Personnel Development – Is It Worth the Cost?

                 There is a gentleman I talk with occasionally who has a viewpoint 180 degrees from my own. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him Sam.  Sam believes (quite strongly) that personnel development is not his problem.  Personnel development in this instance means cross-functional training, leadership training or any other non-direct work-related education.  Sam’s stance is his employees are being paid to do their jobs. Their job is to service Sam’s customers – basically provide excellent customer service.  Sam owns his business which provides regulatory support for blue collar companies.   Sam doesn’t really care about his employee’s personal development or desires.  Sam explained to me that if you remove the emotion from the equation, it boils down to doing your job.  It is the emotional part he refuses to be involved with. 

                Sam’s opinion is one that may be rather divisive.  It goes against the grain to suggest that employee satisfaction is irrelevant.  He has some supporters however because it is cheaper and easier to take this position.  If all an organization provides is job-specific training and only an expectation of job fulfillment, there is a reduction in overall cost to the company.  However, as John Marshall Reeve states in Understanding Motivation and Emotion “People are motivationally complex.”  In essence, people want to be challenged (but not overwhelmed) with positive feedback to support their efforts and competence.  Sam’s position does not provide a challenge, feedback or support. So while he may save money he is not getting optimal work from his employees; although Sam’s profession is one where it may not matter.

                To put it bluntly, I disagree with Sam.  I believe companies are finding the more empowered and supported employees are, the more they engage in the company itself.  Companies need to have an edge in today’s global economy and that edge is sometimes the people who are working in the company.  Everyone has ideas and improvements that, if fostered, could mean a breakthrough for the organization.  Employees, who have the ability to learn, grow and have their input valued, may provide some of the best cost-savings!   We all enjoy feeling important by applying our particular skills and talents to problems. Also it is proven that in this ever changing world, the more leaders work together and support employees towards strategic goals, the better the results. My question back to Sam is: aren’t your people worth it?  I know mine are.

          Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team


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  1. #1 by Ikonographi on July 24, 2012 - 2:05 pm


    A very interesting topic to say the least; and rather valid in today’s soci-economic environment. You and I both matured under a system that not only encouraged, but dictated a program for personal development; not only in ourselves, but in the people we led afloat and ashore. It did not take me long to realize upon my entrance into the civil sector, how uncommon this philosophy is.

    Let’s be honest; the highest “class” in a truly capitalistic society are the owners…those who assemble the ideas, resources, capital, and yes, staff to execute a profiable enterprize. Yes, this society exists within the confines of a government that is not profit driven…and is protected by a military which is also not profit driven…however, they themselves often influence the application of both.

    Owners realize that their enterprize is either a short term investment, or the seed from which a legacy will grow. Companies such as Pratt & Whitney, GE, Apple, etc…all know that what makes a company sustainable over not just twenty years, but decades, is a strong and loyal employee base. This isn’t a “feel good” emotional component, but a practical one…

    …skilled trades and labor require years of training, experience and certification to create a quality employee. Unless you’re running some service industry where the maximum skill level can be met by a recent grad in a few days, a ‘Pro-Dev’ program is essential.

    Where the concept gets “off the rails” is when is diverges from skills required to perform one’s job, to expensive, time consuming efforts to “fool” employees into beleiving that they are on a egalitarian footing with the owner. To an extent, “Sam” is correct…ultimately, he will cut someone loose if their presence consumes more resources than it creates. However, I’ve met no serious business leader who expects an employee to provide profitable work product without some form of “pipeline”.

    There are “exceptions”; I work for a small technology firm where most everyone…from bottom to top…is a specialist in their field; many if not all came to the job with something already in the “bag” that the company needed. Certainly, it takes time to accquaint someone with the unique operations of what we do…it took me two years to develop the expertise to assume my current role. However, promotion, lateral or otherwise is rare…if not stagnate…and you know what? Most of us don’t see that as a negative. For my own part, I consider myself to part of an “elite” team of manufacturing, engineering, logistics and sales professionals who have carved out a spot against international competitors with thousands of “conscripts” as compared to our thirty or so “warriors”.

    Movement within our team usually means that someone went “up and out”…or just “out”. In a larger enterprize, the rotations are quicker; ideally, a company can generate promotable personnel from within…that takes time. Part of the reluctance among owners to foster this mentality is the fact that all to often they spend five years “growing” a middle manager or foreman, only to have that person leave for “personal” reasons…leaving a hole that must be filled not in years, but ASAP. Under these circumstances, it can be far more efficient to bring in outside talent for key positions, while maintaining a base of relatively stable, but conversely “frozen” employees.

    This is an area we as a national economy should pay attention to as it is a relatively “new” concept…perhaps “guilds” aren’t such a bad idea after all 🙂

  2. #2 by The Professional Development Team on July 24, 2012 - 4:01 pm

    Sam isn’t necessarily out to lunch with his thoughts. He has presented his opinion to several Boards of Directors who thoroughly enjoyed his postion. In fact his stance would make life a lot easier for many HR leaders! However, I don’t think his system is sustainable if Sam wants a business to last longer than his tenure as owner. Generationally speaking, Generation X and especially Millenials expect personal development from their employers. Statistics prove that if an employer is not providing that type of environment, the younger generations will find another place to work. This doesn’t necessarily mean movement through the ranks either. If you look at your own situation, promotion isn’t required. If we apply the tenets mentioned from John Marshall Reeve’s book, you are being challenged, given support and credence to your competence. Look out Josh – they are motivating you!

  3. #3 by Roy on July 25, 2012 - 10:13 am

    Interesting article to say the least. Personnel Development, I believe in the long run or for sustainability over time, is necessary and extremely vital in order for a company to remain competitive and profitable. Every company/organization is looking for the best talent and… the best talent is lookig for a company/organization that can/will assist with their professional growth. What an organization must do is weigh the cost/benefits and decide and come up with a plan of how to role out a Personnel Development Strategy.

  4. #4 by on July 26, 2012 - 8:41 am

    When I walked in this morning, there was bookshelf full of books, a stocked fridge and kitchen, and a calm place for me to wake up before actually starting work…. at work. The managers buffer and take care of the individuals while letting them manage their productivity and schedule around their “bandwidth”. I would say everyone is always working on the same team while managers steer the operation. Should we need a new skill in the office, we learn it. We also use technology differently – it just works, you don’t see people complaining about a “locked computer” or an “IT policy”.

    Costs are important to focus on and so is the $, but growth is what an environment, culture, and a diverse team bring to the table.

    I’m born in 81′.

    • #5 by The Professional Development Team on July 26, 2012 - 9:59 am

      Brian, do you think that type of environment you enjoy would be value-added for people who worked in a blue-collar job? Just throwing out this question to see what you think.

      • #6 by veteran22 on July 26, 2012 - 2:43 pm

        Yes, the concept is applicable, the type of “break/escape/tangible rewards will be slightly altered to accomodate blue-collar workers and their environment. Take a construction site for instance – it’s outdoors, loud, dangerous —so calm is out of the question….or is it…. there could be a time when construction for one team stops, and they take a legitimate break where they can have lunch, talk and be provided recognition. Value may be seen in a better quality of work and the individual has a great sense of satisfaction. In other words, a WIN-WIN.

  5. #7 by Ray Wheeler, DMin on July 26, 2012 - 5:52 pm

    Sam’s company sounds like one I once worked in…like Sam that owner believed that developing his employees was a waste of resources. We were able to show however that the reduction in turnover, reduced regulatory complaints/fines, reduced cost per transaction achieved by better recruitment and training and reduced absenteeism all helped the bottom line of the business. In fact the cost of the initiatives to address these areas had an ROI of $100 for every $1 spent in that industry that had never considered employee development to be worth the time. The hidden costs of poor productivity, employee sabotage and turnover for example are not difficult to monetize. So called soft skills involved in employee development used in small privately own firms are often low cost yet highly significant ways to increase revenue to the bottom line.

    • #8 by The Professional Development Team on July 26, 2012 - 8:49 pm

      Ray, Ironically this exact topic has come up a few times in my master’s course discussions. We all struggle with quantifying the soft skill cost or impact. How do you place a metric for employee sabotage? If you just monitor productivity, how can you directly relate personnel development to a decrease in poor productivity? I have found so many instances where an increase in productivity is readily attributed to any other variable than training.

      • #9 by Ray Wheeler, DMin on July 27, 2012 - 10:43 am

        Yes I get that. The difficulty is often poorly framed training objectives and limited thought given to knowledge transfer. The reality is that ad hoc training to improve productivity happens all the time in manufacturing for example. An engineer watches the line, times processes, determines gaps, designs new processes and trains the line all so the parts per man hour improve hence costs are reduced and bottom line revenue is enhanced. The absent piece in “soft skill” training is this same kind of efficiency metric. There are ways to reliably assess employee commitment, contribution, conviction, alignment to culture and confidence (iOpener assessment for example). With a bench mark in employee orientation training can aim at the gaps and remeasure improvement.

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