Thursday, May 1, 2008

Leadership Development on a Tight Budget

There was a question over on the ASTD discussion board that inspired me to write this post.

Pam asked: “I am looking for ideas to provide training with limited resources (space, money and staff)”.

It’s a great question. I’ll bet there’s a lot of small, one-person training departments and even big, global companies that need to run a lean organization that are looking for ways to train or develop leaders on the cheap.

I’m fortunate to presently work for a company that invests heavily in employee development. I’m fully staffed and resourced with all kinds of executive support and commitment. Given that, we’re still “fiscally conservative” – and I’m pretty frugal myself.

I had a different experience at my last company. I was responsible for employee and leadership development for a company that went from 80,000 employees to under 50,000 in the eight years I was there. The training department went from over 150 worldwide to under 20. So, I had to learn how to make do with “limited resources”. It was like living through a training and development depression, and those “doing more with less” habits are hard to break.

So here’s 10 methods I’ve learned to develop leaders (or employees) “on the cheap”. Please comment if you have other ideas.

1. Take the opportunity to educate leaders on how leaders develop. Share the classic Center for Creative Leadership research that shows the developmental impact of job changes, stretch assignments, and other people compared to formal training programs. Teach leaders how to write a good IDP (Individual development plan) that includes a variety of activities, not just costly training programs.

2. Use a web conferencing tool WebEx , or GoToMeeting. I’ve found just about any leadership development topic that’s taught in the classroom can be learned just as effectively using web conferencing. You’ll save on travel and time.

3. Start an internal coaching or mentoring program. Train volunteers on how to coach and mentor, and make them available to your high potentials or some other targeted audience.

4. Start a book review process. Get groups of managers together, assign a book, and facilitate discussions around content and application. 

5. Purchase an online library of training programs. Alright, not necessarily free, but relatively inexpensive when compared to expensive classroom alternatives.

6. Develop your own training materials. There’s so much good information out there these days, find it and take advantage of it. Or do your own internal research. Find out who’s the best at something, documents it, and teach it to others.

7. Use internal subject matter experts. Sales reps love hearing from top performing sales reps, managers from experienced managers, etc… They don’t have to be polished trainers. Panel discussions are another way to share internal expertise.

8. Teach managers to clarify performance expectations with their employees and provide feedback on a regular basis. A recent Corporate Executive Board study found that of all the possible things a manager could do to development employees and improve performance and engagement; these two activities had the highest payoff. And they’re free!

9. Start learning networks, or learning teams. Kind of a grand rounds approach to learning, like in the medical profession. Leaders (or engineers, sales reps) get together to share common problems and solutions. “Getting together” could be live or virtual, through discussion boards or blogs.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing your ideas on keeping learning initiatives going even with a reduced training budget. Leadership development is such an important part of a company's talent management strategy and really can't be ignored, especially when resources are limited. Thanks too for the list of resources you've provided. My local Borders Books will be glad to see me this weekend!


Dan McCarthy said...

Ken -
Hey, better yet, buy 'em cheaper used through Amazon!
Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Vyew is a web-conferencing platform you may want to try. It does real-time conferencing like Webex and GoToMeeting and it also has an always-on workspace for collaboration. It has a free version and two subscription services.

Eclecticity said...

Good summary of suggestions Dan. Thanks!

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks. Now if I could just figure out how to send my 2 daughters to college on the cheap.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan - Do you have any advice or guidelines about building your own training materials, especially any copyright issues?

I would build my own, but use them inside my company, not for commercial purposes. As long as I site people like Marshall Goldsmith and other is that ok?

Thanks Matthew

Dan McCarthy said...


Great question. When you’re designing leadership programs on the cheap, you can’t afford to buy expensive commercial material or pay to have it developed. You’re also wise to be very mindful of copyright. Copyright’s a murky area, but here’s some advice for you:
It depends what you mean by “use”. You can’t reproduce other’s material or use it in any of your printed material unless you get the author’s permission. Sometimes, even that’s not good enough; you have to get the publisher’s permission too. Marshall actually has free resources on his library site where he states “Please read, listen to, watch, download, copy and send this material to anyone in your company you think might benefit. Even better, please share with your favorite charity, spiritual or non-profit organization”.
One option for you is if you want to use material from a book, buy a book for everyone in your class. You still can’t reprint the material or use handouts, but you can talk about it, discuss it, or refer them to the section in the book.
You can also research a topic – do a Google search, read a lot of articles, maybe read a few books – until you come up with your own ideas, something that fit’s your company and audience. A test would be to compare your material side by side with your source material – they should not look similar.
Lastly, you may be able to find free material on the web that you can use internally, like businessballs . Again, check the copyright rules on the site to see if you need permission.

Hope that helps. Good luck!