On Professional Development

The following prose contains some of my thoughts on professional development. You can expect a longer treatise to be delivered at some point. The following strategy works for me. You cannot half-heartedly support professional development. That will never work. Please feel free to adapt the following strategy as necessary.

Professional development is the only way to ensure departmental productivity expands on a yearly basis. A productivity curve generally do not shift without a great deal of effort. It seems like organizations are reducing the number of internal programs they have to develop employees. Without broad organizational support the duty to develop falls to the leadership team to execute.

Helping people develop professionally matters. It really does. A solid toolkit is key to success in both current and future endeavors. I believe in holding regular 1:1s with direct reports. Every 1:1 should have a cadence. The routine needs to be consistent. For some people within an organization 1:1 time may be their only opportunity for professional development. The agenda should be more than a micro SCRUM. It has to be more involved than asking 3 basic questions in succession. While it is important to ask, “What have you done since the last time we met? What do you plan on doing between now and the next time we meet? What barrios or obstacles are you encountering?” A 1:1 should not only include that SCRUM scenarios, but also it should include a general and personal welcome, departmental news, pressing matters, coaching opportunities, and a discussion of developing a balanced toolkit. I’ll provide a sample agenda at the end of this diatribe.

The first 1:1 is very important. It sets expectations. It begins a stable routine by encouraging a collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship. During the first 1:1 I make a point of asking about previous employments and professional goals. I want to know what parts of a personals professional toolkit they are passionate about. People tend to excel at projects they are interested in working on. I generally develop a professional development matrix that clearly defines the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for success. I call that combination of things a toolkit. Working with somebody to build a toolkit is about more than just drafting an employee development plan (EDP). I like to talk to people about where they are going and what it will take to reach that destination.

I keep a running Microsoft Word document for each employee. That document has a date and notes for each one on one session. Things that need to get coached immediately are always addressed in real-time, but things that can wait get added to the 1:1 file. When you have a large number of direct reports it can become very important to review the files before meeting with people. The files are very important when you work with a bunch of individual contributors. They typically have high value roles that include a lot of different deliverables.

Recognizing the frequency in which people change jobs is important. I frequently ask people what skills in a toolkit would help you get your next job. A resume simply communicates the potential value of an employee’s toolkit to an organization. People who work on refining and developing skills can have a greater impact in the workplace and prepare for the future. The objective is to ensure that people are better off in the long-run. It is a very forward looking view of the world, but it matters in some very important ways.

Sample 1:1 Agenda

  1. Welcome/Personal Greeting
  2. Department or role specific update (if necessary)
  3. What have you completed since the last time we met?
  4. What will you be working on? Do you foresee any barrios or obstacles this week?
  5. What do you have for me? (This is an open request. Some people pitch ideas during this time.)


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