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The Best Professional Development

Professional development is the opportunity for an employee to learn. Training is usually more with technical details while professional development tends to be broader in scope. For example, learning how to use the newly transitioned CRM platform - training. Learning about CRM platforms, implementations, benefits, drawbacks, future designs, and untapped potential - professional development.

Both types of learning have their place. Usually, professional development addresses the WHY. Training typically addresses the HOW or WHAT. It is critical to have all of the pieces in place to have a well-rounded professional and a highly-functioning organization.

From early in my career, I was incredibly fortunate to have support to go to conferences for professional development. These were impactful, meaningful, and joyful. Sometimes the conference would be days; other times it would be 2 hours. At no point during my career did I feel stagnation due to lack of access to learning and networking.

One phrase for me wraps up any meaningful professional development experience, especially as my tenure in the profession grew. That phrase is, "I never thought of it that way."

I never thought of it that way.

There were times when I would go to a conference session because the title and abstract were absolutely solid. The narrative spoke to hope, innovation, and transferability from one campus to the next. While nothing is 100% interchangeable, these sessions got my interest. Sometimes the sessions were great, but sometimes the session would highlight that they sure knew how to craft a great title and abstract.

When I was working with an organization that was focused on continuous improvement, we were looking for any tweak to help improve our processes and the user experience. The problem this brought up was the shiny abstract. The session looked great, but upon attending, it was clear that we had been doing that "innovative" thing for years. Not bad, not a judgment, just not the next thing that would advance our work.

On the other side of the issue was the great title, great abstract, and great content. WOW! This is innovative, engaging, and promising... how did they do it? Somewhere past the 75% completion point for the presentation, it would come out that someone had flown over their department and dropped a big bag of cash and that is how they innovated; they had funds to fuel their dreams. Pretty awesome and sincerely, good on them, but not precisely transferable knowledge.

For years, I attended conferences and always came away with actionable ideas. Small things like tweaking how to interact with direct reports to help them be more authentic. And big things like an entirely new way of running operations that is counter-intuitive and exceptionally effective. As is the case in many environments, there were more good ideas than could or would be implemented. But that doesn't mean there wasn't value, not the least of which is helping a person grow into a more thoughtful and creative professional.

Well into my career, I stumbled upon this concept of behavioral economics. I read some, listened to podcasts, and watched videos. The more I learned, the more I believed there was something missing from my daily work. Something that could positively impact the people I served without making dramatic and expensive changes. I learned about nudges. I learned about comparisons such as, "Your neighbors reduced their utility bill by conserving water. Imagine lowering your utility bill every month!"

Due to this interest and applicability to my day job, I made the request to attend a summit held by ideas42. This was not a traditional higher education conference; at all. This was, broadly, a business conference. There were academics, C-Suite leaders, and marketers. There was a very high probability that I would learn applicable information.

The lesson in this portion of the story is that 1) I saw an opportunity for learning and application that was outside of the traditional professional development track and 2) my supervisor completely agreed with my argument. Just because an opportunity for professional development doesn't fit the mold doesn't mean you shouldn't pursue it; in fact, it may be a great reason to chase it down.

Some lessons:

  • Behavioral expectations articulated by those whose behavior is expected are better understood, observed, and remembered than when written by administration

  • We don't make decisions based on rationality, influences come from everywhere; even seemingly unrelated sources

  • Yes, and-ing is not just a technique, it may be the only way to convince someone that their position is without a firm foundation of facts

When an employee is asking for professional development, it is completely reasonable to ask why, what they expect to learn, and how it can benefit the organization. Leaders may have to stretch their schema to extend beyond industry-specific opportunities. If the employee can make a good case and follow-up upon conclusion of the professional development, the investment in the employee likely will have a high return on investment.

Among the best professional development opportunities that have a high ROI stir innovation and engagement. This doesn't mean that a person will have an experience and then 10x the business. It means they could be more creative, more engaged, or more innovative as a result of being gifted time and resources to not be weighed down by email and interruptions. The opportunity for people to reflect and think about possibilities helps them engage in the day-to-day more than when they simply engage in the day-to-day.

Participating in a behavioral economics summit was the most impactful professional development experience I had in years. This is not because the others were without merit or value, they were quite good. The difference is that the behavioral economics summit was different and required me to think about things differently. This stretching outside of the norm was hugely valuable to me and helped me find a nudging platform and make the case for small iterations rather than giant changes in my department.

I couldn't have guessed it would have been so impactful, but I am very glad we invested in learning about new ways to think about our old problems.

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