My most important job as a leader at Gettysburg College is creating a culture where my team wants to get better, learn new things, and develop new skills. Not just once, but continually.
In higher ed’s current financial environment, professional development is unfortunately often first on the budget chopping block. But investing in professional development provides a myriad of benefits to an institution.
Here are three key benefits:
1. Building a network
Developing a professional network is not just an activity that helps professionals land their next job. Building a professional network can make a significant impact on your current institution. Why? Because the connections we make provide counsel and advice that can help us to solve problems more effectively and more quickly.
Countless times in my career, when I’ve faced a difficult situation, I picked up the phone and talked to any number of close colleagues to understand how they might have approached a similar situation. Connecting with others for advice also helps us better understand the overall landscape of higher ed.
Furthermore, conferences allow you to have discussions with professionals who work at consulting firms. Vendor halls create an environment to start conversations with others in our industry whom you may have never known existed. Consultants like to teach and problem solve just as much as they like new accounts and during my career they have often helped me to forge connections with others.
For example, one of the things I enjoy every year is my annual breakfast at the American Marketing Association Symposium on Higher Education with Michael Stoner. After breakfast with Michael, I always come away with a few things to think about and a few things to do better at Gettysburg. Michael and I knew each other through social media, but the relationship deepened when I volunteered with CASE to be an awards judge. Not a day goes by when I am not thankful that I did.
2. Revitalizing your approach to your work
During the last few years at Gettysburg, some of our most influential ideas about how to structure our work came from conference sessions that a member of our team attended, including our move to agile marketing. We completely changed the framework for the way we develop projects in our office for the better. And we have attendance at a conference to thank.
And of course, there are direct skills and knowledge gained thru professional development. In 2013 we upgraded our website and incorporated a responsive design framework without the help of any outside consultant. We were only able to achieve this feat due to the professional development opportunities that my team participated in prior to launch.
3. Creating time and space
Professional development allows you time to think, plan, reflect, and dream. The time and space away from the everyday tasks of our office is a great creative outlet. How many emails, meetings, and phone messages do we look at in a day? Everyone, including you and your staff, need a break from it. I find the time and space that professional development opportunities afford me help to give me the chance to dream big and come up with an idea that I might not have otherwise, given the confines of my normal workday.
Professional development has allowed me to develop life-long friends, make a positive impact on our profession, and enhance my institution’s reputation.
Investing in professional development doesn’t mean that you have to send your staff to a large and costly national conference. If budget is tight, look for one-day seminars or local conferences to keep travel costs down. Early in my career, I attended a one-day informal workshop on the web at Colgate University, hosted by then-VP for Communications Charlie Melichar. In that one day I met colleagues that share my love for our craft. I also had the privilege to meet Charlie, who has served as a mentor to me throughout my career. In many ways what I have tried to build at Gettysburg is modeled off of what I learned at Colgate’s workshop. To this day, many of these people remain influences on me — and on the college I serve.