How Expensive Is FREE in Corporate Leadership Development

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One of the greatest challenges I have ever faced since the beginning of my business in the Czech Republic in 2010 was people’s deep conviction that professional education, such as skill and leadership development, should be paid not by themselves, but by their companies. In other words, they should get their professional education FOR FREE.

Compared to North America, where quality education as the road to personal and professional advancement is paid for by individuals from the very beginning (with companies intervening only later and rather scarcely), in Europe this mentality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Nurtured by generous social states that pay for education from kindergarten to university from taxpayers’ money, people don’t get used to pulling money out of their own pocket to advance their own education, careers, and lives.

What’s worse, because of heavy engineering and manufacturing traditions that are still prevalent in many EU countries, and because of the slow transition into services, many Europeans continue to believe that formal education ends with getting a university diploma.

“Does my employer want anything else from me on top of what I have learnt in school? They should pay for it,” the mentality goes.

Maybe – just maybe – one could get by with this mentality until retirement in a pre-pandemic world, even though the speed of change was visible then, too. But in the post-pandemic world, where the speed of tech adoption is head-spinning, I am afraid to say that the cost of FREE, aka the cost of our expectations that companies should pay for our growth, has gone through the roof.  

Here is why.

REASON 1: COMPANIES ARE CUTTING COSTS ON PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT

Confronted with the record inflation of 2022-2023, companies have been cutting deeply even in strategic areas such as sales, marketing, and people development.

This means that now companies are sending fewer people to fewer real and thorough educational opportunities.

As well, many more companies are trying to organize their own internal educational platforms and systems, which is good as long as these systems are set with not only the company's, but also people’s long term best interest in mind.

Here is another funny thing.

The other day I was reading on Violeta Luca, the Microsoft Czech Republic & Slovakia’s CEO's profile on LinkedIn that “fresh results of the IDC survey among Czech and Slovak organizations confirmed the top 3 most important business priorities for the next 12 months are:

  1. reducing operational and/or product costs and improving efficiencies (66% of organizations);
  2. empowerment and development of people plus talent acquisition (51%);
  3. cybersecurity, especially improving detection and resilience capabilities (43%).”

Now let’s make an exercise of imagination. If companies need to cut costs (including into learning & development), and yet they need talented and skilled people, how do you think they will achieve that and where do you think they will find those people? 

Yup, you're right.

One way to do that is to use the pretense of crisis and company restructuring to unload dead weight that is resistant to learning and change anyway, then to hire fresh brains from the market who have already been trained elsewhere.

Who trained them? Maybe their previous companies.

But, if these people are truly high learners, the probability is super high that in the past they had paid for their own development - for the skills that continue to make them employable even on a labor market in crisis - by themselves.

REASON 2: THE TRAINING IS DESIGNED FOR YOUR COMPANY, NOT FOR YOU

The second risk that I am noticing is that if – I emphasize IF – you ever get sent to a development program paid by your company, that program has been most probably tailored to suit your organization, not you.

You get sent to a program when you get sent, not when you yearn for it. The timing of your leadership development calendar will not take into account your autonomy or how much you already have on your plate.

Nope. When your company pays for the training, you should be grateful that you receive it at all.

As I trainer, I dread such situations.

Because the training is not taking people’s reality into account, I often have to deal with absenteeism, low engagement and, more recently, multitasking (lack of focus, cameras off even after numerous calls to engagement, or jumping in and out of online training because of a burning meeting).

As a trainer, I can’t force people to focus and learn.

What I can do is to make my sessions as engaging as possible (my rates of real online course participation are 95% and higher for the whole duration of a session). I can also explain people what’s in it for them.

But I can’t, by no means, compensate for the bad timing and the poor choice of topic by their HR business partner.

REASON 3: THE INTERNAL DEVELOPMENT FRAMEWORK MIGHT BE TOO NARROW TO PREPARE YOU FOR THE FUTURE

Last but not least, I also notice a strong focus on company-centric, productivity-now centric development frameworks.

These are great to keep people aligned, focused on what needs to be done within the next quarter, and nurture the company culture.

But it has a dark side. Such education also keeps people focused too narrowly on skills that need to yield now, and that don’t prepare them for the high winds that blow on the market outside the company walls, in case something happens with the company and people need to be laid off.

ARE YOU TRULY READY TO ACCEPT THE COST OF FREE?

To sum it up, the cost of FREE in corporate leadership development for you is made of three parts:

  1. You may never get it, because your company has been cutting costs.
  2. When you do get it, it might not fit your priorities and learning needs.
  3. Because of that, even if you go through a company-specific training, you are still vulnerable outside, on the open market.

In 2022 I invested over 30 000 EUR in my own executive trainer, mentor, and coach education.

In fact, thoughout my life, except for my father and the Romanian state until I graduated university in 2004, no one has ever paid a dime for my education. And yet, the whole foundation of my business and quality of life is grounded in my own professional and entrepreneurial education.

When we fail to understand that by choosing the illusory FREE – aka going to training / mentoring / coaching only when our company has budget for it – we make ourselves unbearably vulnerable to the vagaries of a high-tide market, we put not only our career growth, but our future, our families, our long term prosperity and our well-being on the line.

Given the high tides we are set to face in 2023, I hope that more and more people in Europe will come to understand this truth.

LOOKING TO GROW IN YOUR CAREER? CHECK OUT OUR 1-1 EXECUTIVE MENTORING PROGRAM WITH A COACHING APPROACH FOR WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP NEVER WALK ALONE AND BOOK A CALL WITH US TO EXPLORE YOUR TAILOR-MADE, HIGHLY INDIVIDUALIZED DEVELOPMENT OPTIONS.

 

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