Insight: Quality Professional Development?
Do you find it difficult to track down quality professional development that meets your needs? Sometimes I have hit the mark and continue to reap the benefits of investing in quality professional development and other times I am left feeling disappointed at best. At worst, I feel frustrated that I have wasted time and money, and wonder how I ever made the decision to invest. See, as a dedicated continuous learner, I love learning. I am committed to building my own capacity and in turn, love working with individuals, teams and organisations to build their capacity to achieve their goals.
When I relocated to a regional community, I moved away from away from ready accessibility to reliable, quality professional development opportunities that exist in metropolitan cities. Thankfully, my move coincided with the rise of the podcast, and a baby who slept well in a car. So, I started downloading hours of content about a range of topics and consumed literally thousands of hours of information. I started driving the long way home, extending baby naps as I learned about topics I didn’t even think I was interested in. I was in learning heaven. Then I noticed I started doing regular double takes, followed by an audible “huh?” After a particularly frustrating episode, I thought about some of the claims from the self-proclaimed expert and suddenly realised podcasts are not evidence based! There is no quality control. People can claim to be experts without credentials. Now, this may not be shocking for you, but it certainly felt quite shocking to me at the time.
I was about midway through a doctorate so was literally up to my eyes in research. Everything I read was research based, so I had inadvertently assumed all information I consumed was created from data.
Simultaneously, I was starting my first small business. I had grown up hearing about owning and operating small businesses but didn’t know much about starting one. I had a lot to learn, so I started accessing podcasts about business, then webinars, a short course or two, a few TED talks – you get the drift. After asking peers with small businesses what was essential in the start-up phase, I sought recommendations for experts to supply me with the key tools of small business. But once I was armed with a logo, brand guidelines, a website and a few clients – I wasn’t sure where to move next with my learning.
I became quite spontaneous and reactive to learning opportunities. If I saw something that vaguely seemed engaging, I accessed it. The easier the access, the more likely I would be to attend. When access is a barrier, the filter for quality learning opportunities can become skewed when that barrier is removed. Enter podcasts, webinars and online anything. People in regional communities are a contained audience, along with anyone who is isolated or home bound in some (not necessarily negative) way. But it can be hard to differentiate quality learning when marketing campaigns are bright and shiny, making promises that seem appealing. Marketing campaigns that say “hey there, you. Yes, you. I have something you need. Sure, you maybe didn’t realise you need it, but trust me, you do.”
Probably an untrustworthy person would tell you to trust them. Trust isn’t an instruction.
Choosing quality learning
If you find it hard to work out exactly what topics you need to work on, what areas you are avoiding and how to find quality learning opportunities, consider these factors.
Break down your learning needs
Broadly speaking, I believe there are two types of professional development (PD).
Technical knowledge: For example, if you are a counsellor you might need training that teaches you a specific therapeutic approach, or you could be a legal practitioner needing updates on legislative changes and implications for practice. This type of PD can be a little easier to locate because it is searchable and usually there are identified organisations or individuals who are known for their expertise. Some professions have continuing professional development requirements to maintain registration or professional association membership, so there is a good place to start your search.
Relational skills: The other type of professional development is what I would call the relational skills, often referred to as “soft skills”. This is code for “really hard skills that need to be taught, learned and practiced”. For example, training that focuses on interpersonal skills, communication, and leadership capabilities. There is a whole range of tailored professional development topics, so it is important to be very clear with yourself about your gaps in knowledge so you can keep an eye out for topics that meet your needs for professional growth.
To guide your thinking about learning relational skills, let me share a recommendation for an evidence-based podcast! I am a huge fan of organisational psychologist Dr Amantha Imbar and ‘How I Work’ is on high rotation on my podcast playlist – partly because it is based on science but mostly because it provides actionable insights into productivity. In a favourite episode of mine, Dr Imbar interviewed fellow organisational psychologist Adam Grant and together they discussed the concept of a six monthly “life check-up”. Grant developed these questions to think critically about how he is tracking professionally, “even when you don’t suspect anything is wrong” explains Dr Imbar. I found this idea really valuable and used this to create my own set of questions.
How do I spend my time at work? Divide the day/week/months to allow for any seasonal adjustments. Where am I spending most of my time through to the least of my time.
Is this the job I want to do?
How healthy is the organisational culture?
Have I hit a learning plateau?
You may find this helpful in designing your own regular “professional life check-up” to help you work out areas for growth and learning. I have found this to be a valuable way to avoid being lured by bright, shiny offerings on marketing and allowed me to be clearer about the less shiny but essential business ideas, such as cashflow.
2. Check the shadows!
Feedback can also be a valuable way to identify areas of learning. Ask trusted colleagues, peers or managers, about aspects of your professional development that could benefit from some attention. If you are a small business owner, consider asking some questions of your clients, a mentor or may be a service you are using for outsourcing. I personally found it valuable to talk to my accountant about areas of my professional practices that I needed to improve and have been able to develop some strong and sustained actions from this feedback.
For the spontaneous folk among us, beware of the biases that can drive your behaviour but not result in any change. There are only so many courses you can take in time management if you are not implementing any strategies. You might find that you’re drawn to the bright and shiny workshops that have amazing marketing materials, but overlook another topic that you find less appealing, and which isn’t wrapped up in shiny enough paper to attract your attention.
3. At what cost?
I am not only talking about money, I am talking about the many and varied resources you invest when engaging in learning. As a consumer, we are charged with the power of choice. More than ever before, we can access courses, workshops, conferences, coaching programs, webinars, and any other format of learning with relative ease. But how do we choose what to invest our resources into? Some consumers are motivated by cost, others time. For me it is both, plus a big dose of expertise.
To help make an informed choice before investing, do some due diligence on the presenter. What is their work background? Do they have qualifications in the subject matter? How experienced are they? The answers will hold varying levels of importance to you but will provide you with insights that will help determine whether it is worth the investment. Before making an investment and enrolling in a course, consider making contact with the facilitator and engage around your learning objectives. Understand how this learning actually relates to you. I recently made a significant investment in a course that offered fantastic learning outcomes but failed to deliver against most of them. The presenter lacked the authority on the topics being taught. So be clear that the facilitator has a qualification or some degree of expertise that can be clearly identified. A qualification does not entirely legitimise a facilitator’s expertise, but it does indicate some context that you can factor into your choice to purchase their course.
Experience is also a key contributor to expertise – this frame of reference can offer an insight into how they will present an idea. Any quality facilitator should be willing to answer the questions you have to help you make a decision around committing to their course.
4. Are you ready for change?
Be really clear with yourself about what you will gain from this experience. Is it going to require you to significantly change the way you are doing something? Or are you taking your base line knowledge on the topic from zero and you need to start growing your knowledge? Or, are you wanting to pump up the jam on your existing knowledge and skills? Wherever your starting point is, are you ready to take action and change something about the way you currently practice?
Accessibility is a growing consideration for many people. Accessing in-person learning can require next level logistics, particularly if you have caring responsibilities or live regionally. Or both. When additional investment is needed to travel to an interstate event a two-day conference can quickly become a four-day event. So it pays to be clear about the bottom line investment I need to make to attend the two-day conference.
As a small business owner, investment in professional development is as important to include in my budget as it is to engage a quality accountancy service, access sound legal advice, create marketing collateral or operate a website. Each year I set an amount and time allowance that I can use as a benchmark to determine whether I can invest. At certain stages of business, your budget won’t allow for particular learning opportunities if the investment cost is disproportionate to your revenue or operations.
Ultimately, investing in professional development can be an effective strategy to ensure your quality of service, while also providing you with the personally benefits of inspiration, connection, innovation, creativity and motivation to keep you moving forward.
If you are looking for a customised approach to professional development for your business, take a look at my Consultancy Services to find out more about how we can work together. Alternatively, get in touch.
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