Published on 2012/02/03

I was recently asked the question; “What are the biggest hurdles to modernizing professional development?”

My immediate reaction is that the rush to modernize and digitize professional development may just be the primary hurdle to effectively implementing professional development using the new bells and whistles. I liken this to wanting to date the supermodel or the “nice girl next door.” The supermodel looks awesome and is pretty cool to show off to your friends, but the “nice girl next door” delivers and complements you rather than just making you look good. Too often, training and development programs do just that—they make us look and feel good but after the session(s), reality hits us and our bad habits resurge.

I have been involved in teaching, training and coaching for twenty years and find that there are a number of fundamental guidelines and principles that are repeated ad nauseum… but people seem to put a different spin on the same content. Whether it is focusing on “trust,” “accountability,” “execution” or any other words, professional development and learning opportunities seems to continue to evolve into more entertainment than engagement. A brief search for “leadership” books and you will find over 71,000 books. I buy these books and love different angles but, at a grassroots level, people need to understand a couple of fundamental concepts about human behavior. Here is a sample of a few to initially consider:

  1. Can the individual or team actually “do” what is expected of them? At a base level, everything seems to come back to motivation. Teachers wonder why kids are unmotivated. Bosses want to know why certain team members seem disengaged. Before you get into the frustration of “I pay them good enough, why don’t they seem motivated?” ask yourself whether the person or team you have has the skills needed to do exactly what it is that you are asking them to do. If I don’t have the ability to do something within a specific time frame, you can wave a $1 million reward in front of me and I will kill myself to get it done but if I can’t do it… I can’t do it…
  2. When people don’t have the skills necessary to finish something… they need a teacher (also called a coach or a boss). Err… that would be you if you supervise someone. When people do have the skills and ability, and they aren’t performing, NOW we have a motivational problem. Your job then is to determine what the appropriate reward or incentive is.
  3. THANK YOU! Incentives aren’t only financial… money is great but we buy things with money and then the money is gone, the car we buy breaks down, the vacation we spent $8,000 on is relegated to your Facebook pages only to torture you while you wait for your vacation hours to accrue again. Sometimes the best reward is simply to say “thank you.” To that point, thank people for something specific… a vacuous thank you is just a slap in the face.
  4. When something goes wrong, or someone on your team makes a mistake, take ownership of the mistake. I have coached people for years and encourage leaders to take ownership of challenges… especially when their team screws up. When we take ownership of problems, we are empowered to change something WE are doing. When we blame others, we depower ourselves.

So, what are the biggest hurdles that might limit the modernizing of professional development? I think the initial answer is that it is just easy to take our eyes off the prize and forget about the basics in the rush to appear like a cutting edge L & D department. There are lots of choices for elearning programs, customizable paper based training aligned to books, seminars, speakers… what to pick? What to do? My thinking on this is pretty simple… when in doubt, simplify. These elearning programs can be amazing… they provide accountability and tracking but that is really only as good as the follow up support and coaching that the leaders provide.  In short, bells and whistles are great… but we need to look critically at the sustainability of the initiative. At present writing, the greatest hurdle to modernizing professional development might just be the rush to appear modern. When we forget the basics, and get attracted to the sexy alternatives, we sometimes miss the point of professional development in the first place… empower our people, enhance productivity, invest in good solid programs with support to build retention.

In short, I often consult to people and remind them; “Know who you are, know what you do, keep your eyes focused on the end result and do that really well.”  And remember, at the end of the day, elearning programs can be extraordinarily productive, chat rooms are wonderful but we do crave, where possible, human interaction and guide and drive learning and thinking.

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