How to invest in your people through professional development

September 15, 2022

Professional development is an important part of every employee’s journey. Many people reach a point in their career when they’re confident they’ve mastered their area of business, and they feel an intrinsic motivation to further their personal growth. And at the same time, as they scale, businesses have to consider how they can support their employees’ career development.

Professional development is different for every business, and even moreso, every employee, because we all have different goals. It can be difficult to determine how your business should approach professional development – I know this from personal experience, because I’m in the middle of building Humi’s own development program from scratch. In my research and exploration, here are core elements I’ve come across that any people leader can use to begin thinking about professional development at their own company. 

What are you trying to solve?

The first step in a development program is deciphering what you want from it. What made you look at development to begin with? What issue(s) are you trying to solve: are you looking to scale your business? Address specific workplace issues? Coach leaders through a culture transition? For example, you might find that your business is too results-oriented, and you’d like to make a shift to being more people-oriented to improve retention of top talent. A business that tries to quick-solve for this issue might simply hire more people for their HR team, but what they actually need is much different. 

Once you’ve nailed down the specifics of the problem you’re trying to solve, you can consider the different types of development available.

Types of professional development to consider

When we hear the words “professional development”, most will automatically think of formal education – degrees or courses that an employee can work towards to prove that they’ve reached the next level of knowledge. But there are many different types of development, all with their own advantages and situations that they work best for. 

The chart below is one I created to clearly break down the options a business can consider when looking to invest in development.

Determine a budget for professional development

Once you’ve decided on the type of development that will work best for what you’re trying to solve, the next step is to figure out budgeting. There are typically two paths to tackling budget. With the first, you’re provided a preset budget for professional development from leadership and you’ll use this to inform your decisions when researching your options. With the second, you work backwards, choosing the type of development you determine to be best and presenting the details to leadership, including financial needs and metrics to track, that will determine the success (and ROI) of the investment. 

Another thing to consider when figuring out a budget is if you’ll need to purchase a learning management system (LMS), such as Leapsome or Hickory Training. A LMS is a software that facilitates learning and development by handling the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the learning process. It takes care of documentation, tracking, and delivery of education, training, materials, and other resources for learning. For types of development like internal training and formal education, an LMS makes sense to deliver learning materials and track progress; but for other options, like internal cross-collaborative projects, it wouldn’t be helpful. 

How to know if you’ve achieved a good return on investment

As with any investment, you’ll want to reflect back at a certain point and evaluate whether it was worth it; or in other words, if it had a good return on investment (ROI). Determining if you had a good ROI will tie back to the first section – what was it that you were trying to solve? If it was a gap in product knowledge that you solved with internal training opportunities, a good ROI can be determined through an evaluation of employees’ current knowledge compared to before training. 

That being said, you’ll want to think about how you’ll measure things before implementing your development program. Of course, crunching numbers isn’t necessary; you might instead, rely on feedback from your employees and participation rates to determine ROI.

How Humi is approaching development

As I mentioned, I’m in the middle of building out Humi’s own development program with my team, which is why this is all top-of-mind for me. I went through the process of evaluating what we were trying to solve in our company, and narrowed down which type of development would be best. 

Currently, we offer all full-time Humigos a professional development stipend; but after a deep dive into Humi’s current employee demographic, it became clear to me that we needed to provide more support in developing Humigos into established industry experts. As an organization with many first-time managers who are navigating change, we are focused on building a development program that supports employees in decision-making, time management, conflict resolution, communication, and other professional capabilities and soft-skills. This is still a work in progress, but I’ve used the exact framework above to create a plan and assess how it’s working along the way. 

Final thoughts

Whether you’re part of a budding business looking to kick start professional development, an established business looking to revamp your program, or somewhere in between, the fact that you’re here, reading this, shows that you’ve got the right idea. Ultimately, the purpose of these programs is to empower and support our employees in becoming the best versions of themselves – because for a business to succeed, it needs to invest in its most valuable asset: its people.

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Hey there 👋 my name is Andrea Bartlett.

I’m the Director of HR at Humi, and I’m obsessed with all things people and human resources. Throughout my time working in a range of industries, I’ve learned that one thing is clear: the world of work is changing and HR professionals are leading the charge. 

I believe that businesses should know their people as well as they know their product. But people are complex, and the solutions aren’t always easy. That’s how Think with Humi will help. 

Written by me, this newsletter is designed to give you insight into the relevant and raw people challenges, and give you the tools to enable you to continuously to shape the future of work. 

Written by a people leader, for people leaders.