5 Keys to Building a Great Professional Development Program at Your Company

November 4, 2015

What's more valuable for a company: Having the greatest salesperson in the world, or having the greatest sales trainer in the world?

Sure, a great salesperson might bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue alone. However, the greatest sales trainer in the world can inspire your entire sales team to bring in hundreds of millions more in revenue.

The point is, there’s a real benefit from having a great professional development program at your company, as it raises the skills of all your employees. On top of that, it's a great way to retain employees, as our research shows the number one reason people leave a job is because they are seeking a position that will better help them progress their career. If you can offer that career progression at your company, partly through professional development, the numbers suggest you’ll retain your employees longer.

Creating a program that's effective (and enjoyable)

This is key - people need to actually want to use and feel like they get real results from your development program. To help you design one that will achieve this, Tanya Staples, the Senior Vice President of Content at Lynda.com, presented at Talent Connect Anaheim and shared five keys to a building a great professional development and fostering a culture of learning. 

They are:

1. Make learning and development a priority at your company

It all starts at the top. To get your employees to sharpen their skills through your learning program, you have to have buy in from your organization’s c-suite.

If your company’s leaders put time and energy into your learning program, perhaps by taking some courses or even teaching one themselves, soon the rest of the organization will follow. Additionally, their support will make implementing the program far easier.

2. Know your audience and what they need

Now it comes down to making your development progam as relevant as possible by providing courses most applicable to your company, Staples said. One of the best ways to do this is actually ask your employees what skills they want to learn more about – perhaps a particular software, public speaking, etc. – and then build courses off of those results.

One thing to keep in mind – you can use your course structure to help drive the culture of your company. For example, if customer service is really important to your organization, than you can re-emphasize that by having courses on how to handle an irate customer, as an example.

3. Find experts in your own organization to act as teachers

Once you have an idea of what types of courses you want to run, it’s time to find people to teach them. And there’s no better place to look than your own company. Have people with standout skills share their expertise with their colleagues, Staples said.

As an example, your top salesperson is a great person to teach your other salespeople. Not only does he or she have credibility, they also can tailor their lessons to precisely your product and how they sell it. Conversely, any outside expert you bring in can still have value, but not everything they say will be applicable for your people.

As far as getting these experts to help, most people are happy (and, frankly, a bit flattered) to share their wisdom with others. That said, you need the buy in from management to allow them to take some time off their day-to-day jobs to do it, in the spirit of helping improve everyone else’s skills at the company.

Sometimes, you aren’t going to have the right person internally, and you’ll have to look elsewhere for help. But, when possible, it makes sense to use the best people you already have.

4. Make it easy for those experts to create content

A sales expert at your company, as an example, might not be an expert on creating content for a professional development program. So, make it easy for them to share their knowledge by having a simple way for them to create content, Staples said.

This requires some work ahead of time. By having an easy-to-use system in place for your company’s experts to share their knowledge – perhaps they just have to give a 30-minute taped presentation you’ll help them build – you are going to greatly increase the number of employees who will act as teachers in your program.

5. Invest in marketing your professional development program

Like most things, the key to the success of your professional development program is marketing it well, according to Staples. So get creative – feature success stories from people who have learned great skills through your organization on your company’s intranet site. Or highlight exciting new classes in all-hands meetings and company-wide emails.

Whatever you can do to consistently remind your employees of the importance of learning new skills, the more who will ultimately participate in it. Of course, the best advertising of all is ensuring people truly learn from the courses you offer, and then word-of-mouth becomes your greatest ally.

Tying it all together

It makes no sense to have your best employees store their knowledge away like a snow shovel during summer time. You want them to share that knowledge with all your employees, so everyone at your organization learns and improves.

The best way to accomplish that is through a robust professional development program. By making a system where people can take courses on their own time that will truly benefit them, you’ll not only have a more talented workforce, you’ll have a more engaged one as well.

*Image from Apps for Europe

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