Staying Current with Professional Development Courses for Business

Business professionals need to polish their skills all the time, and an excellent way to do that is by enrolling in professional development courses. In fact, continuous lifelong learning has become the norm in most thriving organizations today. Taking one or two classes every year is not excessive, and it can help employees gain confidence and boost productivity.

Picking Topics

There are so many possibilities available; it may be difficult to know where to start. Some employees want to stay up to date with current trends and industry changes. Others may wish to broaden their knowledge in a particular field, or develop new skills that can be immediately applied on the job. That’s why it’s so important to identify goals before jumping in and signing up for random courses.

Career Development

For people just wanting some general career development, who don’t have any specific skills in mind, here is a short list of suggested course topics that may be useful:

  • Networking: Everyone knows how important it is for career advancement, yet many talented business professionals lose out on important opportunities because they lack networking skills.
  • Time Management: Increasing personal productivity begins with good time management skills. Taking a course on time management will help employees focus on goal setting, maintaining focus, and taking responsibility for their personal success.
  • Career Branding: Smart organizations already use branding to give themselves a competitive advantage. Using brand management on an individual career level will have the same effect, helping individuals become competitive in the current job market.
  • Negotiation: Here is a topic that is key to business success. Whether it’s negotiating a new contract, or a pay increase, spending some time developing better negotiation skills is never a waste of time.
  • Public Speaking: It has been said that some people fear public speaking more than death itself, and the reason is often just a lack of proper training and development on the topic. Having excellent public speaking skills can help in all aspects of a career, from delivering a report at a staff meeting, to making a major presentation at an industry conference.

Make it a Priority

Taking professional development courses is an investment in the future, and should not be dismissed as optional or elective. Too many employees discover too late that they have not spent enough time or effort keeping themselves competitive in the job market. Taking just one or two courses a year can keep a competitive advantage.

Instructional Design Training

According to the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), an Instructional Designer must be well-versed in “the theory and practice of design, development, utilization, management, and evaluation of processes and resources for learning.” Notice that this definition does not include actually possessing specialized knowledge on the topic(s) for which they are designing training. Their job is to research the necessary information, and design learning materials that produce the best possible learning outcomes for a specific targeted group of individuals. To do this, they must work closely with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for the specialized knowledge that they need.

Instructional Design Training

Subject Matter Experts

A Subject Matter Expert, also referred to as a SME, generally has first-hand knowledge and expertise on a particular job or task. They are usually incumbents with recent experience in a job, or they might be supervisors with recent experience in the position. Either way, they hold the key to obtaining the information needed for Instructional Designers to compile the information for their course design.

Whenever possible, an Instructional Designer should seek out multiple SMEs to provide varying points of view on the tasks and competencies that form the content of the training being designed. This way, key requirements and competencies are less likely to be overlooked.

Working with SMEs

Instructional Designers rarely receive specific training on how to best approach and work with SMEs. It may sound like a fairly straight-forward process, but not all SMEs are excited about adding yet one more responsibility to their already overflowing to-do list. For this reason, Instructional Designers are best advised to follow a few basic guidelines when working with SMEs.

  1. Try to find more than one SME who can provide the needed information. This will help in providing multiple vantage points, and also eliminate potential bottlenecks when a SME becomes unavailable during course design.
  2. Set the tone with an introductory conversation about what you need, and why you need it. SMEs may or may not understand the crucial nature of their role in the design and development of training. Without this understanding, it may be difficult for them to commit their time to the project.
  3. Ask your SMEs to “test drive” your training design. They are in the best position to find flaws and gaps in the learning materials.

Be Grateful

Be certain to thank your SMEs for their time and effort. Write a letter or email to their boss, detailing how critical their participation was to the success of the training. Not only does this create good will, it encourages others to contribute in the future.

Instructional Design for eLearning Programs

The use of eLearning has become the “new normal” in most business organizations today. This approach to learning is being used in every aspect of ongoing operations, including:

  • Onboarding
  • Sales
  • Customer Service
  • Information Systems
  • Product knowledge
  • Compliance with government regulations
  • Soft skills (e.g., communication, performance management, etc.)

Seemingly there is no topic that can’t be delivered through eLearning. Unfortunately, not all of the training being delivered this way is well designed. Some of these programs are nothing more than “data dumps” that leave learners frustrated and bored. Worse still, learners do not achieve the desired learning objectives. They simply are unable to retain the content presented, let alone apply it to their jobs. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Instructional Design for eLearning Programs

Tell a Story

One way to transform eLearning programs is to use story-based methods. Essentially, story-based Instructional Design uses real-life events to create compelling learning scenarios. These events can include:

  • Customer complaints
  • Product recalls and defects
  • Legal infractions and lawsuits
  • Customer success stories
  • Solutions to everyday problems

The training content is embedded in the story, creating a highly-engaging learning experience. By making the information personal, learners are no longer bored, and comprehension and retention are dramatically improved.

Story-Based eLearning Instructional Design

To use the story-based eLearning design approach, Instructional Designers must learn how to transform technical data, legal information, policies, rules, and procedures into believable and engaging scenarios. Stories used for eLearning (also known as Storytorials) are a creative Instructional Design approach that creates an immersive and engaging learning experience.

Instructional Designers still work with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to identify critical information; however the emphasis shifts towards finding relevant examples and incidents that illustrate key concepts. Importance is placed on creating eLearning courses that are shorter, easier, and faster for the learner.

Key Benefits

It’s not difficult to understand why using a story-based approach can totally transform an eLearning program. Everyone loves a good story, and they can make learning fun (or at least not as boring as reading policies and procedures). And because people generally will remember a good story, this approach leads to higher retention rates and application back on the job. Even dry and difficult content can be made more engaging with a good storyline.

Keep it Real

Whether the Instructional Designer decides to use a narrative approach, or a case study, the story should be realistic and relatable. That is a foundational principle behind using this approach to Instructional Design. This is the only way to achieve the desired instructional impact.

Training Courses for Leadership Development

Effective leadership is vital to the success of every organization, from corporations, to small businesses, and even non-profit ventures. An effective leader can make all the difference in how well an organization performs, to say nothing of the firm’s reputation. Leaders inspire followers to do their best work, and empower them to achieve organizational and team goals.

Training Courses for Leadership Development

Natural Born Leader?

Some people come by leadership naturally. Most, however, need training and development to achieve their full potential. Training courses for leadership development can help a novice leader become a good leader, and move a good leader towards greatness. Training that includes the emotional, practical, as well as theoretical aspects of leadership can be invaluable.

What to Expect from Leadership Training

Effective leadership training courses can bring about significant changes in an organization. These changes range from increases in productivity to improvements in decision-making skills. Let’s take a look at some specific topics, and how leadership development training can produce undeniable results.

Improve Decision-Making

Leadership training can enhance decision-making skills. Good decisions balance emotional intelligence with reason and logic, while considering all the stakeholders in that decision. Sometimes decisions need to be made quickly, while others require time to gather additional information and support. The decision-making process can involve uncertainty, stress, and potentially unfavorable reactions from others. That is why decision-making is one of the most important skills that should be offered as part of leadership training.

Productivity

People work most productively when they feel their leadership understands them. Leadership training on emotional intelligence can be particularly effective in helping leaders and managers connect with their employees by using empathy to empower and engage them. Productive employees are highly engaged employees. Effective leaders know how to give praise when it is well-earned, as well as constructive feedback when it is warranted – skills that can be learned through effective leadership development training.

Employee Retention

Employees don’t leave a company, so much as they leave a poor boss. Effective leaders have higher levels of employee retention, which in turn reduces recruitment and training costs. It also makes the workplace much more enjoyable.

Developing Future Leaders

Smart organizations always have a “pipeline” of future managers and leaders, who are being groomed with the appropriate leadership development training. Starting with employees who possess the right qualities and desire to fill leadership roles, leadership training nurtures future leaders and supports succession planning. As a side benefit, this approach also increases employee retention, since employees can see a positive career pathway.

Training for HR Professionals

Human Resources (HR) professionals play a key role in the ongoing operations and accomplishments of any organization. As such, they need to keep their skills up to date with ongoing human resources training. One particularly important skill is how to perform an HR audit to identify risks and do preventative and corrective management of those risks. Litigation that results from unfair employment practices or other human resources missteps can be very costly, as well as time consuming. Conducting regular human resources audits can avoid this situation. Below are a few strategic areas that need to be reviewed on a regular basis.

Compensation Practices

The first area to review in an HR audit is a company’s compensation practices. All wages and salaries that are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Equal Pay Act of 1964 should be reviewed periodically to confirm compliance. Also, an audit of internal pay equity should be conducted, to ensure that similarly qualified employees are being compensated in a similar manner. A report of all employee positions sorted by position, tenure, salary, and EEO category will help to organize the information needed.

Record-Keeping

There are very specific federal and state laws concerning employee personnel files, and how long they must be retained. This includes information on:

  • Medical and insurance data
  • Payroll and compensation information
  • General employment records

All HR professionals need to keep current on the most recent policies and laws in this area, and make certain that their company is in compliance.

Performance Management

Human resources policies on your company’s performance management system need to be documented in writing, and distributed to all employees on their first day at work. Also, any updates need to be communicated promptly to all employees. This includes information on:

  • Job descriptions and specifications
  • Performance standards
  • Disciplinary and corrective action procedures
  • Employee feedback policies
  • Performance appraisals

All employees are entitled to see documentation that supports decisions concerning their employment. HR professions need to know how to work with managers to ensure that they keep a well-defined paper trail to justify every employment action taken. This includes both positive actions (e.g., promotions) as well as negative actions (e.g., disciplinary actions).

HR Training

With so much importance placed on documentation and record-keeping, and the possibility of changes to regulations, laws, policies, and procedures, it is important that HR professionals receive ongoing training in their field. There are numerous courses and certifications available for HR professionals, both online and in person, which makes keeping up to date very manageable.

The Importance of Training Evaluation

Creating and delivering a training program without evaluating it would be like designing a new car and releasing it to market without finding out how it performs, or whether the drivers enjoy the ride. Training evaluation is fundamental to any training effort. It is, after all, the final “E” in the ADDIE model. With such importance, why then do some organizations spend so little time and effort on evaluation? Mainly expense, and perhaps also lack of expertise. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Learner Satisfaction

The simplest form of training evaluation is learner feedback. Sometimes called “smile sheets,” most programs end with a brief survey on learner satisfaction. While this is a great start, it should not be the only form of evaluation used in a training program. Also, there needs to be a planned effort to use the data from learner assessments as a means of improving future programs. This includes elements of design, as well as delivery. With so many online survey programs out there, there really is no excuse to skip this step.

Skills and Knowledge Gained

Also fundamental to training evaluation is some measurement of what was gained from attending the training program. This can be done simply with an assessment (i.e., quiz, performance test, etc.) at the end of the program. Of course, this evaluation could be meaningless without a baseline assessment to go with it. For example, if your learners already possess a certain skill before they attend the training class, claiming successful learning of that skill after the class would be worthless. So, if you plan to conduct this type of assessment, it is equally important to start with a pre-class measurement for comparison purposes.

Application in the Workplace

This level of evaluation is somewhat more difficult to pull off. To successfully measure the impact of your training back in the “real world,” you will need the assistance and cooperation of line supervisors and managers. If you’re serious about doing this, set this step up in advance. Sending out an email with the planned learning objectives and what knowledge, skills, and abilities are being addressed by training before the class takes place will allow local management an opportunity to observe employees in a meaningful way. Then it’s just a matter of collecting data from them a few months after the class is over.

Return on Expectations

By far the most difficult form of evaluation is determining in the impact of the training on the bottom line. It’s sometimes nearly impossible to quantify changes in behavior that resulted from training programs. For this reason, an alternative approach is to measure whether or not management feels the training met their expectations. This can be accomplished by an online survey. Although it doesn’t take much time, it can be an extremely powerful step in proving the worth of your training efforts.

Training and Development Companies

Training and Development Companies

Corporate Training is Big Business

Training and development is vital to any organization that wishes to remain competitive in today’s business climate. Training is an opportunity for employees to expand their knowledge base and sharpen their skills. The benefits are numerous, including:

  • Enhanced job performance
  • Increased confidence
  • Boosted employee morale
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Strengthened skills
  • Increased consistency and adherence to procedures
  • Encouraged creativity and innovation
  • Improved company reputation

With all of these benefits, it’s difficult to understand why a company would not invest in training and development. Sometimes it’s just a matter of internal resource availability, which is why corporations can spend as much as 40% of their training budget on external resources. This includes external programs, course development, and tuition reimbursements. This drives the search for an external training and development company to supplement (or even take the place of) an internal training and development staff.

Outside Organizations

Professional training and development companies can provide the resources to development high quality training materials. Using outside contractors provides for flexibility in staffing, allowing internal learning and development departments the ability to acquire only the services that they need, without hiring permanent employees. Training can be “off-the-shelf” or customized to a particular organization’s needs. There is a great deal of variety when using these types of resources.

Selecting the Right Training and Development Company

When selecting the right training and development company for your project, there are a few things to consider. These include:

  • Experience. With an outside training specialist, they should be able to work with your subject matter experts to develop training materials. The emphasis is always on what employees “need” to know, as opposed what is “nice” to know. An experienced training professional knows the difference, and will work to develop clear, concise training that doesn’t waste the employee’s time.
  • Reputation. Look for a training and development company that has an excellent reputation in the training industry. Ask around. Read trade publications. Visit their website, and read their blog if they have one.
  • People. Look at the people running the company. Ask for resumes and references.
  • Cost. In practical application, cost will always play a role in the selection of a training and development practitioner. Don’t let that be the driving force, however. Buying “on the cheap” is one sure fire way to sabotage your project. A well designed training course will pay for itself in the long run.

Take a look at all of these factors when making your selection. Don’t rush into a decision based only on advertising or marketing materials. It’s much too important a decision to rely only on that information.

 

Professional Management Training

Professional Management Training

What Are Management Skills?

The skills of a manager include anything and everything that will help that person effectively manage other people. This may sound simple enough, until it comes time to implement a training plan. The management training needs are going to be different for each individual, so it’s important to have a process in place such as the one outlined below.

Identify Your Employee’s Career Goals and Interests

The first step is to identify the career goals and interests of the specific employee. Again, no two people will be alike. Some will aspire to middle management and higher, while others may only wish to achieve the level of supervisor. It is vital to start any professional management training effort with this step.

Identify Training

Once an employee’s goals and interests have been identified, then it’s possible to identify the type of training that is suitable for that employee. Some courses, e.g., time management, delegation, communication, etc. will likely be important for all employees. Others may need more specialized training depending on their ambitions.

Prepare the Career Development Plan

Once training has been identified, it’s important to develop a plan for delivering the training. Some courses will be needed sooner than others, and some training will build on previous courses. Also, you need to allow time for the employee to absorb new information and implement it in the workplace, before moving on to another course.

Meet with Employee to Discuss

Everyone understands the need to sit down with the management employee to discuss goals, interests, and the career development plan. It’s also important to meet periodically during the implementation of the plan. Every employee needs to take ownership of their development plan, which makes such meetings critical to the success of their professional development.

Revise and Adjust Plans as Needed

Conditions change, employees move around, new business processes are introduced, and so forth. Therefore it’s important to revise and adjust the development plan as needed over time. In many cases the development plan will cover multiple years, so making adjustments becomes even more critical.

Start Over

Sometimes major changes will occur that will require an entirely new plan. Employees may decide to change their career field, such as going from line supervisor in an operating department, to a staff position. Such a change will require a complete reassessment, and a new training plan. It’s important to remember that training plans are never set in stone, and should be regarded as a living document.

Leadership and Professional Development

Training

When a business person decides that it’s time to move up to the next level, that generally means seeking out professional development to master the competencies needed as a leader. Although everyone’s journey is unique, there are certain key abilities where everyone will require proficiency. Let’s explore some of those competencies in detail.

Training

Making Decisions Under Pressure

Members of any organization look toward their leader for direction and guidance. An effective leader will make confident decisions that drive productivity, resolve conflicts, and focus a team’s efforts on the right tasks at the right time. Professional development will help budding leaders evaluate their options, generate possible solutions, and then decide upon and implement the most logical strategies. With the proper development, these leaders will be able to convert conflicting opinions into useful insights, and make intelligent decisions even with limited time and other resources.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Few would argue the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EI) to the effective functioning of any organization or team. It helps leaders identify and manage their own emotions, while simultaneously recognizing and influencing the emotions of others. Leaders benefit from professional development that will help them learn how to effectively connect with others, and support healthy and productive interactions even in stressful situations. EI also helps leaders identify team members who might be frustrated or burnt out, before these emotions can have an adverse impact on work.

Prioritizing Effectively

Everyone can benefit from some time management training. For leaders, the emphasis is less on being efficient, and more on being effective in their positions. This means improving their focus, identifying and avoiding obstacles, staying on track, and maintaining focus on the right priorities. Everyone has the same amount of time available to them. Effective leaders know how to get the most out of every minute.

Getting Results

Goals, plans, and objectives are important, but at the end of the day success is measured by the results that are accomplished. Leaders will benefit from professional development that helps them grow a leadership style that commands results, motivates their teams, and influences others to get the results they desire.

Using Critical Thinking

Critical thinking gives leaders the ability to evaluate, identify, and distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. It helps leaders determine the most efficient and effective course of action, while exploring challenges, identifying incorrect assumptions, and looking at things from a new perspective.

Customized Professional Development

There are many “off the shelf” professional development courses available on the market today. Depending on the organization and the resources available, it may be beneficial to ask an instructional design professional to customize these development resources to more effectively meet the needs of your organization. It can save time and effort in the long run.

 

Training and Development Consulting Firms

Consulting Firms

Training and development consulting firms provide a valuable resource for businesses that either do not have an in-house training department, or need additional resources from time to time. These firms deliver training either onsite or online, and can offer both general skill development as well as industry-specific training. Typically these consulting firms work with the human resources department of the business, or with general management. Usually their overall objectives are to improve employee knowledge, increase productivity through skill development, or comply with legally mandated training requirements (e.g., sexual harassment training).

Why Use a Consultant?

Training and development consultants can offer temporary expertise, rather than hiring staff that may or may not be needed full-time. Choosing to use an experienced consultant accelerates the timeline of any training initiative. Also, the company hiring a consultant only pays for the services needed, when they are needed. Finally, when the need for the consultant’s services is satisfied, the relationship can easily be terminated or put on hold.

Access to Specialized Skills

One of the most common reasons for a company to hire a training and development consultant is that they wish to gain access to a specialized skill that they may not possess in-house. Companies may not have enough work to keep an internal employee busy, but consultants can provide that skill set on demand. All in all, consultants can fill the gap in a cost effective way.

Choosing a Training Consultant

All potential training consultants must have the relevant education, experience, and breadth and depth of knowledge. In addition, they should have the following qualities:

  • Adaptability: Training consultants need to blend in almost immediately with your existing staff. Forward-thinking consultants do advance research, so that they are familiar with the corporate culture, mission, vision, and goals of the organization before they begin their project.
  • Organization: Effective training consultants do extensive project planning, and always do their best to meet your time, quality, and cost constraints.
  • Expertise: Organizations hire external consultants because they need someone who can hit the ground running. This means someone who has kept current with industry best practices, and can implement the right intervention from a wide range of available learning strategies.

Value Added

Training and development consultants bring experience from a variety of companies and industries, and stay current on the most recent developments and innovations in their field. They can provide an objective viewpoint that employees within the organization may lack. Outside consultants may not have industry specific knowledge, but this is offset by a more diverse range of ideas that they bring to the table. The flexibility of using an outside consultant is usually a cost-effective option for small, growing businesses.