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How to create inspiring development opportunities for your people with no budget

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report found that:

  • 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers.

  • Manager involvement is a critical ingredient to increase employee engagement with learning.

  • Employees are motivated to learn by manager relationships and opportunities for upward mobility.

  • Getting employees to make time for learning has moved up to the #1 challenge facing talent development.

As a people leader you’re really important to how your people feel about their careers and their development. Just think of a time you had a great development conversation with your leader; how did it make you feel?

How great will it be to enable your people to feel like that, every time you talk development with them?

But what if you have no budget for training? Or your people have no time or motivation to go on courses? (Many people don’t like to go on courses – they may find them boring, not know how to apply the learning, suffer from learning anxiety in a formal setting, etc.)

The good news is that as a people leader, you have lots of opportunity to help them learn and develop regardless of the size of your company or training budget; and there’s a clear benefit for you as by developing the people in your team it makes it easier for you to deliver your goals and purpose through them.

So, where do you start?

Great development conversations are enabled by really knowing your people: their goals, aspirations, strengths, performance, etc. Then you can understand what they need and / or want to learn, the best ways for them to do so and how you can support them.

Here are some ideas, from simple to complex depending on the person and the development they want:

Development within their role or team

When someone wants to develop and / or progress within their team it should be easy to give them some additional responsibilities. This can include coaching someone else to learn something new; assisting a colleague with a task or project; taking on some of your tasks; collaborating with others on behalf of your team; researching an issue or idea and presenting their findings to you; and even giving them some scope to redesign / shape their role. And of course, receiving coaching and feedback from you on their progress.

Learning about other roles / business areas

This can be achieved through a range of options such as:

  • Shadowing someone to learn about what they do and how they do it. The duration can be tailored to the needs and complexity of the learning, for example it could be for a day, a week, one day a week, for a specific activity, etc.

  • Working on a project within that team or business area; if they can act as the subject matter expert from your own team, even better.

  • Secondment: can you arrange for them to spend formal time working in another team? This could be on a full- or part-time basis. This can allow someone else in your team to take on additional tasks and responsibilities as well, to cover the period they are away.

  • Job swap: like a secondment but you will take someone from the receiving team as well.

  • Researching a business problem; this can help them to develop consultancy and collaboration skills and to show innovation. They can also present their findings to you or to senior leaders, particularly if they are able to propose new ideas.

Each of these is a great way to build a network within, and understand more about, your organisation.

Learning more about your industry

Visits / placements. From a short 90-minute visit through to a longer placement, this is an excellent way to learn how your organisation works with partners, suppliers, collaborators and even competitors! Usually sponsored or arranged by senior managers from each organisation who have a good working relationship, you can agree the objectives for and parameters of the placement, hopefully for the benefit of both organisations.

Working with your industry body

Does your industry body ask for people to work on things like research projects, capability frameworks, standards, etc? If so, the chances are they look for people who work within the industry to contribute ideas, take part in discussions, provide feedback, etc, and this in turn provides opportunities for people to gain strategic knowledge and skills while building external networks and relationships.


A great mentor can really help someone to develop their career. From helping them to understand different career options available through to helping them regularly reflect on their performance and next steps, having someone focus on you and helping you to focus on your career is invaluable.

Moving to a new role – up or sideways – or even down!

The best way to learn is to get a new job; and it doesn’t have to be a promotion. A lateral move can be as valuable as an upward move, especially if your company has a flat structure. If a person wants to move to a completely different role then it’s also worth looking at moving down a level – while this may not appeal to many people initially, chances are if the move is the right one for them, they’ll progress upwards again pretty quickly as well as gaining the satisfaction that the new job brings them.

Developing knowledge and skills with your whole team

With the fast pace of change we’re all experiencing it’s essential that we keep our own and our team’s skills and knowledge up to date. Using team meetings or arranging a ‘development day’ is something within your control and can be a great success with some time taken for planning and preparation. For example:

  • Ask a subject expert from another team to come and present to your team, or to lead an interactive session with them (this can also be a development opportunity for the presenting person!).

  • If someone in your team has been learning something (maybe through one of the development opportunities above) ask them to share their learning with the team; can it be utilised in your team?

  • Find an online article or a podcast relevant to the development needs and ask your team to read or listen to it prior to the team meeting / development day, explaining why you’re asking them to do this. On the day ask each person to identify their key learning point and then lead a discussion about how you can apply this learning in your team.

  • Use information published online by your industry body or in the news – maybe about emerging technology, legal cases, competitor developments, etc – and discuss it with your team. What do they understand about it, what does it mean for your company, etc? It may not lead to a game-changing idea but it is a great way to keep your people curious and learning about the wider business environment.

Have you tried any of these; if so what was the outcome? Or do you have other ideas you can add to these?

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