Jim sits in front of his workstation with a grin on his face as he prints off his training certificate. It’s proof that he completed a compulsory four-hour online course on workplace safety; in reality, it only took Jim 18 minutes to click through the videos and pass the assessment with educated guesses. Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s typical of many companies’ approach to professional development, which is scary when you consider that U.S. companies spent more than $70 billion on corporate training in 2013.
To employees, training is often irrelevant, dull, and compliance-oriented, and leaders sometimes make the mistake of thinking training is a waste of time and money when they don’t see dramatic results right away. But when professional development programs work, they help companies attract and retain top talent, increase employee engagement and satisfaction, and boost innovation. Most importantly, when your team is excited about professional development, your employees are more likely to gain and retain knowledge that they can translate into real business results. So why do so many dislike professional development? It’s not the training itself, but how it’s executed.
Here are a few pitfalls of ineffective professional development:
1. IT’S REPETITIVE AND BORING
We need variety. Employees can only watch so many videos and attend so many seminars before they’re bored out of their minds. It’s important to find fresh ways to challenge even superstar employees and give them more than an excuse to fly out of town for a conference.
2. DEVELOPMENT ISN’T PERSONAL
Employees often view training as something that’s mandatory and irrelevant to their personal needs. This can happen when training just offers more of what they already know or when it doesn’t take their life stage into account. For instance, an employee fresh out of college will probably be more enthusiastic about career development than an industry veteran who’s 30 years into his career.
3. LEADERS JUST WANT TO CHECK IT OFF
Candor is the foundation of trust. If employees don’t think you’re candid with them, they won’t trust you to supply the critical information they need to succeed. The only way to encourage candor across an organization is to talk about it constantly. Even then, it takes time, coaching, and reinforcement. Professional development isn’t something you can tackle once a year and cross off your to-do list. It requires continual effort throughout the year to check in with employees and set new goals.
Here are five simple steps for effective professional development:
1. MAKE PROFESSIONAL GROWTH PERSONAL
The key to effective goal-setting is making goals personal. Managers should sit down with every employee on a quarterly basis and discuss professional goals in a personal context. By taking 10 minutes every two or three weeks and breaking people into small groups to discuss their personal and professional goals, we allow people to create relationships with teammates that will help them engage in their own development.
2. CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR MENTORSHIP
People really like learning from others, yet mentorship rarely happens organically. Leaders can pick specific high performers who are interested in mentoring another colleague. Formally ask each person to be a mentor for a particular person, or ask who he or she would work well with in a mentor/mentee relationship.
3. BE CANDID ABOUT YOUR OWN GROWTH
You have to show employees how the leadership team values reflection, growth, and development. When employees see firsthand that it’s okay to be imperfect, they’ll be more likely to admit their own shortcomings and take advantage of opportunities to improve.
4. MAKE GROWTH PART OF THE WEEKLY CONVERSATION
Have team members write down their personal and professional long-term goals. Managers can schedule a one-on-one conversation every month specifically dedicated to feedback about those goals. You can document the discussion, then revisit it before the next meeting so the team member and his or her manager can talk about what’s working, what’s needed, and what’s superfluous with respect to that team member’s goals. Goals can be revised as needed.
5. LET STAFF SHARE EXPERIENCES
Encourage forums for open communication among team members, to share anything they think would be interesting or relevant. This is a way for a team to come together for an hour around a dedicated topic, which can be company-related or completely separate from work.
Sometimes it just takes a new approach for employees to gain a sense of renewed vigor in the workplace. Personalizing your efforts and encouraging your team to be candid and proactive can help.
Source: Jason Lange for Fast Company, October 14, 2014.
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