Consider the following scenario: Year end is fast approaching and you realize you haven’t spent your Professional Development (PD) budget yet. What do you do?
I advise you to wait. Wait just long enough to put a simple plan in place. Follow these three steps when planning any professional development and you have a better chance of reaping positive returns on your investment.
1. Set a Learning Goal
What do you, or those you lead, need to learn in order to make your jobs easier and better? Go ahead, ask the question of your team and then listen.
I’ve taught many workshops over the years where well-intentioned managers sent people to participate without having had a conversation with them, or without getting their buy-in. When people are told to participate, the results are predictable. At best you may get half-hearted engagement. At worst, people stubbornly resist participation in the learning event.
When we participate in setting our own learning goals, our engagement in the learning process is driven from within. Engaged learners make better learners. Engaged learners are more likely to try new skills and ideas because they want to!
2. Be Picky
Not all training programs and training service providers are created alike. Look for the following:
- Value alignment:
- Clear course descriptions and outlines:
- Ask for more information
When I look for training, I want to be sure there is alignment between what the training program offers and what my organization values. Try to find providers whose values resonate with yours. Some organizations will list their values, beliefs or operating principles on their website.
Just because the course has the right title does not mean it will have the right content. Many organizations offer workshops with similar titles, but look closely and you will see that content varies significantly from course to course.
If you can’t determine the training provider’s values, or if you can’t find enough information about the course content, pick up the phone and call. Your phone call will tell you a lot about whether you connect with the organization.
3. Practice Accountability for Learning
It’s very easy to attend a workshop. It’s more difficult to take that learning and make it stick. Skill development takes conscious, hard work. So here is a simple method to increase the “stickiness” factor of training.
- Discuss learning goals prior to attending the workshop. If you are planning your own learning, discuss your goals with your boss or your HR specialist. If you are planning training with those you lead, discuss with them. This discussion will sharpen the learner’s focus when attending training.
- Plan to have an immediate follow-up conversation within a day or two of the workshop – if you wait longer the learner’s memory of the day will be fading. In this conversation, the learner should focus on planning what they will be working to implement from the workshop and when.
- Ask the learner to teach a concept from the workshop to their peers (either formally or informally) within a week or two of the workshop. Teaching is one of the best ways to learn.
- Check in with the learner at least one or two more times within the first month after the training. These check-in meetings assist with accountability for continuing to practice new behaviour.
Remember, no one should be allowed to attend a PD session and then come back to work the next day without a plan for how they are going to implement their learning.
I’m curious to hear what you do to make your professional development work for you and your company. Please comment below. Thanks!
Eric Stutzman is Managing Director of ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership and Workplace Performance. In his role he assists hundreds of organizations in setting up professional development for their staff.