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The Ways to Develop Your Staff - Keep Up To Date

We live in a fast-moving society where change is occurring at an increasing and totally unprecedented rate. New technologies enable products to develop and come on to the market in a fraction of the time it took less than a lifetime ago.

Vacuum cleaners and refrigerators developed in the United States in the early 1900s took 4 years to come to the sales counter. The postwar development of television and spin driers took only 8 years. In particularly volatile industries, such as electronics, it used to take 6 months, but the discovery of the micro -chip rocked the Swiss watch industry overnight. The bad news about development and progress is that if your subordinates are to be able to contribute positively to change and improvement in their own sphere of work, and in the organization as a whole, whether they are computer engineers, designers, salesmen, production workers, or teachers.

It is easy to get bogged down with current workload and never have time to see what is going on around you. The danger is that sooner or later you discover the hard way that nobody wants what you've been working away at anymore because it's been overtaken, or there are new and better ways to do it.

Part of your role as leader is to ensure that staff have the opportunity for up-dating. Share it with them as a priority. Encourage them to be more than just 'fire-fighters'; they might even discover a better extinguisher!

Take out corporate subscriptions to a good range of technical, professional and management journals - and resist the temptation to hang on to them yourself. If you find an especially good one, get more than one copy so that they circulate quickly, and ask someone to set up a proper circulation and chase-up system, with eventual storage at a central resource point.

You could set up a Rota for individuals to summarise particularly relevant articles and distribute copies of their notes to their colleagues and yourself. This will develop study and communication skills and is a good exercise for the kind of person who rushes around doing things all day, and rarely takes the time for reflection and thought. It also encourages the responsibility to share important technical data with colleagues - fostering a team approach.

If one of your staff shows a special interest in a new development, enable him or her to have time to follow it through with further research. There should be an end product, such as a report on how their results might be applied to their work.

Delegate to a small team the responsibility for setting up a resource library in your section. Allocate them a budget and let them scan current material, liaise with colleagues, and \determine their own acquisition policy. There may be other collections of data elsewhere in the organization. Suggest they network with other sections in arranging mutual access and joint purchases of more expensive materials.

Review what access you or your boss might have to other sources of data, such as specialist committees in professional institutes, or technical working parties. Where possible, share this with your team or make it available to their resource library.

Encourage people to take up membership of professional and technical institutes and societies. Even if they are not yet qualified, associate or student membership usually gives access to central libraries and other sources of information. Your company's corporate membership should enable large numbers of employees to benefit from facilities.

Most forward-looking professional institutes have started a policy of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and have made it a requirement that their members undertake a specified number of hours' training and development each year. This need not imply formal courses. It can include project work, seminars, individual study and research. Give your staff the facilities and a set amount of time each month to plan a programme of CPD activities as a team. Suggest ways in which existing projects could contribute to their development programme. Participate in their monthly training sessions by gibing presentations from time to time. Find out what the company training officer can do to facilitate your staff's CPD programme, perhaps through training contacts in other organizations.

Look out for seminars, exhibitions and conferences and ensure that a fair distribution of employees attend, instead of the few who always seem to know what is on and have time to go - the professional conference attenders. It is often more effective to send more than one person, so that they can compare notes and potentiate each other's benefit from the experience. Afterwards ask them to present a verbal and /or written report for the benefit of yourself and their colleagues at the next briefing meeting, or at a special meeting if it is important enough.

If you establish efficient ways of enabling employees to remain up to date, and make it a priority by allocating adequate time and money to it, you will be developing them in numerous ways, but you will also find that they keep you up to date too with the minimum of effort on your part. With the time you save, you could take out a subscription to a couple of good training journals and keep yourself informed on what training and development methods other organizations are using effectively.
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