People Management
6 min.

6 Ways to Optimize Professional Development

Andrée-Anne Blais-Auclair
Last updated on 22 Dec. 2023
Published on 17 Jan. 2023
man going up in a ladder in a pink sky

Your employees’ professional development is not only fantastic for boosting performance, but a powerful way to improve retention and grow your company’s wealth.

Table of contents

According to 47% of HR managers, retaining their employees looms as their tallest talent-management challenge, followed closely by recruitment (36%).

In situations where retention and employee recruitment are serious challenges, you have everything to gain by retaining your existing employees.

Developing the skills of your in-house talent is a great place to start. Why? Because a lack of career progression and development is the leading cause of resignations in the US.

In this post, I’ll explain why, and how to promote professional development.

Professional development vs. training—what’s the difference?

Let’s begin by distinguishing between two often-confused concepts.

Professional development refers to acquiring knowledge, abilities (know-how) and soft skills.

Training is just one avenue of professional development.

Why focus on professional development?

Professional development has so many benefits.

A full 94% of employees surveyed in LinkedIn’s annual Workplace Learning Report said they would work longer for the same company if it invested in their learning and development.

This impressive figure is not actually so surprising considering that employees who regularly update their skills are more motivated and enjoy higher professional self-esteem. What’s more, professional development affects employees’ sense of belonging to their profession, employer, and role.

Promoting career progression

Professional development enables employees to progress in their careers. In turn, this has multiple benefits. According to the Harvard Business Review, for every 10 months that an employee remains in the same position, their risk of resignation increases by 1%. 😯

Encouraging internal mobility

Professional development also allows individuals to move to other positions within the same organization. This internal mobility is extremely positive for a company, since it rewards employees who are already loyal and further strengthens their engagement.

On a global scale, companies that excel at internal mobility retain their employees for an average 5.4 years—that’s nearly twice as long as other companies.

Professional development is also the best way to train the managers of tomorrow. After all, what better way to prepare them for their future role than to enable them to tap into strengths that they are scarcely using in their current position?

6 ways to optimize professional development

Have you ever heard that the sum total of your employees’ experience and knowledge is the wealth of your organization? This wealth is referred to as human capital, and it is built up and cultivated by promoting professional development and training within your team.

Here are 6 ways to optimize your team’s professional development.

1. Embrace a culture of professional development

Corporate culture is the set of beliefs, values and attitudes of a company. It dictates what matters and guides all staff in their actions and ways of doing things.

Make professional development part of your organizational culture by making learning and development a real priority.

This will help your employees and managers better understand that the time and money invested in training is worthwhile.

Do you feel that professional development doesn’t apply to your industry? Think again;
it is extremely important for all job positions.

In the restaurant industry, for example, training on seasonal products or on the local producers who supply the restaurant will enable service teams to better advise your customers. Hardware clerks will benefit from knowing the subtle differences between the many brands of tools they offer, enabling them to deliver the best possible customer service. Why not even have them try out the tools they sell in the course of a team-building day?

How to do it:

  • Make sure to have plenty of development opportunities available, such as professional development or mentoring
  • Encourage your employees to teach what they’ve learned to others
  • After each training session, talk or conference, ask your employees to present a written or verbal summary of their learning to the rest of the team
  • Frequently remind your teams and managers that training ideas are welcome

2. Ask your employees about their expectations

Your team members are in the best position to tell you about their professional-development expectations.

One-on-ones and evaluations are a great way to help you collect your team’s requests and training needs. You will then be able to validate if a given training opportunity is really relevant to the current or future roles of your employees.

How to do it:

  • Include training-related questions in your satisfaction surveys: Are you satisfied with the professional development offered in your current job? Do you feel that you have enough opportunities to develop the skills you want to build?
  • Discuss training during employee evaluations

3. Earmark a budget for professional development

To make professional development a reality, you’ll need to establish a dedicated training budget. And make sure your team is aware that this budget exists.

Did you know that if you’re an employer in Quebec with a payroll of over $2 million, you have training obligations toward your employees? The law governing professional development is called the Skills Act.

How to do it:

  • Make the most of your budget by holding group-training sessions in the workplace. For example, you could offer sommelier training to your entire service staff rather than sending a few waiters or waitresses off-site for training
  • In these kinds of cases, don’t forget to factor in travel, meal and hotel expenses.

4. Craft a professional development plan

In what areas would you like to see improvements for each position at your company?

In LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, 51% of respondents expressed concerned about the mismatch between employees’ skills and those needed to execute business strategy.

This is why it’s crucial to create a clear, detailed professional development plan that will guide and support your skill-development decisions. The plan also needs to align with your organization’s overall objectives.

Once the plan is complete, present it to your higher-ups (managers, supervisors, etc.) and then your team. You’ll also want to make sure it is available to everyone.

How to do it:

  • Collect information on development and learning needs
  • Set priorities
  • Determine an overall budget, by department, by employee, by position, etc.
  • Communicate the plan to the team
  • Evaluate the impact of the investment at the end of a given period

5. Don’t forget, training pays off for everyone!

Only 22% of managers and 31% of executives report having the opportunity to improve their skills through training.

Yet it is well-established that professional development pays off for everyone.

When I was a student, I also worked as a cosmetician in a pharmacy and we regularly did training sessions offered by various cosmetic brands. My co-workers and I were always fired up about this training, which was not only an occasion to learn something new, but also a good team-building activity of sorts.

The entire team was then able to better advise customers thanks to our thorough knowledge of the products. And as a result, customers received higher-quality service, provided by more motivated and efficient employees. Company sales soared, customers were more satisfied, and the staff were more fulfilled as a result.

6. Promote knowledge sharing within the team

Knowing that knowledge sharing builds pride and self-esteem, schedule some time for sharing what was learned. This is a win-win for everyone. Employees who did not attend the training or talk will still be able to benefit.

How to do it:

  • Ask for a debriefing to share with the rest of the team, either verbally or in writing
  • Host a lunch talk
  • Ask for constructive feedback on the training, in a one-on-one meeting or via survey, to validate that the learning was worthwhile
  • Set up a simple way to find replacements for team members who attend training. Several scheduling apps make managing absences a snap, and even allow employees to trade shifts. Agendrix is a good example.

A company that learns is an attractive employer

Because professional development and training are directly linked to career progression, companies that engage in learning are more attractive to employees. It is a very important factor for workers. In addition, organizations that boast a culture of professional development demonstrate their commitment to staying up to date in their fields of expertise—which bolsters their credibility.

Be forward-thinking and make sure to give your team access to professional development. It will be a win-win for your employees, your business and your customers!

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