Professional Development: Taking an Authentic and Holistic Approach
Does an employee with great professional development opportunities lead to a fully engaged employee that stays? What is great professional development? Certainly, providing professional development with clear goals and steps along the way helps employees to feel valued, important, and invested in.
Research would say that 40% of millennials will leave a job within a year without the necessary training for their effectiveness.
Studies and articles ask, on one hand, “What if we train an employee and they leave?”, and on the other hand, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?” Professional development is good for employees’ personal growth, learning and development and sense of empowerment.
It also benefits the organization in return on investment by helping employees achieve more, stay engaged and stay longer for organizations than perhaps if their options for professional development were less.
Table of Contents
- What is Professional Development
- What’s the Issue with Traditional Professional Development?
- What is Holistic Professional Development?
- What is the Engagement Shift of 2020?
- How Do We Build a Holistic Professional Development Plan?
- 5 Must Haves for a Holistic Professional Development Plan
- Relationships Matter
- Include the Whole Person
- It’s a Program and an Individualized Process
Collaboration is Key to Ownership
- Reflection, Accountability and Feedback: Yes, Please!
- How to put all this into action
- It all begins with vision
- Leadership Vision
- Personal Vision
- Leadership is critical
- Identify the learning elements that are critical for the team and the individual
- Involve the learner in the process
- Learning Options
- Quality Counts in Professional Development Workshops
- Celebration Drives Motivation and Continuous Learning
What is Professional Development?
When we talk about professional development, what we are talking about quite simply is maximizing our own and our workforce’s potential.
That is a simple definition not easily achieved. How can we lead and motivate- not only ourselves, but those we are charged with guiding through professional development in a way that is both authentic and holistic?
I started with the task of creating a definitive guide to professional development. This task felt daunting as I considered, ‘who is really qualified to write such a definitive guide’?
There is no lack of guides, manuals, resources or top ten most important tips to professional development out there, but as I started to review them, most of them fell flat or didn’t connect with me personally.This led me to asking myself why I felt that way, and wondering if others felt the same…
What’s the Issue with Traditional Professional Development?
Wikipedia defines professional development broadly as, “formal types of vocational education, typically post-secondary or poly-technical training leading to qualification or credential required to obtain or retain employment.” Professional development may also come in the form of pre-service or in-service professional development programs.
These programs may be formal, or informal, group or individualized. Individuals may pursue professional development independently, or programs may be offered by human resource departments.
Professional development on the job may develop or enhance process skills, sometimes referred to as leadership skills, as well as task skills”.The above definition includes important pieces to professional development.
Honing leadership skills, task skills, knowledge components for job performance are all important aspects of professional development. The problem with this definition is the over focus on skills and knowledge. If we want to create space for fully engaging employees in professional development, it cannot only focus on our minds (knowledge) or skills (possibly minds and bodies). It must be holistic, authentic, and individualized.
Stephen Covey, in his book The 8th Habit, suggests that there is “one simple, overarching reason why so many people remain unsatisfied in their work and why organizations fail to draw out the greatest talent, ingenuity and creativity of their people and fail to become truly great, enduring organizations”.
Covey asserts this one reason why there is failure in our professional development is because of its one-dimensional focus, rather than a multi-dimensional focus.
Knowledge and skill growth alone are an incomplete picture of who we are as human beings and will not holistically develop our leaders.
Covey states “human beings are not things needing to be motivated and controlled; they are four dimensional – body, mind, heart and spirit”.
Therefore, if we want to capture the best of our collective potential through professional development, it must capture all areas of our humanness (mind, body, heart, and spirit). It must connect with more than just knowledge and skills. It must also connect with our hearts and spirits. So how do we do that?
What is Holistic Professional Development?
Mind, body, heart and spirit professional development requires a paradigm shift in our approach. We can make smaller or incremental improvements when our professional development only focuses on skills or knowledge improvement.
However, if we want to maximize and capture the engagement and potential of the people in our organizations, it must include not only their knowledge and skills – it must also take into account their hearts, passions and their uniqueness.
Brené Brown’s theory, in Daring Greatly, from her years of research on vulnerability is that “disengagement is the issue underlying the majority of problems in organizations… We disengage to protect ourselves from feeling lost and without purpose.”
If we want to maximize the potential and have full engagement from the people in our organizations, they need to feel a sense of their unique purpose within their jobs, and understand how their jobs tie into or allow them to live out their sense of purpose in the world.
This requires us to have honest and open conversations and dialogue about how we as those providing professional development opportunities can support and nurture that purpose which includes their hearts/passions and their felt significance in tandem with knowledge and skill development.
What is the Engagement Shift of 2020?
I attended a webinar put on by the EQ Development Group titled, “Is now a good time to talk about engagement?” In this webinar, professional development and what engages employees was talked about as an individual or adjustable process rather than an average program which is meant to fit everyone.
With each person’s needs having a dramatic shift in 2020 due to Covid-19, priorities and needs that were important to an employee 6 months ago may not be important to them now.
Professional development needs might be different now than they were 6 months ago, and they might again be different again 6 months from now. Todd Rose’s book, The End of Average goes so far as to say that an average or standardized approach actually fits no one.
Professional development that engages and stimulates each individual’s purpose and needs is the direction we need to go. Yet, we currently have professional development that focuses mostly on building knowledge and skills. How do we bridge the gap?
How Do We Build a Holistic Professional Development Plan?
How do we, as leaders, bosses, human resources, or whomever is tasked with professional development in our workplaces get beyond the average knowledge-and-skills approach?
How can we reach a level of vulnerability with our people to be able to have the right kinds of conversations that will individualize and engage mind/body/heart/spirit for the benefit of both the individual and our organizations?
For our purposes, we will not focus on building the knowledge and skills needed for your specific industry.
We will, instead, focus on how to engage the heart, passion and sense of significance within your workforce and those critical soft skills, which ultimately contribute to a holistic professional development approach.
5 Must Haves for a Holistic Professional Development Plan
1) Relationships Matter
Business and team management leader Patrick Lencioni’s model of being able to conquer team dysfunction starts out with addressing a lack of trust.
This trust is built on a sense of comfort on a team to be able to admit weaknesses, get honest about where we need and want to grow, and ask for the help we might need to get there.
What Covey, Brown, and Lencioni all point to is the foundational importance of strong relationships.
We cannot get beyond the knowledge and skills development level of professional development without strong, trusting relationships enabling us to have the authentic conversations needed to discuss professional development that engages hearts and spirits as well as knowledge and skill development.
Building relationships and trust can and should come from a variety of ways. Informally this might be regular social times such as lunch, walks to a nearby park, drinks, a bowling afternoon. Formal relationship building such as team building and training workshops, especially ones that utilize assessment tools in which we can get to know our teammates and learn about the dynamics of how that impacts how we work together, are a great way to get beyond a surface level.
These could include training workshops like Emotional Intelligence, Strengths Deployment Inventory, and MBTI. It could include some team building programs that practice collaborative decision making such as Desert Survival or Conquering Everest or practicing peer coaching in The Juggling Act.
Relationship building for professional development can also include reading books or listening to podcasts that challenge and stimulate growth and talking about them. We can learn about our colleagues by what challenges their growth. As we get to know people through a variety of ways both formal and informal, we begin to build trust.
Trust is critical to being able to have a level of vulnerability required to have holistic and authentic individually adjusted plans fitted to the unique professional development needs of the individual that will benefit both the individual and the organization.
2) Include the Whole Person
We start in the wrong place if we are trying to get the individual to fit into our professional development process. Once we have a level of trust, we can have conversations that genuinely ask life affirming questions such as, ‘what do you care about enough to figure out how to lead?’
Other great life affirming questions can be found here. A resource book on Global Leadership states that finding out what people are passionate about and willing to give discretionary effort towards will go a lot further towards engagement in our professional development than checking off boxes of acquired competencies and skills.
Programs that help us understand our personal style such as Strengths Finder would be a good way to collectively discover our individual and unique contributions.
3) It’s a Program and an Individualized Process
Research discussed in Global Leadership, states that diverse teams can hold both cohesion and individual differences.
This research found that teams that focus only on social cohesion underperform and teams that focus on their differences create divides and find it difficult to align.
Teams and professional development that can create cohesion around task-related issues while acknowledging and respecting individual differences especially around diverse perspectives around contributions to the tasks, ways to get it done, and social needs within the group, thrived.
What individual adjust-ability measures can you put into place in your professional development process that allow for what Dan Pink calls “elements of true motivation”? Pink provides a toolkit for how to tap into individual motivation.
Naturally, if we want to connect to an individual’s heart and what drives them in their professional development, it must be a collaborative effort. Sharing the leadership in creating professional development goals and plans will have the perspective of the organization and the individual in mind.
The personal connection will allow for insights into an individual’s heart to participate in the collaboration. Collaboration is also needed to decide an action plan that will be effective for both the individual and the organization. And with any action plan, the key to gaining or maintaining momentum and growth is in accountability.
4) Collaboration is Key to Ownership
Naturally, if we want to connect to an individual’s heart and what drives them in their professional development, it must be a collaborative effort.
Sharing the leadership in creating professional development goals and plans will have the perspective of the organization and the individual in mind. The personal connection will allow for insights into an individual’s heart to participate in the collaboration.
Collaboration is also needed to decide an action plan that will be effective for both the individual and the organization. And with any action plan, the key to gaining or maintaining momentum and growth is in accountability.
5) Reflection, Accountability and Feedback: Yes, Please!
Brown talks about a “daring greatly culture which is a culture of honest, constructive, and engaged feedback” where we can “normalize discomfort”.
It is difficult to stay with discomfort if we don’t feel the environment has a level of trust in the relationships that it’s built upon. We all want to grow. But if we don’t feel safety in the relationships, we will disengage.
What measures will hold a specific individual to accountability from a “strengths-based approach”? Coaching skills in accountability listen, ask open-ended, judgement-free questions and remain curious to come alongside the individual to discover their own answers and hold themselves accountable.
Follow-through in professional development will flow much easier if we pay attention to the whole person. Building authentic relationships is the backbone to collaborating on professional development goals that are individualized and holistic.
I love the analogy of three people who joined a gym, all with the goal of getting healthy and fit. One person joined and did their own thing. The second person joined an already designed program that didn’t take into consideration his/her preferences, strengths, limitations or goals.
The third person joined and invested in a trainer who got to know their client, listened and learned the individual’s goals, strengths, limitations and style and together they created a strategy and motivation/accountability plan to hold that individual to the goals created collaboratively.
Can any of the three people who joined the gym reach their goals? Of course….but which one do you think is most likely to reach their goals? What “coach-like” professional development structures do you have in place to track progress and keep people motivated?
There are many different action plan templates out there…just google it and look at all the images of varying plans. When choosing which one to use, consider the one that will fit your organization and the people within it best.
What leads to the highest level of accountability? At Summit, we like to start with the ‘SET’ question. How do you (as an individual and as a team) want to be Seen, Experienced, and Talked about? And then setting measurable, realistic steps that you can hold each other accountable to. Schedule reminders in your calendar or regular check-ins to follow up on your action goals.
How To Put All This Into Action
Now that we understand that we need to include the learner in the professional development process we will outline a strategy to create the best professional development program for individuals and teams.
It All Begins With Vision
As Stephen Covey stated, “begin with the end in mind”. Before we can embark on any professional development journey, we need to know why we are doing this.
What is it we want to create or become? What is our vision of the future? This could be something initiated by the team leader or the individual and we would suggest both.
The team leader needs to think about the team they want to create, the culture this team must have, the skills they must utilize. They need to take a short-term and a long-term view and create a vision of what they are looking to create and then deliberately set out to create it.
Just as teams and organizations need vision, so do individuals. Vision is what defines our future, our goals and aspirations and it guides our decisions and how we allot resources. This is something you will find common in high performance individuals who have achieved great things. They have identified a personal vision and embraced an action plan to help them fulfil this vision.
Once a vision is identified you need to have a clear understanding of your current reality. This is called a gap analysis.
Your current reality can be understood through personal reflection, various assessments, peer feedback, mentorship and many other strategies such as assessing how well you and your team are doing in the above ‘5 Must Haves for a Holistic Professional Development Plan’.
The key is to have as clear an understanding of your current skills, aptitudes and trajectory as possible so you can identify what you need to do to chart a course to your vision.
Leadership is critical
As a team leader, vision of what you want for your team and your team members comes first. We hope you understand that as a leader you have tremendous influence on the development of team culture and individual engagement.
Studies have shown that much of individual engagement and motivation is directly related to your relationship with your immediate supervisor. As a leader you need to embrace a personal approach to learning and development for each team member.
You need to build a relationship built on trust and respect and you need to invest your time and resources to help people grow.
As a leader you need to take an active role in identifying individual leaning needs and then helping each individual create a development plan and then source the resources needed.
Identify the learning elements that are critical for the team and the individual
As a leader you are using your vision and your gap analysis to discover what is needed for the team as a whole and for each person on the team. This should be a collaborative process for maximum engagement.
Involve the learner in the process
Don’t dictate a professional development plan, collaborate with your team and every individual person on the team to create it. You need to engage in dialogue with your team and each person individually to understand where they currently are and what they want to focus on.
You can then blend this with what you see as needed as the team leader and develop a comprehensive professional development strategy.
Knowing if your focus is on just getting to know each other while having fun or a desire to understand each other’s strengths, motivations or approach to life/work is a good start for us to guide you towards a program or custom approach that will help you get there.
Summit also offers facilitation services if you want help keeping on track while creating your vision and action plan or figuring out where you are in your process and creating a plan to get there.
It takes all kinds of learning and touchpoints along the way, not all of them formal and professionally facilitated.
Books, learning webinars, podcasts, fun team lunches can all contribute…but high performance does not happen by accident and neither does holistic professional development.
Quality Counts in Professional Development Workshops
When you are looking for a facilitator, trainer or training company, budget is always a consideration. We have found that not everything out there is of equal value, so how do you know who to choose?
Check their google reviews, ask friends or others in your organization who have used professional training companies, try to find out what others are saying about who you are considering. Repeat business is a great indicator of customer satisfaction.
At Summit, we work with many large organizations where we have started in one small department and the word spreads through the whole organization and before you know it, we’ll have multiple learning opportunities within one company in a year.
Another important thing to consider is in your initial contact with a training or team building professional. Are they asking you questions?
Trying to find out, in the end when it’s all said and done, what your team should be saying about their experience?
Starting with the end in mind matters, and you don’t want be sold an experience or training that isn’t a great fit considering where your team currently is and where they want to go.
Celebration Drives Motivation and Continuous Learning
Celebration of learning (which includes what we learn from failure) motivates us to continue to strive towards continuously learning and adapting.
We adapt as we are accountable to our action plan. These reflections from our actions help drive a learning culture and celebration helps to keep us motivated that our learnings matter and they drive us towards our accountability goals and creating and maintaining a learning culture.
Sometimes at Summit, our clients tell us they just want to reward their team and focus on having fun together. We love those programs and the energy in the room that comes from a team celebrating their collective big and small wins is palpable and fun for us to be around.
We hope this guide has been useful in helping shed some light on the difference between traditional professional development, and the kind of authentic and holistic professional development that we need more of in our workforce today. If you have any further questions regarding professional development and what makes it effective, please don’t hesitate to reach out and connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.