People: Your Best Investment

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, one of the only real competitive advantages any organization has is its people. Investing in people is one of the soundest investments any organization can make.

Yet it’s one of the first areas to be impacted when budgets get tight.

It amazes me how companies will invest enormous sums of money in mergers and acquisitions–which have a fairly sketchy success rate to begin with–but are reluctant to invest in the people, who are responsible for making them successful in the first place.

One fallacy that’s been perpetrated over the years is that if you provide your people with training, it makes them more marketable and they’ll eventually leave. But people don’t leave because they’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow–they leave because they haven’t.

We have a responsibility to provide our people with more than a paycheck. We have to partner with them to help them grow as professionals. You may lose an occasional employee, but you will create a reputation as being an employer of choice that cares enough about its people to invest in their development. Besides, your organization will be the primary beneficiary of their enhanced skills.

Developing people is also a big ingredient to ensuring high morale and retention. People often mistake compensation to be the most important variable in employee satisfaction.

The USTA is a not-for-profit organization. We make every attempt to pay our people a competitive salary based on their market value; there are larger companies in our backyard, however, that can probably pay them a bit more. That’s why we strive to create opportunities for our people to learn and grow as professionals. We also empower them and allow them to contribute in ways that make a difference. These are key variables in ensuring both high morale and high retention.

Another mistake is focusing solely on formal classroom training. Formal courses certainly are part of any comprehensive training plan–but they are only one part.

Allowing people to participate on cross-functional teams, giving them a role in evaluating and working with new technologies, exposing them to new responsibilities, and having them shadow other professionals to learn something beyond their area of expertise are all effective ways to develop people.

What’s more, this costs very little. Training should not only focus on the functional and technical aspects of a person’s responsibilities, but also on enhancing their (I hate this term) “soft skills.” The higher up a person moves, the more critical these skills become.

Another missed opportunity is mentoring. I have had the privilege of being a mentor for Columbia University, the CIO Executive Council and my local chapter of the Society for Information Management (SIM). All of these experiences afforded me a wonderful opportunity to give back and support the development of some fine young professionals. It also provided the people I worked with the benefit of learning from my (many!) mistakes.

Does your organization have a mentoring program? Are you building this capability in-house, or do you have to go outside every time you need to address a human-resource need?

The next time management asks you to cut your training budget, ask them how they plan to invest these savings and whether it will reap a greater return than would investing in your people. I doubt it.

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Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at

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