This post is taken from my book “Get F.I.T. Go Far: 15 Things Leaders Absolutely Must do to Increase Organizational Performance,” with some modifications.
There is no future for an organization if staff are not continuously growing, learning, and getting better at what they do.
Some organizations are committed to giving their people enough time and money to continue to grow in their jobs, while others toss professional development programs at the first sign of budget cuts. Where does your organization sit on that spectrum?
Are you willing to invest in yourself or your staff? Do you want to run your organization on ideas that worked when the organization was established but are no longer relevant, or do you want to keep up with the times? The choice is yours. We’ve all seen major corporations die over the last twenty years. The question is, why have they died? My hunch is that a lack of professional development is one of the major reasons.
When I first began teaching, I heard the term professional development (PD) a lot. It seemed to be a huge part of the education system—and remains so today. Teachers have their own conventions every year. The majority of school districts have a PD committee and most schools have a designated PD representative.
Later, when I entered into the business world, I discovered that many organizations were members of associations that had their own conferences. Organizations also seemed to have PD in their budgets to allow staff to get trained in various aspects of their work. Opportunity for PD is out there, and those who take advantage of it stay competitive.
In my first year of teaching, as I was learning the ropes and starving for PD to hone my craft and help me network with other teachers, I remember my very negative first PD experience. The event organizers picked one or two keynote speakers and had a series of breakout sessions. All the teachers in the division came to a central location and spent the day together. It was a mini teachers’ convention.
When I read the program I discovered, to my great disappointment, that I wasn’t interested in half of what they had planned. To be fair, it’s impossible to please every attendee in an event like this. Still, I was frustrated because I was being told how I was going to be developed professionally. I had no freedom to determine what I needed.
The very term “professional” connotes that an individual has some sense of what is needed to grow in their profession. I think it’s okay for superiors to make recommendations based on their observations, but to mandate that staff learn something they don’t want to learn is a ridiculous notion. I believe my instincts and understanding of my own strengths and limitations should be the driving forces behind what I learn. Forcing me to attend something and calling it “professional development” was an insult to me as a professional, and an indicator that the organization did not trust my professional judgment. That’s not the kind of organization I want to work for.
Professional Development should also yield return on investment (ROI). An organization pays money to have their staff trained, and that investment should yield returns. Do you think my school was better off by sending me to a PD day I didn’t want to go to? Do you think I was a better teacher after going to that PD day? I don’t think so. I was frustrated and resentful, and I doubt if I even remembered which sessions I went to on that day. The return on that investment, if any, was poor.
There are better ways to handle PD. For example, in one school division I worked for, each teacher had his or her own PD budget. It wasn’t much, but it was something. And here’s the kicker: we got to choose how and where to spend it. This school division recognized that teachers are professionals, know themselves better than anyone, and therefore should be able to make their own choices with respect to PD.
We had to run our PD ideas by our administrator, but I think that was really so she knew what was going on and not about getting her permission. It was so refreshing to be able to think about what I wanted and needed to progress as a teacher. I was able to research different topics and attend conferences as I saw fit. I was thrilled to be able to plot my own PD course. If we wanted to attend something that went beyond our allotted PD budget, we could draw on the next year’s budget. This organization really understood what PD was all about.
In the scenarios I shared with you, there is no question that it cost more per teacher in the second scenario. It’s cheaper to bring every teacher to one central place for a day or two and hope that they get something out of the program, than it is to provide every teacher with their own self-directed PD budget.
If we’re talking about ROI though, we must consider intangible yields like improved trust, freedom, attitude, enthusiasm, and self-efficacy. Which scenario do you think had a better ROI based on how this teacher responded? In the first scenario, I became bitter and resentful. That negativity had to have come out in my life and teaching somehow. I’m sure I was not a better teacher when I returned from that first PD experience. In the second scenario, I was excited and ready to return to work, eager to implement the new things I’d learned.
Professional development is a huge part of an organization getting and staying F.I.T. In fact, PD applies to every aspect of the F.I.T. acronym. You need to continuously learn to prepare your organization for the future. When your staff is excited, knowledgeable, and empowered, those attributes become part of the corporate culture. Finally, when there is an atmosphere of growth and development, staff work better together as a team, which will ultimately benefit the customer.
Organizations need to adapt quickly, organically, and with purpose. Nothing can help an organization do that more effectively than good professional development. PD is necessary to keep up with fast moving changes in technology. PD can energize staff, and rekindle their desire to be the best they can be. When we stop learning, we start dying.
I hope by now you’re getting the impression that I think professional development is a pretty big deal. It shouldn’t be just another line in a budget that gets eliminated when things get tough. PD should be at the forefront of every organization, with necessary resources continuously allotted so as to have the best ROI for the organization and the strongest impact on staff.
The Russians Are Not Just Coming, They’re Already Here
Through Rotary International, I had the pleasure of leading a vocational exchange team to Russia a number of years ago where I was able to meet and spend time with other organizational consultants. A fellow participant named Stanislav (Stas) Romanenko kindly offered to show me around the city of Krasnodar, which was about the size of Calgary. As we walked the streets, Stas pointed out numerous buildings that housed his clients.
At one point, we entered one of his client’s buildings, a sporting goods store, which appeared similar to the Sport Chek stores here in Canada, maybe a little smaller. It was two-stories high, and the layout of the goods was spectacular. Everything looked great, the lighting in the store was excellent, and there was upbeat yet unobtrusive music playing. It gave one the feeling of wanting to spend leisurely time in the store browsing.
There were many young people on staff, all well-groomed, wearing uniforms, smiling, and eager to help. These young employees possessed unusual confidence, and Stas told me why. The owner of this company has sixty of these stores in Russia. Once a young person gets through the interview, he is sent to an intensive training program that appears similar to McDonald’s University in North America. There, they spend one month learning about sales, marketing, customer service, and perhaps most importantly, product knowledge.
These kids knew their product and how to do their job well. These Russian youth worked for a base salary and a bonus, yet I saw no sign of competition between them. There was a natural order to things it seemed. They patiently waited, trusting a customer would come along eventually, and they were confident they could make the sale. They didn’t try to take customers away from their co-workers.
When Stas and I went upstairs to the second floor of the store, I met the assistant manager. She was twenty-one years old, well groomed, and extremely friendly. She didn’t speak English, but as Stas interpreted the conversation for us, I discovered that she had come up through the ranks, having been hired as a high school student, attended the company’s training program, and worked her way up to assistant manager in just two years. I asked her what her goal was and, without blinking an eye, she said it was to be a store manager somewhere within the company. I asked her how long she thought it would take for her to do that. She said three to six months.
I was blown away by this experience at a retail store in a country only twenty years out of communist rule. I knew things were changing slowly in the country, and that western ideology was creeping in, but I had not expected this. I asked Stas if his client, the owner of the company, was aware that his professional development training model could make a fortune in North American sporting goods stores. Stas just looked and me, smiled, then said, “He’s doing okay right here!”
My experience in Russia is a great example of how the right professional development can set an organization apart from its competition. It requires intention on behalf of the organization to make PD a priority. There is no doubt in my mind that the Russian sporting goods store owner was getting a great ROI for training these young people intensively for a month.
The key in the Russian example of PD though is the right training. According to Rachel Silverman in the Wall Street Journal in October, 2012, “U.S. firms spent about $156 billion on employee learning in 2011…But with little practical follow-up or meaningful assessments, some 90% of new skills are lost within a year…”
Retention Is the Key to Good Training
Training needs to be well planned and multi-dimensional, and unfortunately that’s not always the case. I believe there are three things that organizations must do before they send staff to training;
- Have a clear picture of what their purpose and mission is
- Clarify what their training objectives are
- Determine the motivation of the staff who are being trained
Once these issues have been addressed, it’s crucial to make sure that the training itself is engaging and incorporates the best methods of learning and retaining information. While the diagram below has created some controversy about how factual it is, or even who was the first to originate it, as a trainer myself, it makes perfect sense to me. I do think we retain information better when we have opportunities to practice and teach others. If these components aren’t part of the training events you’re sending your staff to, don’t expect them to remember much about what they’ve learned.
Finally, once staff have been trained, there needs to be a plan put in place for implementation of the training back in the workplace.
Here are three reasons why professional development should be a priority in your organization: (there are more in the book!)
- Better trained employees are more productive
- Well-trained employees adapt to new technologies and procedures faster
- Lower staff turnover
We’re fortunate in this day and age to be able to take advantage of a wide variety of professional development opportunities. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to workshops, conventions, and in-house training.
Here are some other ideas to incorporate into your organization’s PD program: (again, there are more in the book)
Setting up teams in your workplace allows for staff to learn from each other on a regular basis through formal team meetings and informal discussion between team members.
Set up the opportunity for staff to share what they’ve learned at off-site conferences with other staff. Teaching what they have learned helps them integrate the material and yields better ROI.
Things happen every day on the job that can be learned from. Why not write up real situations that have happened for staff to discuss and brainstorm how they would deal with them more effectively in the future?
Have staff visit other sites within your organization or other similar organizations where they can conduct interviews and observe how others are doing similar work.
Give employees the opportunity to try different things in the organization for short periods of time. This provides an excellent understanding of how the total operation works.
A great professional development model in your organization can have a huge impact on your people and result in a high ROI. Don’t make the mistake of de-valuing professional development. Prioritize it so your organization can continue to Get F.I.T., and Go Far!