Whether Socrates ever actually said that “education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel” or not, the meaning behind it is worth considering. Professional development, then, is not just learning statistics or procedures but rather it is a means of continuously improving oneself and one’s ability to lead others.
In a human resources setting, professional development is doubly important. First, those in HR positions need to be well-rounded individuals with a deep understanding of not just human behavior but also business principles.
Second, they are often tasked with leading and developing other employees, which means that their skills must be constantly sharpened.
There are countless benefits from flexing your critical thinking muscles and learning new skills. Below, we’ll take a look at five of the most important reasons why professional development is essential for HR professionals.
What is professional development?
Professional development is the process of acquiring new skills or knowledge to improve job performance. It can range from taking a single course to completing degree programs and usually takes place during an employee’s career rather than at the beginning.
Many organizations encourage employees to participate in professional development activities as part of their continuing education benefits.
Here are some of the common ways businesses can encourage professional development.
- Offer reimbursement for tuition and professional development courses
- Provide paid time off to attend conferences or workshops
- Encourage employees to join relevant professional associations
- Sponsor internal training programs led by experts
- Facilitate mentorship opportunities between more experienced and newer staff members
But why is professional development so important, especially in HR? Let’s explore five reasons.
Five reasons why professional development is important in HR
Importantly, the reason why your business needs professional development may not be the same as a different company. But there are a handful of nearly universal things.
1. Human resources is a complex field
Human resources is a broad and multi-faceted field that covers everything from payroll and benefits to employee relations and compliance. As an HR professional, you need to have a deep understanding of all these different areas to be effective in your role.
Continuous learning will help you keep up with the ever-changing laws and regulations, as well as best practices for managing people. It’s also important for staying up-to-date on the latest technology and tools that can make your job easier and more efficient.
2. You’re often responsible for leading and developing others
In many cases, HR professionals are responsible for leading and developing other employees. This means that you need to be constantly honing your leadership skills so that you can effectively coach and mentor others.
Professional development can also help you build a network of contacts in the HR field who can provide advice and support when needed. These relationships can be invaluable as you progress in your career.
3. Effective communication is key
For success in the business world, you need to be able to effectively communicate with employees at all levels of an organization; this is even more true for HR professionals. This includes everything from writing clear and concise emails to delivering difficult news during performance reviews.
Continuing your education can help you develop the communication skills you need to be successful in HR. You’ll learn how to better understand and relate to others, as well as how to deliver difficult messages in a way that is respectful and professional.
4. You need strong problem-solving skills
HR professionals are often the first point of contact when employees have problems or concerns. This means that you need to be able to quickly and effectively resolve conflicts while maintaining a positive relationship with all parties involved.
Professional development can help you hone your problem-solving skills so that you can more effectively handle the challenges that come your way. You’ll learn how to think on your feet and come up with creative solutions that meet the needs of everyone involved.
5. You need to be able to adapt to change
Change is a constant in the world of HR. New technologies, changing laws and regulations, and shifting company priorities can all have an impact on your job. To be successful, you need to be able to quickly adapt to these changes and implement new policies and procedures as needed.
Professional development can help you become more flexible and adaptable so that you can effectively manage change in your organization. You’ll learn how to anticipate change, develop contingency plans, and implement new initiatives quickly and efficiently.
How to help your employees set professional development goals
You likely already know that goal setting is an important part of the development process. But did you know that there’s a specific way to set goals that will make them more effective?
The SMART method — which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound — is widely used in businesses to ensure that employees set achievable goals. When professional development goals are SMART, employees are more likely to complete them and see results.
Here’s how to use the SMART method to set professional development goals with your employees:
- Specific: It’s not enough to just say “get better at communication.” You need to be more specific thresholds, or goal-setting isn’t worthwhile.
- Measurable: There should be a way to track progress towards the goal, including key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Achievable: The goal should be realistic and achievable given the resources available. Be honest about this when you set the goal, or you risk disappointment and frustration.
- Relevant: It should align with the company’s goals and the employee’s development needs.
- Time-bound: Without a deadline, it stays as a dream, not a goal that will be accomplished.
This translates to professional development goals like “take a course on project management and earn your PMP certification within six months” or “attend a networking event once per month for the next year.”
With SMART strategies in place, you can help your employees set — and achieve — effective professional development goals.
Creating a professional development program
When creating a professional development program, it’s important to consider the needs of your employees and how the program will benefit them and your organization. You should also have a clear budget in mind as some activities can be costly.
Here are some tips for designing an effective professional development program.
- Assess: Conduct a survey or interview employees to find out what type of development they’re interested in.
- Set goals: Once you know what your employees want, set realistic goals for the program.
- Choose activities: Select activities that will help employees reach their goals and match your budget.
- Promote: Make sure employees are aware of the professional development opportunities available to them, and how they can further their careers.
- Evaluate: Periodically check in with employees and assess the effectiveness of the program.
- Update: As your organization and employees’ needs change, update the program accordingly.
Various services can also be outsourced for professional development. Make sure to take care in choosing these, however, as not all will be a good fit for every organization.
When researching a service provider, there are a few factors you need to consider.
- Specialty: What type of development do they focus on?
- Methods: How do they deliver professional development services?
- Experience: Do they have relevant experience working with organizations like yours?
- Budget: Can you afford their services?
- Location: Are they local or will you need to travel to access their services?
Once you can answer these questions, you can produce a true value estimate of the potential service provider, and see if it is a fit for your professional development plan.
Challenges and how to overcome them
There is no guarantee that a professional development program will be successful. The key is to match the program to the needs of the organization and its employees, or you may face some common challenges along the way.
- Motivation: Mandatory professional development activities may not be well received, especially if employees feel they are being forced to participate. To increase motivation, make sure the program is relevant to employees’ jobs and their career goals.
- Planning: Without a clear purpose or objectives, professional development programs can quickly become a waste of time and money. Plan each activity carefully and involve employees in the planning process to ensure buy-in from the start.
- Resources: Running a professional development program requires dedicated staff and financial resources. Make sure you have the necessary budget and personnel in place before moving forward.
- Engagement: If professional development activities are not engaging, employees will quickly become bored and may tune out completely. Choose interactive activities that allow employees to apply what they’re learning to real-world scenarios.
- Sustainability: Once a professional development program is over, employees may quickly forget what they learned if there’s no follow-up. To sustain the benefits of the program, integrate learning into everyday work and encourage employees to continue developing their skills on their own.
Professional development is important for HR professionals because it helps them to keep their skills sharp, learn new techniques, and be better leaders. However, businesses need to carefully plan and design their programs to avoid common pitfalls.
By matching the program to the needs of the organization and its employees, you can set your business up for success.