I just wrote my learning and development policy and it cost me over $10,000!

30 Aug

I just wrote my learning and development policy and it cost me over $10,000!

We have all heard of the plumber with the leaky taps and I’ve even had a not-so-fit gym instructor. I never considered myself as one of those clichés – but I am! Well on a small scale at least. As someone who is always happy to share my mistakes, I recently made a very expensive and simple HR mistake, one that we preach constantly to our clients, but I have a good excuse … of course!

Early this year I was having my annual ‘dream catcher’ meetings with one of my team. This is where I sit down with each wattsnexter individually and they share 15 dreams they would like to achieve, obtain or experience in their lifetime. This is an awesome opportunity for me to connect with my team members on a personal level, and also scout for secret reward ideas!

It was during one of these catch-ups that I was introduced to the annual SHRM Conference. SHRM is the world’s largest HR professional society that has over 285,000 members in 165 countries. Each year they hold a conference, which is the leading global HR event in the world.

This particular team member had been lucky enough to attend one of these events in the past and as it was so good, going again had made her dream catcher list. I was intrigued, so immediately after the meeting I checked out the website, and this global event also went on my dream catcher, but with a few additions! I didn’t just want to go on my own, I wanted to take someone from the wattsnext team.

What an amazing experience for a small business to offer. If I could pull this off it would be BIG!

So that’s what I did, however, instead of taking one team member I took four. And it was awesome!! To be amongst 15,000 HR professionals in Washington DC was a surreal experience. Yes, I learnt a lot but what was really surreal was that I was on the other side of the world with four of my team on a trip that my small business had provided! I couldn’t believe it.

Now obviously it was a massive investment for a business of my size, for any business really, but I didn’t care. I wanted to make that investment and was proud as punch to be able to do it.

When I started the business I never expected that I would be able to take team members overseas for their professional development and in my excitement to share with them the news, book flights, organise matching t-shirts and create itineraries I didn’t even think to write a policy about any of these members reimbursing the costs if they resigned on their return from this amazing experience.

That was the furthest from my mind but that is what happened. Now here is my excuse!

We write HR policies for a living and we provide a lot of advice on the top five policies that every business should have, plus additional policies that are specifically important for a particular business. So I should’ve stopped to think about it surely. A professional development reimbursement policy is standard for many businesses that invest in their people.

But when I embarked on this “project” I wasn’t thinking as a HR professional, I was thinking as an emotional business owner who was excited and proud and on a happy giving cloud! I had taken my HR hat off.

We see this a lot with our clients, which is why we are there! To take the emotion out of running their business and ensure they are compliant and protected so they can then freely motivate, develop and inspire their people in whatever way they choose. In this instance I was excited and forgot to be my own client!

Now, would having this policy stopped this person from leaving? Probably not and if so, she may still have left once the reimbursement clause had run out. Knowing what I know now, would I change taking her on this amazing trip? Definitely not. Have I sworn to never take staff overseas again? No (well when I first received the resignation I did – I am only human) but of course not.

She had her reasons for leaving which were absolutely valid and respected. This is not about the individual: she deserved this trip and she contributed significantly to my business. There are a number of blogs that can flow from this experience relating to leadership, motivation and engagement.

This blog is about financial risk mitigation. For a business of my size, I should’ve known better.

The moral of the story: who cares what the excuse is, protect your business! That is the role of the chief executive and when the areas of risk are not your focus or expertise, engage a professional who is thinking about the areas you are not! Don’t stop investing in your people – it is critical – just make sure you have clear guidelines and policies around those investments so your business is not financially affected.


Sue-Ellen Watts , Founder

Sue-Ellen is a visionary and inspiring leader. With a background in leading high performing teams, strategic recruitment and leadership coaching Sue-Ellen offers meaningful experience and insight. She delivers expertise with gutsy honesty and commercial realism. A true entrepreneur, Sue-Ellen is hell bent on disrupting the way businesses use HR. She won’t stop until SME leaders collectively bring strategic HR to the boardroom table. Sue-Ellen is curious about technology and the future of work, using her business as an experimental lab of forward thinking techniques and methodologies.

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