7 Professional Development Ideas: How Managers Can Make it a Priority for their Team


A few years ago, Google outlined its "Eight Habits of Highly Effective Managers," which it has apparently used to turn "crappy managers into acceptable ones," particularly in engineering departments where workers tend to be more comfortable interacting with code than with their fellow human beings.

Three of the eight habits are at least partially related to professional development:

Employees who feel like they're not progressing personally or professionally will naturally feel less engaged in their work. And engagement is a strong determiner of both morale and productivity.

"One of your key roles as a leader is to encourage employees to strengthen and refine their skills. Naturally, the more abilities your team has, the better your organization functions. And since employees with more robust skill sets also increase their chances of succeeding and moving up the corporate ladder, professional development could positively influence their job satisfaction and your retention rates." —Robert Half Management Resources

If you'd like to transform your management style from crappy to acceptable—or maybe from acceptable to exceptional—try the following professional development ideas with your team.

1. Make Sure You're Staffed Appropriately

If you're running an overly lean machine, where employees feel perpetually overworked and out of balance, your attempts to introduce professional development initiatives could backfire. Employees may feel like you're just adding one more task to an already endless list. Your job as a manager is to make sure each team member has a reasonable workload, with room built in for personal learning and growth. Without complete visibility into who is working on what, who is hitting deadlines and who is perpetually behind, this task is all but impossible.

2. Invite Input

Make professional development a line item in your budget, and communicate this to your team. Ask them to seek out and present opportunities that they would be truly interested in and that would also further them in their careers, so you're not the only one determining how that budget gets spent. If employees have a say in the type of training they get, they'll be more invested in following through.

Tip: Reward top performers with additional professional development opportunities. But don't rely on gut feel or anecdotal evidence to identify your top performers. These 6 tips will help you get better at recognizing and rewarding team accomplishments.

3. Send Staff to Conferences

Send team members to conferences, user conferences and other in-person events that allow them to learn from thought leaders and other industry professionals alike. Have processes in place that make it possible for individuals to cover for each other, so they're not spending their days in breakout sessions and their evenings checking work email. (Or even worse, emailing during keynote presentations, like 37% of the attendees at HOW Design 2015.)

Tip: Increase your visibility into individual and team workload. Without true transparency around who is working on what, who has bandwidth when, what your team accomplished last month, and what they'll do this month, it can be very difficult to make sure work is covered while individuals are out of the office. If an employee has to work three 12-hour days just to get ahead enough to be able to leave for a conference, they won't be very motivated to go.

4. Seek Out Online Opportunities

Virtual conferences, webinars, online classes, TED Ideas in Business, Lynda.com—there's no shortage of professional development opportunities you can take advantage of without ever leaving the office.

Tip: Allow staff members a certain amount of free or "untracked" time each week or month (if you use a time-tracking tool), which they can use to increase creativity, play with new software, watch a TED Talk, or sharpen their skills while at the office. Have team members share what they've learned or make recommendations to others in staff meetings.

5. Cross-train/Offer Job Shadowing

Assign team members who have different but complementary skill sets to work together on certain projects, and maybe even switch up their roles, so they can learn from each other in an organic setting. Or go the more formal route and set aside certain days where individuals can shadow colleagues, so they can gain a better understanding of different roles and the organization as a whole.

Tip: Job shadowing doesn't always have to occur physically, with the shadower and shadowee spending the afternoon in the same cubicle. If you use a comprehensive work-management solution, you can invite team members to follow the progress of other teams' projects and tasks directly within the software. Because these types of solutions collect collaboration, communication, status updates, drafts, revisions, historical data and more in a single, highly-visible location, anyone who has access can quickly get up to speed.

6. Host Guest Speakers

If your professional development budget is small, rather than sending employees away to build their expertise, bring the expertise in-house. Invite knowledgeable guest speakers—perhaps from client companies, vendors, suppliers and other corporate partners— who can address your team in an intimate setting, answer questions, provide new perspectives on the industry, and mingle over dinner or drinks.

Tip: Don't forget to look for guest speakers internally as well. Key members of other departments may have valuable insights to offer your employees.

7. Reimburse Membership Costs

Empower employees to choose professional organizations, subscriptions, and other memberships that offer networking and learning opportunities, and allow them to reimburse the cost.

Tip: Think beyond your industry. Are there professional organizations that are not directly related to your field of business that could strengthen your team members' skills? Don't forget about "soft skills" like communication, organization and prioritization—those general business competencies that will improve employee performance, no matter what field they're in.

The Benefits of Professional Development

Besides increasing the collective knowledge and professionalism of your team, investing in professional development has other far-reaching benefits. It can increase employee engagement and job satisfaction, improve productivity (happy employees are productive employees), increase retention and internal promotion, and even help you attract more qualified candidates. The ideas presented above are far from a comprehensive list, but they'll give you a place to start, no matter how modest or extravagant your professional development budget may be.