Low-Cost Development in the New Year

The holiday lights are still hung on the front porch.  Remnants of torn wrapping paper continue to mysteriously appear in the middle of the living room floor days after gifts were opened.  Champagne is chilling for the upcoming New Year’s celebration, and the last thing you want to do is consider the growing mountain of work that is accumulating in your inbox like the falling snow outside.  Ahh, the joys of holiday time off!!

Whether or not you’re in the office this week, I would place bets that you are getting work done.  Perhaps it’s in stops and starts via VPN connection from home, or, like me, it may be actually making the cold trek into the office (the absence of coworkers does make the week a little more productive).  Regardless, now is the time for leaders to deliberately carve out some time to plan for the year ahead.  Yes, there are TPS reports to be filed, customer calls to be made and performance reviews on which to focus.  All are important, to be sure.  But so is your own development, a fact often thrown onto the back burner in today’s economy.  So, take some time this week to reprioritize development, of your employees and your own.

“Well, my company has cut development budgets for next year,” a sighed and frustrated refrain heard from too many leaders and employees in the past several months.  Trust me, it’s a complaint of mine, too.  For those of us in the OD world, organizational ignorance of long-term investments in employee development is all too disturbing.  But let’s be honest, it’s a sad trend in more than a few companies these days – a reality we’d be remiss to simply criticize. 

As leaders, we are empowered (nay, implored!) to creatively consider how we will further our own development and those of our employees despite shrinkages in development dollars.  And many possibilities exist.  We can’t be sidetracked from our primary responsibility as leaders simply because of a lack of funds.  In the famous words of Admiral David Farrugut, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

Here are a few great, no-cost (or low cost) development ideas for the next year:

  • Read a Book – Remember that $25 Barnes & Noble holiday gift card you received from your eccentric aunt with the sixteen cats?  Try picking out a professional development book instead of the latest Stephen King novel (which will be available free of charge from your local library within weeks).
  • Attend free online webinars – Chances are high that your email inbox receives weekly (if not daily) invitations to complimentary webinars related to your specific job function.  Make a commitment to attend one each month, summarizing key points and passing them along to colleagues and direct reports unable to attend on their own.
  • Seek out local speaker series – For those of you fortunate to live near a major university, look into publically offered speaker series organized by business schools.  These are often free of charge and provide a wonderful glimpse into some of the brightest academic and scholarly minds affecting our industries.
  • Establish a Professional Resource Exchange system – Remember that book you purchased and read in the first suggestion above? After you’ve read it, don’t simply set it on your shelf to look impressive and gather dust.  Tape a distribution list to the inside cover and begin passing it around your department.  Take this a step forward, and schedule time next quarter to discuss the key messages at a department meeting.
  • Become a mentor – The experience of helping shape another’s career often has the mutual benefit of helping develop your own.  It’s amazing what can be learned as either the mentor or the mentee.  Seek out these relationships in the New Year!
  • Start a quarterly Book Club – This low-cost, easy-to-organize option allows you to build discussions around key topics throughout the year.  Offer “membership” to colleagues, peers and employees, and let members help pick the books.  Get together once a quarter for an hour over coffee to exchange reactions to what you’ve read.  You’ll be surprised at how much interest you can generate with this idea!
  • Get involved with local chapters of professional associations – SHRM, ASTD, ASQ…the list goes on and on.  Many of these national organizations have local chapters, many of which offer complimentary training opportunities throughout the year.  Take this opportunity to reacquaint yourself with these local organizations.  Attend some training, or better yet, volunteer to help lead these organizations (volunteers often attend training sessions free or discounted price, and the board membership looks good on your own resume).

Training budgets may have paralleled the plummeted economy, but don’t let a reduction in formal (and often costly) development opportunities hinder your ability to strengthen competencies (or lack thereof).  Be creative in crafting development goals for 2010.  The payoff to your own career, as well as for your employees, will be well worth the effort you exert. 

So take an hour this week to launch your own new development plan for the New Year.  Let the last gift of this holiday season be a gift to yourself and to your employees.  Make 2010 a year of discovery and growth!

2 thoughts on “Low-Cost Development in the New Year

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