The Essentials of Professional Development

Written by: Steve Graham

As a coach, I often work with clients who are needy for knowledge.  They desire to grow professionally and often feel stuck in their current work environment.  It is no secret that when an organization values developing their people, the benefits for both the employee and organization are numerous.  The benefits often include: lower turnover, increased engagement, and a smarter workforce. Professional development goes beyond cookie-cutter training programs.  It involves a deeper commitment to learning.

Learning can take various shapes within an organization. It can be organic, formalized, personalized, or on-demand.  Whatever the shape, the approach to learning is the first essential of professional development.  According to Dr. Brad Staats, Associate Professor of Operations at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business: “Today’s fast-paced, ever-changing, global economy requires us to never stop learning or we risk becoming irrelevant.”  Dr. Staats’ recent publication, Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive, illustrates the importance of making the lifelong investment of learning.

The second essential of professional growth is to take the lead in your development.  Do not wait on your organization to offer growth opportunities. There are various resources available, and some are even free.  Resources include:

1. Continuing education/certification programs from professional associations.

2. Higher education-based professional and graduate certificate programs.

3.  LinkedIn’s Lynda.com

4. Free online courses, like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

5. Webinars, TED Talks, seminars, and conferences.

The third essential of professional development is finding a style of learning that works for you.  Do you prefer a structured learning program and in-person environment? Or, do you want to work at your pace and complete learning via a virtual (online) program?  These are important questions to answer before you search for the right opportunity. Some virtual programs offer digital credentials, like a badge, that adds to your professional credibility.   

Creating a professional development plan is the fourth essential of professional development.  The plan will serve as a guide in setting development goals, deadlines for completion, and illustrating how the professional development fits into your overall career or professional brand.  For example, if your work requires project management, or if you desire to become a Project Manager, then becoming a Certified Project Manager would be a goal.

The professional development plan should identify the areas you desire or need to grow, and what methods will be used to attain these goals? How will you use the new knowledge?  Whatever your plan, make sure you have enough interest to pursue additional learning in that area. Growing as a professional also means growth as a person. There needs to be an alignment between “who we are” and “what we do”.  This is one path to finding satisfaction in our work. Professional development can offer more confidence and career opportunities.

No matter your position within your organization, you need to focus on growth.  Learning also helps with brain health. A study by Harvard Medical School found that “Every brain changes with age and mental function changes along with it. Mental decline is common, and it is one of the most feared consequences of aging. But cognitive impairment is not inevitable.”  If you want to stay relevant and confident, then invest in professional development.  

About the author: Steve Graham serves as Vice President for Marketing, HR Business Partner, and college instructor. He holds graduate degrees in management and higher education. As a life-long learner, he has additional graduate and professional education in executive & professional coaching, health care administration, and strategic human resource management.

He is a certified HR professional with The Society for Human Resource Management, a certified coach with the International Coach Federation, and a Global Career Development Facilitator. His professional memberships include: The Society for Human Resource Management, the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration, Association for Talent Development, and International Coach Federation. LinkedIn.com/in/hstevegraham


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