Blogs by InnovatorsBox®

Rethinking Team Professional Development For Efficiency, Ease, and Inclusivity

How are you taking the time to invest in your people? In one of my past roles, I remember how conflicted I felt about the multiple pages of paperwork and approval processes required to make progress  for my professional development. While I loved having the budget to set aside each year, the complexity of the process made me wonder, Why is getting training and creating growing opportunities at work this difficult?

Things have fortunately improved since my last experience, and I’m so happy to see more and more organizations being intentional about their professional development initiatives. 

For example, Virgin offers an interactive workshop called MindCoach, that teaches stress coping strategies which all managers are trained on in order to support their colleagues in need. They also extended this service externally in 2017 to the victims of Hurricane Irma. Also, Texas Instruments’ “Make an Impact” program is a development program for new employees that lasts an entire year to help them feel empowered to do their best in their first year on the job. The program includes courses, hands-on work and culture sessions from in-house experts, and exclusive networking opportunities!

Still, there is improvement to be made. Most professional development programs are still too structured, impersonal, and difficult to use. Despite good intention, we often still see:

  • Programs that are centered solely around lecture based workshops that are one-side learning modules. What about all the other people who like to learn through interactive engagements or outside of a workshop wall? How can we make learning fun?
  • Multiple steps and stacks of paperwork to get approval for your training requests. Whether you are looking to do something for your team or for yourself, most professionals require multiple approval processes, paperwork, and logistics to make it happen. Why does learning how to be a better person feel so hard to do?
  • Professional development is one of the first things to go during budget cuts. While budget constraints are a real tough challenge, isn’t our investment in people to learn how to be a better problem solver and creative even more important?

On top of this, we also often get stuck in a cycle of expectation, where we expect our managers will help us identify what we need to do better, or what programs we should take on and feel disappointed when they don’t seem to know what is right for us. Yes, having a supportive manager is crucial, but what about our lead and drive to want to learn? Because of all these nuances, when we work with clients on team building and leadership training, I’ve been thinking more and more about how urgently we must rethink how we think and invest in professional development as individuals and as companies. 

And I hope this is one of the many places you get inspiration on what you could do differently to empower your team.

First, let’s talk about why professional development is important. 

When your people invest in growth, you grow as a company and as a team collectively. And when you make their journey of growing in their organization feel easy through professional development programs and initiatives, your people feel supported and encouraged to see this is a home they could grow. This is why according to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), companies that offer comprehensive training programs have 218% higher income per employee than companies without formalized training.

The growth and development of your team members is one of the best ways to increase retention rates, create happier company cultures, and increase the efficiency and productivity of your organization. Everyone benefits as when professional development is designed effectively, everyone gets better in those skills and will have more awareness. 

And although it’s important to point out that the responsibility for professional development does not rely 100% on the organization’s leaders, leaders must keep in mind that every team member’s need and interest in how they want to learn is different

First get curious about your people.

  1. What is their drive and interest to advance their career?
  2. How are they working with their managers? Are they expecting the manager to know the answer or are they proactively looking out for ways to grow?
  3. What does fun, inclusive, and interactive learning experience mean for this person?

Every person learns in different ways and wants to learn about different things. And some will always take more advantage of professional development opportunities than others. It’s important to look out for these nuances and think about your people who are most vocal about their hunger to learn but also those who have not. How would you encourage them to learn and how would you make the process of learning feel enjoyable and easy for all learner types? (And how do you hire from the beginning a type of person who wants to learn and will seek such growth on their own instead of relying on managers to give the answer?)

When we intentionally think about all these nuances we’ll be surprised at what we could create or do to invest and empower our people in their journey to growth. So what are specific examples? 

Here are some suggestions that I love sharing each time I work with clients from Fortune 500 companies with thousands of employees to small nimble teams without any formalized training. 

Ways To Rethink Team Professional Development For Efficiency, Ease, and Inclusivity

1. Create An Accountability System 

One of the best ways you can be of service to your team’s professional development is to provide them with a partner or resource to hold them accountable and help them in their professional development. Create initiatives where they can have someone to learn from both within the organization as peers and outside through services like coaching, therapy, and career counseling. Knowing that there is someone they could talk to and process out is one of the most powerful ways to empower individuals that they are in the driver seat to their professional development goals. 

There are many ways you can do this. You could partner with companies like us at InnovatorsBox, where I personally can serve as a resource for your team members. Create a directory of partners, coaches, and therapists that you’d permit your team members to connect with, or let them choose the partner they would want to work with. For internal program creation, see it as an opportunity to build mentorship and comradery. By having someone to speak to and to learn from we not only feel supported but also develop a deeper understanding and empathy of the unances everyone faces in different parts of the office. You also get to plant the “we” mindset that we’re here together instead of seeing ourselves as separate individuals.

2. Account For Diverse Learning Through Internal Input

You can increase the effectiveness of your professional development training by investing in resources that your team is most likely to use. Before you decide on what programs to do, ask your people what they want. It’s one of the steps we do when we work with our clients so that we could thoroughly assess and account for all the different learner types. Questions we found helpful asking that we recommend you to ask too are: 

  • How do you like to learn? Why?
  • What skills do you want to hone? Why?
  • What programs have you enjoyed in the past and why?
  • What programs have you not enjoyed and why in the past?
  • Where would you like to see yourself in the future and what would help you get there?

All of us love to learn in different ways and by asking before assuming we empower our people in their journey to learning. Here is a fun infographic by Ricardo Garza and a great questionnaire from VERK that could be a fun way to visualize and ask to learn more about your people’s learning style!

Based on the results, you can curate a list of resources that you have aggregated with programs either internally, or externally. Utilize your partner vendors! After all, you’re investing money and time into your team, you want them to get the most out of it so you can as well!

3. Give Subscription Access

While you map out what your teams want for interactive engagement give them also resources for passive on-demand learning access so they could self-pass their learning. They can learn whatever they want and whenever they want! Sometimes the best learning is learning new tools of things we didn’t expect we needed! Having access to reading and online video subscriptions can permit more people to come across resources that can improve their knowledge and skill-sets. Not only that, but it will give people in your content/marketing teams access to exclusive and verifiable information/research that will help them improve the content and campaigns they’re putting out. It’s double joy!

Examples of Subscriptions to Provide For Your Team:

And don’t forget subscription learning is not just literature and content like this, it could be fun interactive tools like Canva, MotionArray, Photoshop, and more where team members can learn how to use a different skill and online craft. Yes, like our Rethink Facilitation course that’s good too!

It’s important to not only provide the subscription access, but remind your team members it’s there and empower them to utilize those resources. Talk about it in your team meeting and see how team members share and use it in their learning. For the people who utilize the resources, you can interview them and highlight them in the internal company newsletter if you have one. 

4. Give Team Members a Chance To Learn By Doing

It’s one thing to sit in front of a screen and get inspired by the information, but it’s another thing to actually put that knowledge into practice. Giving your team a chance to learn by doing helps ensure that the information will stick. 

For example, your team can practice proactive problem-solving in a hackathon for a product or service innovation. You can also host internal programs where you swap team member responsibilities to a point where everyone is working in different projects and with different team members. 

Experiences help team members to learn and grow within the organization instead of finding the knowledge elsewhere. Plus it doubles as a team-building exercise, building camaraderie and trust, which can increase the overall success of your organization.

5. Continue To Evolve, Adjust, and Adapt For Professional Development Offerings

As I mentioned before, some of the best ideas for professional development will come from your team. And just like your audience needs change, your team needs will change. As your team grows, continue to involve new members in the development of professional support, and as always, think about inclusivity. Continue to ask the important questions:

  • Are your professional development resources accessible to all team members regardless of disability or location?
  • Are the experts you’re employing from diverse backgrounds?
  • Are you ensuring your resources aren’t biased towards one learning type: visual, verbal, auditory, social, etc.?
  • Do you have a process for tracking the success of your professional development program or are you just letting it sit there, unmeasured?
  • Is the process for signing up for your professional development offerings easy? Test it.

Your People Are One of Your Company’s Most Important Stakeholders

Thinking about your team as a stakeholder is a new way of reframing the success of your company. Your team is just as important to your company’s success as the people who are helping pay your bills, so it makes sense to invest in them. A team that feels you genuinely care about their professional development will feel more empowered to work and work more effectively. After all, none of us are finished products. From the top executives in a company to the entry-level people – we all always have something to learn, and learning together in a way that is efficient, easy, and inclusively personalized to your team will set you up for success.

“Always be curious and be on a never ending journey to learn simultaneously. Be kind and be yourself.”

About the Author

Picture of Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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