Professional Development for the Innovative Organization

When employees in government hear “professional development,” the term often becomes synonymous with training. If there is a perceived knowledge gap, train it away. If there is a new topic employees need information about, then more training is needed.

Accordingly, professional development often involves reactive, non-strategic training events. If an organization has a crisis, training becomes a priority. Training can also be viewed as an individual-level phenomenon; an employee focuses on her own individual development plan and the training she would like to receive primarily for her own personal goals, rather than for the betterment of the organization.

What is the alternative? The first step is planning at the organizational level. Leaders must ask the question: “Who do we want our employees to be and what do we want them to know?” Then proactively plan to ensure employees are matched to training and other learning/growth opportunities appropriate to the strategic path of the organization.

Beyond Learning

Still, even a strategic orientation toward learning does not ensure the full potential of your professional development program will be achieved. Training and other learning events usually focus on how to make people effective knowledge users. Here is a sample objective: “Know Earned Value Management theory and how to apply it on your job.”

The next step of maturity is to ensure your employees are effective knowledge sharers. After an employee attends a training event (or participates in some kind of targeted learning), how often is the knowledge shared with other employees (outside of a perfunctory 15-minute Brown-bag session)?

Do development opportunities for individual employees include ways that training and knowledge are shared among the larger team? Does anyone other than the specific person who attended a training event become responsible for doing anything with that training?

When an organization develops systems and processes around the sharing and joint application of information and knowledge (obtained either through training or experience), it increases the value of the knowledge exponentially.

Beyond Sharing

Nonetheless, true professional development does not end with application and sharing. If an employee learns a specific theory or skill and how to apply it on the job, this does not preclude any team member from adjusting, modifying, or otherwise altering the tenets of the knowledge based on the team’s experiences and needs.

In effect, employees can become knowledge creators, generating new and unique ways of applying knowledge, and even arriving at new theories of their own. Knowledge creation is supported by knowledge usage and sharing processes (for theoretical background on this, see Knowledge Sharing and Its Impact on Knowledge Creation).

Beyond The Organization

As employees mature along the path from knowledge users, to knowledge sharers, to knowledge creators, something happens to an organization. It builds its brand – not based on the world as it already is – but on the world how the organization has designed it to be.

One instance of knowledge creation is a novelty. Systemic knowledge creation throughout an organization represents a revolution. As an organization creates a repository of respected knowledge, it sets itself up to be the new industry standard – and that is something that cannot simply be achieved through training.

In fact, an organization with systemic knowledge creation becomes the organization that other organizations try to emulate

… through training.

 

Dr. Paul Eder is a Senior Consultant with The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc.

The opinions in this piece are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of COE or innovategov.org.

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