Although many managers talk a good game about promoting professional development in the workplace, not all actually implement the strategies that will result in increased productivity, improved morale and greater job satisfaction. The good news is that creating an environment that fosters these goals not only makes work a happier place to spend time, it also reduces bottom-line costs while increasing employee loyalty – as long as you walk your talk.
The best way to foster professional development often is right at your own desk. Professionals from a wide variety of industries, including the Institute of Food Science and Technology, report that on-the-job training is frequently the most valuable kind of professional development. Shadowing higher-ups, engaging in 360-degree peer reviews and earning more responsibility by performing assigned tasks with a high degree of skill all earn greater rewards through increased trust. As the highly competent already know, increased trust earns increased responsibilities. And increased responsibilities often result in higher pay.
Some organizations take on-the-job training to the next level by developing in-house mentorship programs. These programs formalize the shadow approach to learning by providing ample one-on-one training sessions between senior staff and promising younger employees. Asking a trusted adviser the questions you're most embarrassed to bring up in the staff meeting, or getting the opportunity to mingle with clients or other top management in a professional but relaxed environment, often provides a beyond-the-desk perspective that is difficult to gain while holed up in a solitary cubicle.
And speaking of getting a beyond-the-desk perspective, when was the last time you spent a week sorting corporate mail, scheduling client meetings or managing tech support? If the answer is never, then a job rotation plan might be the sort of teamwork-building exercise your organization needs. Getting a taste of the problems and successes other groups face every day enhances communication through improved understanding. And when team members learn empathy, they can better support their colleagues.
Beyond the Office
A quality professional development program encourages employees to continue their learning beyond the confines of the office. Networking at industry trade group conferences and with like-minded professionals at other organizations, joining a formal coaching or mentoring program outside of work, earning an advanced degree or writing articles or a paper enhance the reputations of the employee as well as the organization. If you're stuck in an organization that doesn't provide formalized professional development programs, you can always pursue these opportunities on your own – which might make you the most valuable employee of all.
Lisa Bigelow is an independent writer with prior professional experience in the finance and fitness industries. She also writes a well-regarded political commentary column published in Fairfield, New Haven and Westchester counties in the New York City metro area.