How Can Strategic Professional Development Get the Best Out of Your Employees?

professional development

What is professional development? More importantly, who does it apply to? If developing your employees is on your mind as an HR leader, this is the article for you. 

Essentially, consider this your comprehensive guide to why every employee, HR leader, and people manager should care about professional development. Let’s get started, shall we?

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What Is Professional Development?

Professional development can take many forms. One has a more formal definition, the other can be understood as being a bit more fluid. In any event, a general summation of professional development are activities undertaken by employees to become better at their work (within their industry). 

But, let’s dig into it a bit deeper…

“Professional development is learning to earn or maintain professional credentials such as academic degrees, formal coursework, attending conferences, and informal learning opportunities situated in practice” according to Wikipedia. If you choose to use this definition, only people who have specific, career-related qualifications are likely to be interested in professional development.

However, according to, continuing professional development (CPD) is “the term used to describe the learning activities professionals engage in to develop and enhance their abilities”. They also call it “the holistic commitment of professionals towards the enhancement of personal skills and proficiency throughout their careers”. 

From an organizational and human development perspective, the second definition makes far more sense. After all, why wouldn’t people want to keep getting better? And why wouldn’t companies want to help them do so? The answer is: they would (or, at least, they should).

What Does Professional Development Mean in Reality?

People with letters after their name are often familiar with the term professional development. If you’re a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, or even a Chartered Marketer you’ll probably have had to do continuing professional development hours (CPD, for short) over the course of your career.

And, if you’re in HR, the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) which calls themselves “the professional body for experts in people at work” is likely very familiar to you.

But what role does professional development play in organizations, generally? And, is it only specific to people who have, or are working towards, a professional qualification?

Actually, professional development is relevant to any and all employees, of all stripes, certifications, and levels of expertise. In short, it applies to everyone within your organization.

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Every Employee Offers Professional Development Opportunity

Have you ever encouraged an employee to learn a new skill, reflect on their behavior, change their approach, take a course, or learn from a colleague? If so, you have, perhaps even unknowingly, been involved in professional development.

While it might not be blindingly obvious, any of the following activities are actually a form of the development of professional skills. It may go by different names, though, including:

  • Training
  • Personal development
  • On-the-job learning
  • Lunch-and-learn sessions
  • Brown-bag lunches
  • Workplace education

No matter what we use to name it, helping employees get better at their jobs is a core element of talent management (click here for our guide to successful talent management). It helps attract, develop, and retain qualified employees.

What Role Does Professional Development Play in Organizations?

Professional development is relevant for three types of people in an organization: 

  • Those who have to maintain CPD hours
  • Employees who simply just want to keep learning
  • People who know that professional development isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a key differentiator from both a personal and an organizational perspective

Let’s explore this idea in greater detail…

Professional Development for Chartered Professionals

Let’s use a Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) professional as an example. People who have achieved CIPD status have worked long and hard to be accepted as a professional member of an organization renowned for its commitment to quality education, dedicated service, and focus on human-centric companies.

In their goal to “create a world of work that’s more human,” the CIPD has established an internationally recognized gold standard for HR and people development. For them, continuing professional development is about applying HR knowledge and theory through regular learning and growth – to bring real-world benefits.

The same principles apply to any employee who embarks on further learning in their career. Formal CPD is important and employees should be allowed the time they need to continue their professional learning and maintain their status. But they’re not the only ones who should have this opportunity.

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Professional Development for Non-Formalized Qualifications

Should people who do not have official, mandated career-related CPD commitments focus on professional development, too? The answer is “but of course!” 

This statistic from research by IBM says it all. According to their article on The Value of Training, “84% of employees in best-performing organizations are receiving the training they need compared with 16% in the worst-performing companies.”

How Does Professional Development Work?

Overall, it’s a key part of most successful employee retention strategies

We all know the feeling of being part of an organization that is committed to helping employees become more educated, more self-aware, and more professional versions of themselves. 

But, there is also evidence from research to support the value of training. For example, in a McKinsey survey, only 5% of respondents said their company’s talent management was very effective at improving company performance. 

However, here’s the key insight: 99% of those who made the previous statement say that they outperform their competitors!

Additional research conducted on SurveyMonkey revealed the following:

Roughly 86% of employees say that job training is important to them—and nearly three out of every four (74%) are willing to learn things outside of work hours to improve their job performance.

The results of this survey with 666 employees go even further. It reveals that: 

  • 59% of those surveyed say it improves their overall job performance
  • 51% believe it gives them more self-confidence
  • 41% claim it helps their time-management skills
  • 33% cite it as a factor in earning a pay increase

How Does Professional Development Benefit Employees?

One type of professional development (training) is immensely important in helping employees progress through the ranks. They learn how to build key skills, which helps them get better at what they do and what they are asked to do in the future.

In addition, employees who are trained (formally or informally) are also more likely to stay with the company. They get the feeling of job satisfaction, it improves their perception of job security, and provides a sense of comfort and wellbeing. They know that their company cares about them.

How Does Professional Development Benefit Employers?

Training employees helps build a strong, capable workforce that benefits the whole company. Any further education also demonstrates your commitment to them. 

For example, Staff Training Solutions says that it helps them, and your company, respond to industry changes. Essentially, no one ever remains stagnant. It also improves employee retention rates.

From a selfish perspective, it can be cheaper to promote employees from within. Providing professional development to them is an effective way of ensuring people have the skills your company needs to evolve.

Providing your employees with further learning can also improve the quality and consistency of work. A stated commitment to employee development can also be an attractive perk that may make you more appealing than your competitors. 

What Are The Pros and Cons of Professional Development?

Is there a dark side to professional development? As you’ll see in the table below, here are some pros and cons that must be handled with care…

professional development pros and cons

Why Should HR Leaders Care About Professional Development?

In essence, every HR leader should have professional development available as a motivational tool in their arsenal to help motivate and retain employees. 

Training doesn’t have to be formal or expensive, though. Even allowing employees to train others who are less experienced or knowledgeable than themselves can benefit the company as a whole. 

(Although: beware that employees aren’t teaching them the wrong things – especially in highly-technical environments!)

In general, HR leaders are well served to take advantage of professional development opportunities. This is especially true when it comes to helping employees not only get better at their jobs, but more attached and, therefore, more likely to stick around. 

What’s The Key To Employee Motivation?

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It’s all about being prepared. When you are able to motivate your employees effectively, you can get the best performance possible to drive the bottom line for your business.

So, how do you do it? Download our helpful checklist by clicking the link below to get started on motivating your employees in meaningful ways.

Helping Employees Invest in Their Own Development

Regardless of what you call it, giving employees the opportunity to learn and grow is a good thing.

Is there an art to helping them want to develop professionally? Yes. This is when the subject of performance reviews typically comes up. 

Performance review time is the perfect opportunity to address the subject of professional development. During this time employees can confidentially discuss the skills they feel they are missing, want to develop further, or that they believe the organization should address.

They also have the opportunity to develop a professional development plan. Along the same lines as the overarching concept, a professional development plan can help make development real and actionable.

So, how do you craft one? A professional development plan can typically include timeframes, potential courses, certifications to pursue, or something else. Employees should consider it a roadmap to their future success, and it can serve as an element of an effective performance review.

For a broader overview of this subject, download Personio’s helpful Guide to Performance Reviews.

Professional development can also be mandatory: helping employees deal with uncomfortable issues or larger social changes such as regulatory compliance, gender issues, mental health challenges, or diversity and race in the workplace.

One Last Word: Make Sure To Track it!

However, professional development should not only be considered when performance reviews come around. The benefits of encouraging life-long learning are far-reaching and help individuals as well as the company as a whole. 

The only challenge is to make sure that individuals are regularly and consistently given appropriate feedback on their strengths, weaknesses, and areas of improvement. And, for that, it helps to have a system that allows you to track their progress over time. That’s where tools like Personio’s Performance Management Software can help.

So, if you’re in any doubt about the value of performance management for your organization, don’t be. It’s a worthwhile investment that pays back in loyalty, motivation, quality, performance, and benefits both individuals, and the company as a whole.

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