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6 Ways You Can Develop Your Team Even on a Shoestring Budget

Just because your budget has been cut doesn't mean your team should cease to grow.

In our last article, Five Reasons to Emphasize Career Development during Sequestration, we painted a picture of a federal executive who looked to career development to retain employees to meet the agency mission.  Now, imagine you are a supervisor in the same agency.  Like your leadership, you recognize the devastating impact of critical vacancies and skill gaps and the importance of implementing career development programs for your employees.  But what can you do with your very tight budget? 

First, as a supervisor, be intentional about career development and find ways to align your employee’s goals to your organization’s mission to achieve results.  Start with individual development plans (IDP) and help your employees map a comprehensive training program to develop specific competencies.  Aligning these resources is an important and effective way to link an employee’s career goals and the skills your agency needs.  To help get this process started, here are six inexpensive actions you can take to leverage resources and strategically focus on career development. 

1. Talk to your employees:  Don’t let the yearly performance review be the only time you have an in-depth conversation. Have frequent career development conversations and focus on developing skills and career advancement. Spend a few minutes talking to your employees each week.  Periodically make time to have targeted, thoughtful conversations around their skills and aspirations.   Understand their goals and think about how to align them with your organization’s needs. Then identify opportunities where they can develop in ways that satisfy both of you.

2. Develop effective plans: Creating developmental plans is one of the easiest ways you can build engagement, increase performance, and improve dedication among your employees. When your employees focus on development, they grow their skills. This allows them to support your mission more effectively. What’s more, when your employees feel they have development opportunities, they are more likely to feel engaged and motivated. Using the IDP process to guide career development is both cost effective and high impact. 

3. Leverage what you have: First, take stock of your agency’s training and development resources so that you don’t have to recreate the wheel. Sharing information and materials across divisions is a really effective way to save time, energy, and precious resources.  If your agency has a mentoring program, encourage your employees to use it.  If not, help them reach out to someone with strong skills in an area they would like to develop.  

Then, go beyond your agency and consider the career development tools and resources other federal agencies use.  Explore agency websites; look for free or low cost training opportunities; don’t be afraid to ask folks on the bus or in your carpool for suggestions.  Identify free online events or webinars that multiple employees can join. The bottom line: explore what other agencies are doing and see what might work for you. While there is no “one size fits all” approach, there certainly are pieces you can leverage across agencies.

4. Share information: If you do send employees to a course, have them share what they learned with the rest of your group.  This not only maximizes your “bang for the buck,” but also helps reinforce what the employee learned, giving them a chance to enhance their development.  Similarly, maybe you can host a brownbag lunch series where agency experts share their knowledge and train others.

Developing accessible web resources is another cost effective strategy for sharing and retaining knowledge. Explore whether there are forums that might be helpful or consider starting your own. Encourage employees to share relevant articles and research. Some say information is power. Find ways to share it!

5. Look for allies:  As you pay closer attention to career development, you will likely run into big needs that may be difficult for you to address on your own – for example, defining career paths and competencies, developing new training or creating tools and systems to support employees.  Rather than trying to address these expensive needs in isolation, find allies across your agency and possibly across government.  Collaboratively and systematically pool your scare resources to address larger needs. 

6. Take your time: Remember the old adage “time is money”? With career development, taking your time can actually save money. An effective career development program won’t happen overnight and rushing it will likely end up costing more money (for example, think about the cost of revising courses not designed well or rushing someone off to “training” without determining whether the training really meets their needs or  yours). Spend some time identifying your workforce needs and planning the best strategy.  Identify courses known to be effective and tailor other developmental opportunities to your workforce. Design a solid plan; then move full steam ahead!

Career development is a powerful – and affordable – way to engage your workforce and deliver results especially in tough times.  When agencies are facing severe budget cuts, it is more important than ever to have a well-trained, high-performing workforce.  Finding ways to maximize available funding, while at the same time leveraging free resources are effective steps you can take to enhance career development, even with a limited budget.

Jacob Flinck and Nicole Benn are Senior Consultants specializing in career development and talent management at Federal Management Partners, Inc.