I was talking with a manager a few weeks ago about their team and the need to invest in professional development. This person was doing so many of the right things by sending their team members to conferences, webinars, and more.

And that’s good news! Many of us recognize that professional development builds skills, confidence, and retention rates.

But, what if just sending our team members to outside sources for their growth isn’t actually enough? In that conversation with the manager, we began to discuss internal, institutional investment in professional development … and quickly realized that this internal development approach was actually a huge missing piece for the team.

This likely applies to a lot of managers. It’s so easy to send team members off, ask them to do a quick report out upon their return, and check it off the list.

This approach is leaving so much potential on the table, squandering both the opportunity for truly meaningful investment in our teams and the money we’re spending on those sessions.

Because at a foundational level, we as supervisors and leaders must invest our own time, energy, focus, and care into our team members. This cannot be outsourced.

Where to start? First, it is critical to be present and truly listen to what your team members’ growth goals are. While investing in external opportunities is important, if you are not present and interested in having meaningful growth discussions, these investments can feel disingenuous at best.

We see this regularly with our coaching clients: staff who want to be seen by their bosses, and to be recognized for wanting to grow, contribute more or to receive guidance in constructive ways.

This responsibility falls on us as leaders. We have the tools right at our fingertips:

  • Ask questions about skillset growth goals, and listen.
  • Find opportunities for team members to shadow you or others in areas they’re seeking to gain knowledge.
  • Be generous with your own insight about what it takes to achieve what your team member is hoping for. How did you learn to raise significant gifts, or lead a team, etc? Share your own experiences and earned wisdom.

Discussing growth proactively, openly, and regularly is an essential element of strategic leadership.

Once you’re laying that groundwork, external professional development is at its most effective – as a complement to your own investments, not as a stand-alone. And you can make the most out of that too by pairing every webinar, conference, coaching session, and more with the following:

  • A discussion with your employee before they attend, asking them to identify three clear goals for attending and learning.
  • A debrief afterward for your team member to share what their top take-aways were, and how they’d like to integrate those into their work.
  • A commitment from you as the manager to identify opportunities for your team member to use and explore the new skills and ideas learned. For example, maybe they’re a gift officer who heard some interesting best practices about stewardship reports. Could you arrange for them to meet with the donor relations team to learn more about how they do their work and put together their reports?
  • A 90-day check-in on the items explored above.
  • A brief presentation to the team about key take-aways.

It doesn’t take a lot to make professional development so much more effective. But it does give a LOT back as learnings become anchored in and your own investment becomes clearer for your team.

Looking to expand your approach to professional development for your team? KDD Philanthropy is here to support you! Contact us about the tools we can offer.

Recommended Posts