How to Foster Professional Development in 4 Steps

By | July 18, 2017 | Culture

Professional Development is such a nebulous term. For some, professional development is the ongoing class you need to take here and there to keep up your certification(s). For others, it’s learning a new task or skill to fill a business need. And then, there are the countless workers out there who have no idea what it is or how to get it.

But what about those who are lifelong learners, who crave personal growth, who strive to be the best version of themselves, both personally and professionally? These are the best kind of workers.

How do we challenge these people? How does a company support and empower their employees in this quest when each individual has vastly different goals?

It all starts at the top. Good leadership teams are careful about who they hire, they offer development opportunities, and they support their employees’ continued growth. In the end, they make sure those employees have a clear path forward.

Professional Development as a Process: 4 Steps to Help Your Employees Grow

Hire the right people.

The culture of your company affects people’s attitudes. It determines their mindset and seeps into their conversations with both coworkers and clients. One bad team member can have a detrimental effect on the entire company.

So how do you go about selecting who to hire?

Consider who is making the hiring decision. Do they have a strong understanding of your company philosophy and culture? Are multiple people involved? Try incorporating situations where the potential hire is able to interact with other team members. Feedback from the team they’ll be working with is crucial to ensure a good culture fit.

Take a look at your current staff. Do you have a good team in place? This is a great indication that your hiring process is already solid. If not, think about what type of person can help push the pendulum in the right direction and incorporate that into your candidate selection. Building a team of individuals with a mindset of growth and cooperation is more beneficial to the well-being of your company than relying on whoever has the most experience.

At Reunion, our hiring process often includes a lunch outing with a few team members to ensure cultural fit all around. We have a solid talented crew that is always striving to be the best. Without being careful about our hiring, we would not be able to maintain our culture.

Care about employee development – and show it.

Leadership has to care about employee development. Sir Richard Branson said, “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

The more you invest in your staff, the more you will get out of them. Encouraging workers to push themselves may lead them into different roles, but your company will flourish as more people work within their ideal wheelhouse. Establishing a culture of growth helps your entire workforce combine skills, talent, and willpower into being the best.

It’s easy to say, “Yes, management cares about our staff,” and mentally check the box. You could be right, but caring is only effective if you show it. The saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” holds true in most environments.

Does your staff know that their professional growth is important to you?

There are a few signs to look for. Can you name any professional goals held by your staff? Does your team come to you with development opportunities? Can you see growth in your employees? Are they taking on new responsibilities, offering new ideas, and speaking up during meetings?

Beyond discussion, do you offer any tangible support for development of your staff? As a company, there are many ways to get started, including:

  • Start an in-house development group
  • Join a networking group
  • Join a local association
  • Send your staff to an industry-related conference
  • Pair senior staff with junior staff to facilitate learning
  • Offer mentorship opportunities for interested staff

Reunion is fortunate to have a monthly GETit group. GET stands for Grow, Empower, Thrive. We meet monthly to tackle issues, offer support, and generally encourage the professional development of our employees.

Support the growth of your staff.

Many companies skip this vital step. People often use the word “grow” as a euphemism for wanting a raise or promotion, but there are many ways your employees can grow that don’t include an immediate jump up the ladder.

Add more responsibility (not just responsibilities): Don’t just add tasks to an employee’s plate. These need to be the right opportunities. Are there any processes an ambitious employee can take over?

Once you’ve learned the strengths of your employees, look for ways they can add value to projects management is working on. They’ll start spreading their wings, and you’ll get a glimpse into how they would also manage bigger projects and eventually manage others.

Encourage ideas: How do you react when an employee has an idea? The worst thing you can do is take credit for or dismiss their suggestions.

Instead, support them as they voice their thoughts. Tease out solutions and guide them to think holistically. Is their idea scalable? Is it sustainable? Ask questions, listen to their strategy, and gently steer them in a productive direction. Then, refer to point one and involve them in the implementation.

Finally, debrief. Discuss with the employee what went well and what could be improved.

Foster soft skills development: Soft skills include things like emotional intelligence, people skills, and culture contributors. Find out where employees struggle and how you can support them. Then give them the opportunity to improve these skills along with the hard skills needed for their job.

Prepare for tough conversations: At times, helping people grow can lead to difficult conversations. Consider how you will address these situations ahead of time. Are you straight and to the point or do you take a more subtle approach? Do you remember to build the person up so feedback is valued? Use positive feedback with a focus on the solution to help those delicate talks go more smoothly.

Be ready for them to move forward.

Finally, how do you react if an employee wants to switch jobs, either for another position within your company or moving on to a new opportunity? Truly supportive leadership encourages employees to follow their passions and be the best version of themselves, even if it takes them to another company.

Here at Reunion, we place a high value on developing our employees into the best version of themselves. We are fortunate to have leadership with a vision not only for revenue growth but also for employee professional growth. Companies that are purposeful about investing in the professional development of their staff will be far more successful in the long run than those that focus on revenue alone.

In conclusion, remember this quote by Harvey Firestone, founder of Firestone Tires: “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”