Knowledge and skills development are vital to the health of any organization. We live in an information age. Therefore, an organization’s ability to manage and process information plays a key role in its overall success. The people within the organizations must have the skills to organize, disseminate and retain information.

Training is one of the chief methods of properly utilizing this intellectual capital. Every employee should have the opportunity to increase their knowledge and skill level in order to become more efficient, more effective, and more productive in their job. This produces many benefits for them personally as well as for the overall organization.

It is common for organizations to think of training strictly in terms of an on-boarding process for new employees. Although this is a valuable and necessary function of training, it should not stop there. Often times, employees are left to continue learning on their own – by watching other employees, asking questions, or through trial and error. The most effective organizations however, will provide some type of ongoing training, continuing education, or professional development program in order to maximize the employee’s potential.

Here are some typical benefits of a Professional Development (PD) program:
1. PD ensures that your employees maintain and enhance the knowledge and skills they need to deliver professional services to your customers, clients, and the community.

2. PD helps your employees stay relevant and up to date. The pace of change is faster today than it’s ever been. If you stand still, you get left behind. Therefore, it is mandatory that employees keep pace with the current trends, directions and standards in their industry.

3. PD allows employees to increase their knowledge base. As this happens, they become more effective. This, in turn, will help them advance in their careers by moving into new positions where they can lead, manage, and influence others in a positive way.

4. PD opens employees up to new ways of thinking. Experience is a great teacher but it often means continuing to do the same things in the same way. PD will help them discover new ideas and methodologies that may prove to be faster, more efficient, and even more cost effective.

5. PD will enhance a sense of team in your work environment. As people begin learning the same content, they begin thinking more cohesively, speaking the same language, and augmenting each other rather than miscommunicating and running over each other all the time.

6. PD will boost employee satisfaction. When employees can do their jobs more effectively, they grow more confident. This new level of confidence leads to an overall increased level of satisfaction with their job, which leads to an increased level of retention within your company.

7. When you offer PD opportunities, you are enhancing your overall reputation as an employer that cares about and invests in its workforce. Remember, your employees are your brand ambassadors. When they receive PD, they will reflect all that’s good about your organization.

8. Having a well-developed PD program will attract quality candidates. If applicants know there is the potential to raise their skill level and compensation at your company, you are more likely to attract top level candidates.

9. PD programs will help enhance your company’s culture. Along with creating a greater sense of team, continuing education exposes employees to new experiences and keeps them engaged in their work. This building of enthusiasm among staff will engender a sense of loyalty that greatly affects the work environment in a positive way.

10. PD programs can help the development of future leaders in your organization. If you are interested in the possibility of promoting within, helping people to grow through a professional development program can be a good way to see who rises to the top.

If you are unsure of how to develop a professional development program in your organization, here are a few ideas:

Coaching involves a more experienced or skilled individual providing an employee with advice and guidance intended to help him or her gain new skills, improve performance and enhance the quality of his or her career. The hallmarks of coaching are that it is personalized and customized, that it has a specific business objective, and that it is usually accomplished one-on-one over a period of time.

Mentoring matches less experienced employees with more experienced colleagues through formal or informal programs. Formal mentoring programs can reduce turnover, enhance recruitment, and improve performance and the work environment.

Effective mentoring programs do the following:
• Match mentors and mentees based on skills and development needs.
• Outline and track goals.
• Designate minimum time commitments.
• Monitor the mentoring relationship.
• Hold both parties accountable.
• Link mentoring to talent management strategy and goals.
• Link mentoring to business strategy and goals.

The 9-Box Grid
The 9-box grid is an individual employee assessment tool that evaluates the employee’s current and potential levels of contribution to the organization. The grid is most commonly used in succession planning as a method of evaluating an organization’s talent pool and identifying potential leaders. For performance appraisal purposes, the 9-box grid provides a visual reference that can include appraisal and assessment data to allow managers to view employees’ actual and potential performance.

Cross-training refers to training employees to perform job duties other than those normally assigned. Cross-training can be a short-term or ad hoc fix, or it can be an ongoing, planned process. Cross-training usually does not result in immediate advancement, but it does indicate that an employee is interested in learning new skills. This skill diversity may help him or her meet qualifications for future career advancement.

“Stretch” Assignments
On-the-job training projects and “stretch assignments” give employees a chance to learn while doing real work. Developmental assignments allow employees to develop new skills, knowledge and competencies necessary for higher-level positions. Here’s some things to keep in mind when using stretch assignments:
1) Identify a developmental experience that will challenge your team member in a new way.
2) Make sure the challenge and the employee’s skill levels align, so that there’s good flow.
3) Provide a rich context for the employee to grow.
4) Make sure that goals are clear and understood by both parties.

Here are some examples of stretch assignments:
• Manage a volunteer or intern
• Execute a new or important company project
• Participate in the company’s strategic planning process
• Turn around a failing project, department or operation
• Organize and lead an important company event or meeting
• Lead a high-profile initiative
• Conduct a customer-needs analysis
• Write a policy statement
• Facilitate change in the way a business or a process is conducted
• Fix a preexisting problem
• Evaluate a training program
• Join a team dealing with conflict
• Create a customer satisfaction survey
• Negotiate a new customer contract
• Re-launch a product or service that previously failed
• Lead people from different cultures, gender, racial or ethnic backgrounds
• Influence and oversee people or processes for which one has no direct authority

Job Enlargement and Job Enrichment
Job enlargement involves expanding the employee’s job by adding more tasks and duties, typically at the same level of complexity. Job enrichment builds more depth to an employee’s job through more control, responsibility and discretion.

Job Shadowing
Job shadowing requires more than just having an employee follow a colleague around all day. Shadowers view the organization from a different perspective and learn firsthand about the challenges facing workers in other departments. This perspective helps employees realize the impact their decisions have on other groups.

Job Rotation
Job rotation is the systematic movement of employees from job to job within an organization. Rotation programs may vary in size and formality. Though larger employers are more likely to invest in a formalized job rotation program, organizations of all sizes might consider implementing a job rotation program. Typically, formal rotation programs offer customized assignments to promising employees to give them a view of the entire business. Assignments usually run for a year or more.

Succession Planning
Succession planning identifies long-range needs and cultivates internal talent to meet those needs. Succession plans typically focus on a one- to three-year process of preparing employees—not preselecting them—for new roles in the organization.

Assessment Centers
An assessment center is not necessarily a physical site, as the term might suggest, but a program of tools and exercises designed to assess an employee’s or job candidate’s suitability in relation to a particular role. Centers may be used for selection or development purposes.

Corporate Universities
Corporate universities focus primarily on on-the-job skills, company-specific proprietary knowledge and branding, and certification. At a corporate university, the focus is on learning that will benefit the organization, not just the individual. Benefits of the corporate university format include strategic alignment with company goals, consistent quality and uniform messages that reach all learners. A corporate university is also a tangible symbol of the organization’s commitment to learning and growth.

When employees become more efficient and productive, your entire company becomes more productive. This allows for new innovations, bringing new strength to strategies, products and your company’s capacity to adopt new technologies and methods. All these factors will contribute to increasing stability, sustainability and your bottom line.