5 Ways To Get Employees To Participate In Professional Development

It is not always easy to convince your employees to participate in professional development. Despite overwhelming evidence of the need for and value of learning, employees often resist or regret a company’s push for professional development. RELATED: Creating Your Professional Development Plan: 3 Surprising Truths


1. Make It Relevant

If an organization supports professional development for its employees outside the needs of the organization or individual employee’s jobs, it is fine because those professional activities will be voluntary. However, for professional development related to the ever-changing demands of technology and need to provide “practice” opportunities for all professionals, take steps before and after the programs to demonstrate relevance. One of the biggest complaints from employees is that they participate in professional development only to find the learning, the new skills, ignored when they return. Organizations that take professional development seriously include actions that follow-up on the programs. I’ve worked with organizations that require participants to follow up with written summaries and action plans for implementing key learnings from programs. Sometimes a simple e-mail report or short survey form provides actionable next steps.

2. Set The Stage

Several years ago, I was contracted to teach a two-day communications program for a manufacturing company. It was a program I’d conducted successfully for multiple organizations – a topic directly related to the implementation of a Total Quality Management program. Within minutes after the program started, several of the participants began questioning “why are we here?” Although this had never occurred with similar groups before, I was still able to recognize the problem. Management had clearly failed to present the employees with the reasons for this training opportunity – and no explanation from me as the presenter was going to make a difference. I stopped the class, demanded that the Vice President meet with the class and agreed to continue only if the class members agreed – and stated their agreement clearly to me. They did, and the class resumed and concluded successfully. It is imperative that companies present all professional development opportunities clearly with the reasons and the expectations. Leaders should be discussing these opportunities directly with employees.

3. Make It Experiential

Conferences, training programs, workshops that are filled with “speakers with PowerPoints” are destined to failure. This is not a condemnation of keynote speakers. Many are excellent and successful parts of programs. However, they should not dominate the programs. In the last couple of years, several major conferences with reputations of multiple-multiple speaker sessions are finding ways to increase the “activity” level of the sessions, creating social media interactions, and “gamification.” When I started presenting training programs decades ago, I determined that at least 50% of every session I conducted would be experiential, active discussions, experiential exercises. These sessions foster communication among all participants in the program – not just my speaking to the audience. The “gamification trend” fascinates me because I’ve been doing gaming-experiential learning for 40+ years.

4. Include Self-Assessments

Feedback is known as the #1 motivator of human performance but often, in professional development, feedback is perceived as threatening. However, when feedback is based on self-assessments, with participants having the right to keep their results personal, the overwhelming response is positive. Results can be aggregated for the company – or individual results summarized anonymously so that both participants and the company can profit from the information. In 90% of the professional development programs I present, self-assessment, sometimes multiple assessments, is a part of the program. In certificate programs, featuring multiple workshops, multiple assessments are generated in the first workshops and used as “themes” throughout the program.

5. Connect With Instructors

While it is typical to say “last, but not least,” there are many reasons why I think this is the most important of the points here. For internal instructors, make sure they are really indoctrinated to the operations of the company. Too often training departments are siloed with HR when neither should be. Moreover, invite – in fact, demand – that consultants brought in to present programs spend time learning about the company, the operations, and the people that will participate. Don’t offer the “nickel tours,” set the instructors up for the full half-day or longer tour. In my career I’ve spent a day as a flight attendant, worked the concession stand of a movie theater, been trained on most operations for a casino, spend multiple days shadowing correctional officers in a county correctional facility. When challenged in a customer service training program for an airline for “not understanding what some of our flights are like,” another classmate spoke out: “Yes, he does, let me tell you about the flight he worked with my crew!” Instant credibility! If an organization practices these key elements for the professional development of their employees, professional development will become a part of the organization’s culture. It will support the organization’s culture. When this happens, employees will demand to be part of professional development, they’ll ask for more! This post was originally published at an earlier date.

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About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring, interviewing skills, and retention strategies. Visit his website at www.farcliffs.com.     Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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