When companies need to develop
high-performance leadership, they
turn to professional development programs. But when organizations settle
for a one-size-fits-all plan to develop future
leaders, they can end up with a mishmash
of people who may never be capable of
moving up to higher positions.
Weak professional development programs can have other negative effects.
“If a good program is not put in place, you
get low morale, because if everybody can
get accepted to it, the quality of the program gets challenged,” says Dr. Stephen
Brock, D. Min, LPCC, RCC, of Coles
College of Business. “People start looking
at it as the flavor of the month, and they
don’t take it seriously.”
Smart Business recently spoke with
Brock about what you should put at the
core of an impactful professional development program and how the right frequency
and accountability for learning can produce the best results.
Why can it be difficult to select useful professional development programs?
It’s difficult to choose an effective program because many don’t have a lot of
teeth at their core they tend to be oneor two-day mini-retreats or workshops.
Often, the programs are superficial
either too short or not based on an experiential model of adult learning that requires
people to take what they’re learning and go
use it, and then come back and talk about
what worked and what didn’t work.
Another problem occurs when they don’t
focus on the different core competencies
needed by the business.
A third issue is most programs focus still
on weaknesses rather than strengths.
Companies tend to do assessments and
then look for a gap analysis and focus all
the attention on people’s weaknesses
rather than attempting to help them leverage their strengths. A final difficulty is the
selection or identification of participants.
Many companies today still do not have
any succession planning in place. They
don’t look at future needs and then look at
the pool of resources they have that might
meet those needs.
What makes up a good professional development program?
There are five elements in a good program. First, a good professional development program has a number of assessments used throughout the program to
help individuals understand truly what
their strengths, assets and liabilities, and
vulnerabilities are in terms of their work.
The second element is it needs to be based
on a solid leadership model. There are lots
of leadership models out there many of
them a variation on a theme and several
are excellent models to build your program
around. A third element is that it should be
experientially based with homework,
meaning it’s not just sitting and taking
notes and then ignoring them. There has to
be something you are actually executing
between sessions, no matter how frequent
I also believe the program has to include
training in and involvement with coaching
and mentoring. I think every manager and
every leader needs to understand how to
coach and mentor others for their professional development. A good manager or leader is always working to get his or her
people growing. Finally, the program has to
be frequent enough that people feel the
level of accountability for learning.
How does an effective program benefit the
The first benefit obviously is that you
have a pipeline of people who are going to
be prepared to move up when people exit
due to age or opportunities elsewhere or as
the company expands, grows and develops
the need for new leaders. At the same time,
you may have two or three outstanding
people who are prepared to take leadership roles so, if one exits the company,
you’re not losing anything. Additionally,
with an effective program, turnover immediately begins to decrease and the amount
of time it takes for the company to make an
adjustment is lessened quite a cost savings, particularly as people move up into
the higher positions.
What is the role of mentoring or coaching
around professional development programs?
On the mentoring side of it, for example,
you can put a fairly novice person in a leadership position with somebody who’s more
seasoned. As a result there’s a lot of learning that can be passed from generation to
generation through experience. That’s a
quick cost savings when people don’t have
to go burn their hand on the stove because
somebody else already did and they learn
from that person.
Coaching has demonstrated it can be
quite an asset to helping people develop
because you’re not giving them answers
you’re inviting them to make plans and set
goals, and then you’re holding them
accountable for the results. IBM, for years,
had a coaching program that was considered state of the art. There is even a number of small companies who employ
coaching to help their employees develop
better skills and competencies in particular areas the person is interested in
DR. STEPHEN BROCK, LPCC, RCC, is a professor of leadership at Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. Reach him
at (678) 231-3812 or [email protected].