Why Professional Development Has Been Left Behind in the Enterprise

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Let’s face it, when we hire, we hire for the job we have right in front of us. And when we do that, we have in mind a very precise list of needs and wants. This list guides our job description, our search parameters, and what we look for (their expertise) on a resume. If we’re lucky we find that “just right” person and settle in as employee and manager.

Then we get to day 2. Our well laid plans to get a great employee may have panned out wonderfully, but day 2 is when we start to ask them for things we didn’t think about when writing the job spec and things that were not on their resume. So now what? Well, they need to learn, and fast.

But, who has time for that? After a couple decades at both small and huge companies, what’s clear is that there is a never-ending stream of things that need to get done and will easily consume 60 hours per week if you let it. When the forecast needs updating, and your internal business partner needs your help with their analysis, and your boss needs slides for next week’s offsite, who has time for learning?

Thus the age old question: “Who has time for learning?” These days it seems like no one does. And the excuses are all good: “I’m too busy”; “I’ll get to it next week”; “I really need to figure out my next role before I spend time learning”. However, just like the person who always wants to get in shape but never makes it to the gym, the excuses become the millstone around our neck, becoming ever heavier and harder to throw off.

What we need is motivation to learn now. Because learning now is awesome! If you need financial proof that learning is awesome, let’s consider ROI, the classic calculation for return on effort and cost. Learning has a very real cost in time and money, and a very real benefit covering both, yes, time and money.

We all have some process, maybe a few, that takes us four+ hours a month. If you’re an accountant that’s closing the books, in finance it’s updating the financial forecast, in HR it’s onboarding new hires, in marketing it’s managing your ad spend, and in sales it’s updating the sales forecast – and that’s just for starters! Well, imagine taking a course or, if you want to go deep, taking three courses. That’s three hours of your time, or an “investment” of three hours.

What if your “return” is being able to do that four-hour task in three hours? Your breakeven, the point at which you make back your three hour learning investment comes in three months. Just one quarter for payback. And the rest, as they say, is all gravy. So for one three-hour investment you are saving twelve hours per year. That’s a working day-and-a-half per year. Imagine that same ROI in just two more learning areas and you will see yourself saving a work week of time. Now I ask you, when was the last time you took a one-week vacation? Or, you could use that time to do other, higher value tasks, earning you praise from your manager and perhaps even that long-overdue raise. Or maybe it just lets you breathe easier knowing you’re doing better at your job, which has all sorts of great upside.

What if you’re a manager and you need to get more out of your people? You could crack the whip and risk cratering morale and losing people – that’s not a good way to go. You could spend a lot of money on new technology that might be up and running in a few quarters and which then presents its own training challenges. Or, perhaps you could invest directly in your most expensive, most valuable asset: your people. You can make them better at their job, make them more expert at their jobs which drives engagement and reduces turnover and, in the final analysis, makes your job much, much easier. Maybe it will lead to a promotion and raise of your own. Why wouldn’t you do that?

We call this expertise management because it's about the value of expertise for the individual and the company, and expertise is what makes things happen for both sides of the work equation. Whether you are the employer or the employee, professional development is the thing we seem to sacrifice first, but that should be one of our highest priorities - because the ROI is awesome! With it, expertise grows across the company, everyone does better, and everything goes better. If that’s not a great return, I don’t know what is.