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Slash and Learn?

Also in today’s USA Today is an op-ed piece by Fast Company founding editor Alan Webber. Webber recounts how executive development is often one of the first programs cut during a downturn as leaders look for short-term quick-fix ways to eliminate “non-essential” investments.

While the economy seems to be starting to stir again, Webber indicates that little of the uptick has reached workers yet — suggesting that rather than hire, organizations would rather nurse still more productivity gains from the people who’ve remained employed. But the most interesting part of his commentary is the parallel he draws to the ’70s.

Then, as American manufacturers faced increasing competition from Japan, they focused on what Webber terms “financial engineering” rather than innovation and quality. Now we face increasing competition from China and India, and Webber contends that the current cuts in leadership development are short sighted and — in the end — undermining American business.

During last year’s Company of Friends Roadshow, Laurie Bassi, chairwoman of KnowledgeAssetManagement, told me that it was more cost-effective to invest in training during a downturn. Some Fast Company readers have disagreed, telling me that remaining workers’ time is more valuable during slower times because we’re continually expected to do more with less. “It’s hard to rationalize taking a day off for training when you now have the jobs of three people,” one woman said.

What do you think? Is cutting back on training and development short sighted — or a solid survival strategy? Add a comment and let us know what you think.

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