What further professional development opportunities could give you that leading edge?

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The other day I was speaking to a colleague about the importance of up-skilling and general professional development when it comes to staff retention, and I happened to ask her what investment her organisation placed on training and development.

Now come on, Paul”, she said. “We both know too well that ‘training’ is what people have to do to dogs, circus animals, or those poor dolphins at Sea World. Around here we refer to ‘learning services’.”

Once we had moved beyond any reference to pet dogs and Gold Coast theme parks, she went on to explain how her learning and development budget was back with a vengeance after having been slashed at the start of the pandemic. The good news (at least according to my colleague who I trust as somebody ‘in the know’) is that apparently L&D budgets have been approved in many organisations and across many sectors so it’s the perfect time for employees to take advantage of any professional development opportunities made available in the workplace.

From an organisational (and staff retention) perspective I have always recognised the importance of keeping staff up-skilled and aware of the latest techniques, industry trends and initiatives. However, if you ask employees today at any level within any organisation (large or small) you will get a very mixed opinion around the notion of learning and development.

Some employees will seize any opportunity to be up-skilled as part of their professional development journey; others will simply see the chance to attend an in-house training course as a welcomed distraction from their day-to-day tasks; while others will roll their eyes at the mere thought of an invitation from learning services and will see even half a day away from their desk as a complete waste of time.

You can’t please everyone. Besides, research shows that 85% of learning is lost within 14 days.

In fact, you’d be surprised (more like ‘shocked’) at how much learning we forget literally within hours of a traditional training course.

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For the most part we are learning the wrong things, we’re learning at the wrong time, and we’re learning in the wrong way. And yet, in most pre-appraisal questionnaires submitted as part of their preparation for an upcoming performance review, in response to the question “What further professional development do you feel you would benefit from in the coming 6-12 months?”, employees will typically include a rather lengthy wish list.

When did you last think about what further training or professional development opportunities could benefit you to give you that leading edge?

When did you last discuss up-skilling with your boss?

Asking for additional training, coaching, or professional development is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it can actually reinforce your commitment to wanting to grow and excel within the business … and FYI a growth mindset is a very positive attribute.

It’s also important to distinguish between what an organisation is willing to offer its staff in terms of professional development as opposed to the idea of further education. Learning Services or L&D (as a department) typically exists within the larger corporates and is there to ensure that all staff members are given sufficient levels of training and access to professional development opportunities.

If a particular organisation doesn’t have a formal L&D team, then there will usually be somebody within the business responsible for liaising with external facilitators or coaches who would be involved in delivering workshops or coaching programs as and when required.

I once had a team member ask me whether I would support him in a diploma in organisational psychology. This was more of a personal interest and so he certainly received my (moral) support, but I wouldn’t pay for him to go “back to school” as his request lay beyond the realm of learning or up-skilling and was more around a formal qualification.

If you are fortunate enough to have an in-house learning services team within your organisation, are you familiar with what they are there for and what they may be able to offer you in terms of your own professional development plan? This is particularly important for anyone who has been working in the business for a while and who may either think that the learning and development team exists solely for new or less experienced staff, or that coaching is something that is only made available to the executive team.

Today, more than ever before, the success of any organisation depends on the strength of all its people, including aspiring or new leaders, divisional heads, and CXOs. 

Be proactive and ask your manager to help you identify where you feel you may have a gap in your skills and how you may be able to benefit from coaching. Don’t wait for your next formal performance appraisal. After all, no two employees are the same, nor are they ever facing the same challenges at the same time. Bespoke coaching can be designed to help you find your purpose; develop more impactful communication skills; to unleash your authentic self; to embrace behavioural change; and to become more confident in every professional interaction. Above all coaching can help you learn, practise, and reinforce habits, equipping you to tackle whatever comes your way.

Remember also that professional development does not even have to physically take you ‘away from your desk’. Today you can access so much curated content aligned to your goals as well as on-demand micro learnings through podcasts or webinars from key people within your own organisation as well as from external industry leaders. You can easily download it and work through it at your own pace and in your own time between your more formal 1:1 coaching sessions.

Embrace every opportunity for further professional development and make the most of your learning services team. They are there for you and, along with your own manager, have your best interests in mind.

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