Updated: Oct 24, 2019
Leading a team can be like herding cats. I work with really smart independent people who are usually self motivated. That brings some challenges when it comes to leading. Now I chose that word “lead” specifically. When I was in college I was involved in something called BCM. I was surrounded by servant leaders who made a deep influence on me. Every year I had the opportunity to attend many regional and national conferences. While there was a lot of content discussed the greatest impression I left with is the need for leadership in organizations. As a 17 year old college freshmen I didn’t understand just how much these guiding principles would impact me at the time. Because of this experience I never wanted to just managed or maintain talent. I wanted to see it flourish. I have a saying and it goes like this "While you work with me, I want to do the best work of our lives together."
No matter how dynamic and capable the leader is I have learned that staff will not be with you forever. You only get to lead for a season in people lives. Each person has goals and aspirations. Some of those go beyond what your company fan facilitate. I have seen dozens of former staff go on to have meaningful careers. I am thrilled to see where they have gone on to work. It’s humbling to have been a small part in their journey.
So what do you do with them while they are with you? I think professional development is the key to keeping and preparing staff. They will stay because they love what they do and when they leave you will both know it’s for an opportunity they just can’t pass up. You need to be ok with this. It’s not a waste of your time or money. Your people are an investment not a commodity. Here are five reasons you should encourage professional development in your organization.
1.) Mental calisthenics. When I first started consulting I thought It would never lose it’s magic. To this day I am still excited to work with customers and help them succeed. However I did learn the ropes and began to master certain procedures. I quickly began to be able to predict what problems were in my mind and then followed the troubleshooting steps often to be happy that my original thought was accurate. It time boredom did set it. I felt like I was in a rut. That’s when I began to push my self by taking classes and learning tracks to broaden my skills. The byproduct of the content I learning and the testing experiences was incredible. The spark was back and I was thoroughly reengaged. Because I was just learning as I went I was not able to know what I didn’t know. Professional development, the mental calisthenics, kept me sharp and interested in my craft again.
2.) Future proof. When you start a career you often have certain pre-defined ideas about what it entails.Often your ideal path is neat and fits into a cookie cutter plan. For most of us reality hits us, like a Louisville slugger, and you realize that it doesn’t really work like that. Careers are more like a framework of loose boundaries that constantly shift like tectonic plates. The bottom line is the industry I stepped into a decade ago has changed drastically. Technology and culture have and will move at a furious rate. Professional development helps keep you relevant and future proofs you for opportunities that will come up in your not so distant future. A quote that comes to mind is this “If your failing to plan, your planning to fail.” I would modify it slight for my purposes here. “If your failing to [train], your planing to fail.” It’s not as symmetric but it is absolutely true. We cannot predict the future but I spend a large season of time not preparing for the future. It limited opportunities. Professional development helps you, or your staff, become equipped and ready when the right customer or job show up on your radar.
3.) Best practices. When you attend some kind of training or read a book you should always walk away with paths to success. Now you may already know a principle or insight going into that learning experience. Even so it should serve to affirm or steel your resolve about that idea. Some folks will read dozen of books or classes and walk away no better than they came. When you engage in the learning process the hope is that you will be better because of it. This betterment translates to institutional good or best practices. The implementation of these is entangled with growth of your people. Professional development should be the foundation of a strong company. How could PD make such a big difference? I believe that strong companies are built by strong people. It’s People, processes and passion that lead to great customer experiences. Professional development should shape best practices but enhance people and passion in the process.
4.) New Offerings. When I was growing up my grandfather worked for a large pharmaceutical company. I used to visit his lab/office and see the complex webbing of experiments he was running at the time. I was fascinated. He taught me a few things about the business that he worked at while I took these min-tours. One the more interesting aspects was how patents work. You see patents run out eventually. That means other companies can then start selling similar drugs usually for a cheaper price. Now that’s not the exciting part. The revelation to me as patents would expire companies would simply change the chemical compounds slightly and rebrand it as a new solution for your medical ills. It helped them stay in front of the competition and reuse and existing product in a new way.
The take away for us this is threefold. First, competition is always nipping on your heals. When you learn what you do they often imitate. Second, your services have a shelf life and people like new. Sometimes different not better is what people will settle for.Keep your services or product fresh. Third, innovate, innovate, innovate. Innovation is the best way to stay ahead of your competition and your own stagnation. Professional development gives organization the ability to ingest new ideas. These ideas can help to reshape or reform how you approach your current offerings. When your staff go for training you should always debrief and look for ways to integrate what they learned.
5.) Next Steps. You can’t expect your people to grow and your company not do the same. As I see it growing people grow organizations. When you start on the path to discovery it’s really hard to stop. The momentum can be meteoric. Now there are seasons that you need to rest and solidify. I live in south Louisiana so where I live there are many fields where things like sugarcane are grown. One of the things that farmers do is alternate where they grow their crops. This ensures that they don’t over farm that particular patch of land. Learning is the same way it’s easy to get burned out. A good leader knows when to press forward and when to pause. However just like challenges you’re always looking for the next thing. I’m a pretty active gamer and one of the concepts of video games is the idea of leveling up. Reaching a certain milestone is exciting and rewarding but if you stay there too long you feel like your stuck on a plateau. What does this mean for you? When you create path to success with levels of opportunity people will be driven to keep on pushing themselves for their own personal growth but also for the opportunity to do more with your career.
One of the dangers of employee growth may be that your company may not be prepared to grow with them. It feels good to be a big fish in a mall pond but only for a while. If you don’t give staff a sense that you are going somewhere and willing to have a vision they may leave. This isn’t all gloom and doom for you but it is an eventuality. The old saying goes we grow or we die. As you invest in professional development make sure you are looking past the training and preparing for what that training injects into your business. Be ready to take the nexts steps to ensure your staff are fulfilled and have a chance to use the valuable knowledge they have gained.
I was very fortunate to have two parents who are educators. They both instilled in me a love for learning. The ugly truth is that I’m not really a smart person. I have average intelligence. Like everyone I have a glass ceiling. I have limits. But having said that I have noticed some people choose to only say what they don’t know and some people choose to discover what they can know. I want to be found in the latter group. Knowing your limits is important. Saying I don’t know is equally important. What I think is most important is to never stop learning. Professional development encourages a culture of learning, growth and positive change for your team.