Frequently, we think of professional development for ourselves and for our staff as an option or worse, a luxury. It’s something we do if and when there’s sufficient staffing, enough money in the training and travel budget, and of course, there can’t be a lot of work stacked up at the office. Oh sure, there’s the required training from Human Resources or the like, but too often, the purpose and benefits of professional development aren’t clearly understood by an organization. Sometimes it’s viewed as a reward for a job well done, or, alternately, a punishment for poor performance. Can it really be both? There are a number of methods available—many without cost—to develop ourselves as well as those individuals who work for us.
- Take a class. Attend a seminar, workshop, or a one-day training. Look for an online class that’s relevant to your job or your career goals. Take a big step and go back to school.
- Look for Mentors. Who has a career you’re interested in? Who has the position you aspire to? Talk to them about their career path. How did they get there? Most people are willing and even eager to help others achieve their professional goals. Find someone willing to help you.
- Network with peers. Take the time to meet and talk with others in your field. Getting to know your peers and better understand their knowledge and experience can be invaluable to your growth. Networking allows you the chance to learn from peers and mentors. Who do you know who may help you to not reinvent the wheel at every turn? Talk to a peer about the pros and cons of a particular business solution you’ve been considering. I guarantee you’ll discover that you’re not alone in dealing with specific technology upgrades or identifying different methods to accomplish the tasks you’re responsible for.
- Attend a conference. You may be visiting a lovely city, convention center, or hotel, but remember to make the program sessions the priority. Review the session descriptions being offered in advance. Attend the educational sessions. Spend time with vendors and consultants to learn about new products and services. Learn new skills and make new contacts. Even if you’ve attended for many years, there’s always something new to learn. Make a point of meeting at least one new colleague each time.
- Identify other learning resources and opportunities: Read a book, an article, a blog. Watch a TED talk. Join an industry listserv. Teach yourself a new skill. The internet is full of tutorials on just about anything you want to learn about. Research a topic and present it to your team at work, no matter what level you serve within the organization. Share that “pearl of wisdom” you discovered in a book you read or a training you attended. Have a cup of coffee with someone you believe has something great to teach you about the work that you do, how to excel in your career, or even just how to be a better human.
Every one of us has something to teach and something to learn. As you consider your options, remember that professional development requires two things: internal motivation and taking that first step. It requires action on our part.