You’re busy, busy, busy. So is your staff. There are skills and competencies that they need (or want) to develop, but you don’t have the budget to send them off to some three-day training seminar. Or maybe that’s not even an option for the content or experience you’re looking to develop. Or you’ve been there, done that. What to do?! Relax! There are actually lots of things you could do, right now, to develop your employees. And many of them won’t cost you a dime. Here are five ideas to get you started:

  1. Let them fly solo. By reading books or blogs, listening to podcasts or audio books, watching educational videos on TED  or YouTube, or apprenticing and trying to practice a new skill with a master or a role model, employees can use self-directed learning anytime and almost anywhere. Libraries, online resources, and other employees are all examples of freely available resources that are all around us. Let your employees assess their learning readiness and learning style, and choose some self-directed development goals to achieve.
  2. Encourage volunteering. Employees who take on volunteer roles are able to build new skills and practice existing skills in a different setting from their day-to-day jobs. They can try something that is different from their usual work and bring back those skills to their current job, thereby adding value by improving their current job performance. Volunteering usually takes place on employees’ own time and doesn’t require anything but your moral support.
  3. Facilitate mentoring. Whether acting in the role of the mentor or the protégé, participating in a mutually-beneficial mentoring relationship (within or outside your organization) allows employees to develop a variety of new knowledge and skills and takes no resources (except a little bit of time). Employees can learn tricks of the trade and technical information as well as develop ‘softer’ competencies such as leadership, networking and partnering, coaching and listening skills.
  4. Give time for creativity. Allow employees to work on something that doesn’t fall within the parameters of their day-to-day job for a specific amount of time—a dedicated “Innovation/Creativity Zone”. During this time, employees can chase down an idea, do an experiment, or conduct research. The only requirement is that the employees report back what they have accomplished during that dedicated chunk of time away from work. Companies like Google, Facebook, Atlassian, 3M and Twitter, among many others, have used this method to not only allow employees to develop their own creativity and problem-solving skills in a hands-on way, but to realize organizational benefits in the form of new solutions and products.
  5. Promote social networking. Employees can collaborate with others using various online tools to share knowledge, build relationships, and interact with content and with other members of the online community. Also known as Learning 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0, these tools allow learners to learn independently, more quickly, and more efficiently, and to be more productive and effective as a result. Most of the content in these systems is user generated and user rated for interest, relevance, and helpfulness. There are lots of externally available social networking platforms we all use and love like LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube, as well as firewall-protected enterprise network solutions like Jive, Microsoft SharePoint, and Yammer

 

Additional Resources:In my upcoming book, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ASTD Press, 2012) , I describe these and six other creative employee development methods that help you keep your budget and time investment to a minimum. Dan Pink describes the Creativity Zone idea in his 2010 book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us . And excellent resources on Learning 2.0 ideas and tips are Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner’s The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media (2010), Meister and Willyerd’s The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today (2010) , and Jane Bozarth’s Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning (Essential Tools Resource; 2010) .

What are ways you’ve developed your employees’ knowledge and skills without spending an arm and a leg? I’d love to hear your ideas, stories, and questions in the blog comments below!