and individuals are no longer paying for, nor can they support in time away, long expensive training courses or professional development," Cox says. "They are looking for professional education and training that is focused, lean "” yet effective. Proactive companies have taken the time to prepare for their future and outpace their competition as we emerge from the recession."

In simple terms, Six Sigma is a complex business strategy that seeks to improve a company's output by minimizing the number of defects or errors in a product or process.

Cox is retired from the U.S. Army, which he describes as the largest Six Sigma implementation worldwide. Companies are using the process "to save lives, drive down costs, and improve service in all industries from health care to supply chain and finance."

That's especially critical in today's economy.

"Sell Our Way Out"

Lynn McInturf, principal of LMA, a Sandler Training franchisee, helps small to medium companies in Greater Cincinnati boost their sales.

Typically, as the economy tanks, the sales-training business picks up, she says, "because companies recognize that the only way to get out of a down economy is to invest in their salespeople."

From February to August 2009, "the faucet wasn't running as hard as it used to be," McInturf says. "People just stopped spending, period. But in the third and fourth quarters of last year, we had conversations with presidents, CEOs and owners, and they would say, "¢Hey, listen, we spent the first six months of this year cutting, cutting, cutting, cutting, cutting. We've cut every single expense in our business. There's nothing more to cut. Now, we need to take action and invest in our people because the only way out of this recession is to sell our way out of it.'"

Companies are spending again.

"But they are being more selective about who they are spending it on to make sure they have the trainable people in place to get the return on it," says McInturf, who has owned her company for 15 years.

Overcoming Obstacles

Tony Cipollone says companies are seeking ways to overcome any obstacles employees might have to change.

Cipollone is a senior consultant at InterPro Teambuilding Systems LLC. The 19-year-old organizational-development company in Wyoming specializes in change management and leadership development.

The typical problem areas include the company's culture, processes and organization.

"We look at different elements of the system," Cipollone says.

Training might be just part of the answer, says Cipollone, who's been in the training-development business more than 20 years. "Companies recognize that they need to do things differently, and they don't necessarily have the resources internally to deal with that."

It's especially crucial now for companies to devote the time and money to training.

"If the people don't have their heads in the game, then the change is not going to occur," he says.

Marcellus agrees: "We've been seeing a lot of requests for total transformation. Organizations are wanting to take advantage of this time to really look at their philosophies and strategies so that they can transform themselves and be much more agile and nimble in this marketplace."

Agility Crucial

As organizations of all sizes downsized over the last 2½ years, agility and nimbleness became essential. And not just for companies.

Workers left on the cutting-room floor are exploring training as a competitive edge.

"We are dealing with a lot of dislocated workers "” people trying to re-engineer their careers to get employment," says Dennis Ulrich, executive director of the Workforce Development Center at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. "Any program that has a certificate of some kind is very valuable."

"Green" energy, pharmaceutical technology and biotech programs are extremely hot areas, he says.

Through a $5 million BioOhio federal grant to six Ohio community colleges, Cincinnati State, along with partner Sinclair Community College in Dayton, is putting together a program to train 117 people in the pharmaceutical and medical-device industries and to provide lab skills. Those graduates will remain in the region at various biotech and pharmaceutical firms.

"We are trying to collaborate to control costs" and get as many people trained as possible, Ulrich says.

Cincinnati State's workforce center, based in Evendale, also works with more than 65 organizations to help employees develop new skills. That includes on-site training at companies including GE Aviation, St. Bernard Soap and Procter & Gamble as well as classroom training.

"When times are difficult, community colleges really rise to the challenge," he says.

Collection of Tools

Social networking is another area of training that is exploding, along with the technology that enables it.

Michael Loban, co-founder of InfoTrust LLC in Mason, which provides training on social media, search engine marketing and blogging and other internet tools, says his company is seeing strong demand.

"Social media and everything digital make it so simple for staff to manage a company's web presence," he says. Companies turn to his firm to get them started.

Social media can be a great marketing tool, "but it has to be carefully aligned with the company's general marketing strategy. There has to be a clear separation between social media and social media marketing," he says.

"Social media is a collection of tools, a communications platform. If you use it properly, it can become a great marketing platform."

A company can build a page on Facebook that leads customers to its website; then it becomes a matter of digital marketing and web analytics, Loban says.

InterPro's Cipollone agrees. He sees greater interest in how to master the use of technology.

"Certainly, companies are interested in doing online training or some kind of training where they can use technology," he says.

Change is never easy, so training firms devote time to researching how to make it less difficult for companies and their employees.

Chris Halter, co-founder of Focal Point Inc., College Hill, works with organizations ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to mom-and-pop businesses and sole proprietors.

Most of his company's clients are in Greater Cincinnati, New York City and Sweden.

Training is in transition, he says. Companies want to understand not just the behavior but what's behind the behavior. "Training was very mechanical and attempted to break the human down more into a commodity than a human being. Now, we take the person more holistically."

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, "people started to question their beliefs and their values," Halter says. "Employees, instead of asking what they were doing, started asking why they were doing it."

Then came the Great Recession. "The things that people valued and put their trust in were shaken," which affected the workplace, Halter says.

Companies also look to firms such as Halter's to find ways to reward employees other than with money. "They want to retain good employees, and they don't always have the financial piece to offer them. They're looking for other ways to satisfy them," he says.

Companies adopting a more "holistic" approach discovered flextime or arrangements such as allowing a worker to bring his dog to work are valued by employees, he says.

"That's a big part of it "” the satisfaction piece."

Halter adds: "People recognize change happens. Nobody can truly manage change. You can just manage yourself as things change."

Fewer Workers, Same Work

One nearly universal change is doing more with less.

Patricia Pope, CEO of Pope & Associates, a global consulting firm specializing in diversity, inclusion and cultural change since 1976, helps organizations understand what impact that having fewer workers doing the same amount of work has on relationships.

"While most people are happy to have a job right now, there tends to be more stress and less patience with one another," she says. "Effective managers recognize this and are more involved with their people to keep things running smoothly."

Cox, from the International Society of Six Sigma Certifications, says organizations are coming to his company to gain
efficiencies, yet also retain their employees.

"Poor implementation of Six Sigma takes the focus from improving the process and focuses on staff reduction," he says. "This approach is common, yet destructive. Our approach to driving down costs is not to reduce staff as a primary means of cost savings. Employees are most often your most valuable, and yet undervalued, asset on your books and in your company."

Cipollone says companies are launching reorganization initiatives to more efficiently handle the workload that's been left to a downsized staff.

"That kind of activity creates new teams," he says. That means employees must learn new roles and figure out how they fit into the new processes.
 
And that's music to the ears of the training and professional development industry.
 

  • Innovation: Companies are seeking new ways to do things in both processes and product development.
  • Informal training: Up to 80% of learning is gained through informal interactions. Organizations are looking for how to capture this information and formalize/disseminate it.
  • Training in support of business objectives: Stakeholders become business partners, so ideally, the learning environment becomes part of strategy development"”but it must be tied to the business strategy and help drive it.
  • Training focused on performance improvement: Training has a tighter integration with performance management systems and development plans. If tied in with career paths, it can boost employee retention by mapping out a potential future.
  • Web 2.0 tools and mobile learning: Greater collaboration and a focus on short bursts of just-in-time learning about new processes or products are becoming popular. Podcasts and other training delivered on mobile devices are growing.
  • Blended training: Conceptual content delivered via internet/intranet or a learning management system, coupled with an interactive or practical component, increases retention and improves performance.
  • Sales training and customer training: These speak to the core of the business and increase customer loyalty.
  • Employee retention/succession planning: This is a demographic issue that worsens as an improving economy opens new opportunities. To avoid future turnover, companies are asking for training on talent management.