In Search of Professional Development Programs with Impact

Long before I ever considered creating and delivering professional development experiences, I was an avid consumer of training for my teams and myself.

I regularly exceeded my budgets for training, and sometimes I occupied a good portion of the organization’s overall budget. Hey, if they weren’t going to use it, I was going to double-down on investing in my people.

However, after a few too many years and programs with little visible impact, I fine-tuned my criteria for selecting programs and providers for our team members. I learned to look for the warning signs of cookie-cutter training and instead focused on finding programs and providers that offered real opportunities for growth.

It turns out; it’s not easy to find programs and providers that deliver growth opportunities. There’s a lot of programs offering great content and entertaining experiences, but not real growth opportunities. You have to look closely at the experience they provide and ask some critical questions before investing your organization’s money and the precious time of your colleagues.

Five Key Questions to Ask Before Investing in Professional Development

1. Has the instructor walked the walk?

I love great lecturers and admire the skills of great content instructors. However, if the person leading the program hasn’t crawled through the trenches, learned to manage, led by doing, and owned the sleepless nights that come with big decisions that impact lives and organizations, I’m not interested in them helping my colleagues strengthen as professionals. Sorry, if you haven’t sold or led, don’t even think about helping my people grow as sales professionals or leaders.

2. Is the experience mostly a marathon driven by PowerPoint slides?

I’ll grant that slides can be used for good instead of evil—props and tools to represent essential visuals. However, no one learns by the PowerPoint death marches that dominate so many supposed learning experiences.

Look for programs where the leader(s) engage individuals, challenge them to think, talk, and explore by doing. I particularly value programs that reflect guided discussions where there’s an element of co-creation in real-time in contrast to the static statements of so many text slides.

3. Does the learning end when the program concludes?

The end of classroom time must be the beginning of turning ideas into actions. Look for the program’s commitment to sustaining learning and growth. Ask these questions:

  • What are participants supposed to do as a result of the experience?
  • What tools are participants provided to guide ongoing exploration and experimentation?
  • What types of resources can they return to for review and refresh?

If the answers come up short, keep looking.

4. Is there a coaching component to the development experience?

The fatal flaw of most programs—both live and e-courses—is that there’s no personalization of the experience via coaching. By investing in a program that incorporates the right classroom experience with the ability to personalize the program in the form of an individual development plan via coaching, you dramatically improve the odds of this being a growth experience.

Classroom time with the right instructor guiding the group and promoting rich exploration and idea-sharing is great, but it’s not enough. The proper training plus the right coaching help individuals bring key concepts into the workplace. The coaching offers help creating clarity for how to turn ideas into actions.

And, coaching incorporates accountability and a commitment to longer-range planning.

5. Is the boss directly involved in the employee’s growth post-program?

I would only support a development investment for an individual or group for my teams if their direct manager were involved. While I didn’t require the boss to attend the same training, I looked to the providers to advise how the manager can support and coach individuals post-program.

If we invest in people to strengthen our firm, the growth experiences must be integrated up and down and across the organization.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There’s a lot of great material out there. However, there’s a difference between great material and an authentic growth experience—one that challenges people to think and act differently in pursuit of strengthening personal, team, and organization performance. If it’s the latter you are after, invest carefully and commit to working with your team members after the program.

Art's Signature