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We need to turn professional development inside-out

A recent meeting with a leader of a large professional institute was salutary. “The problem is” she said, “people just don’t take their development seriously.” “One of our older members said to me: ‘I’m not going to complete my CPD. I’m playing the game, seeing who flinches first’”.

Employers will concur: senior, experienced people often don’t see the need for their own development. If subjected to training or coaching, they see it as an imposition and a waste of time. Yet those of us who fail to develop ourselves will reap the consequences eventually. In Sweden, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has been putting forward the idea of increasing the retirement age to 74. In that context, he believes everyone will need to make at least one total career change. Professional development will not be an option.

Clearly a dramatic turnaround is needed. If professional development is viewed as a waste of time, there are two possible explanations: (1) It is indeed a waste of time and doesn’t work, or (2) the benefits are so long-term that there is no perceived payoff.

In many ways this is like the arguments about health. We are moving away from exhorting people to change (and then being ignored) and towards bigger sticks and tastier carrots. In particular, the benefits need to be felt quickly and positive feedback provided. For the technology generation, that is increasingly through apps. The UK NHS even approves some.

In professional development this means two things. First, we need to move as fast as possible away from a training-based mentality: “Identify weaknesses, then go on a course”. In its place should be an approach that starts with people’s felt needs, challenges and aspirations at work, in the context of their team. Then we can help people craft on-the-job, peer-supported solutions that blend on-the-job experience with bite-sized courses and ‘spontaneous’ learning.

Some of our latest thinking is showcased in led by Dr Michael Moynagh.

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