I remember the first time I was responsible for a department budget. It was at the NBC television station in Dallas, Texas, and I was charged with developing sales marketing campaigns that would impact change in the marketplace while generating new streams of revenue for our company. In the spreadsheets were lines for advertising and marketing programs, lines for office supplies, equipment rentals, team travel, organization dues, and freelance help. And there was a line called “Staff Development.” It was the magical place where investment would be made in the professional lives of my team—and year after year, we would fill it with conference registrations, webinars, books, boot camps, and any number of team-building activities. No matter where I went in my career, that budget line would follow. More often than not, a price tag would be attached to it by resident bean-counters. “Please spend no more than $1,000 on a full-time head or $500 on a part-time head,” one executive told me when I moved from the marketplace to ministry. “And that needs to include travel too—we just don’t have the money to spend on sending folks to big conferences.”
I have a confession to make.
I think that, when it comes to professional development of our employees, we give that budget line too much credit. Now, that’s not to say I don’t like the vast number of training tools at our disposal. I recently attended and spoke at the Launch Out conference in Nashville—it’s a small gathering of dreamers and builders of dreams, and what was shared was powerful. I think there’s a lot of good to be found at events relevant to particular ministries and interests. I’ve been on the line-up at webinars and conferences, and have been inspired by round table discussions, webinars, and the library of books I’ve gathered over the years. I currently have a writing coach who is providing me with guidance about my upcoming book. And I’ve got a ton of friends who have had transformational moments after hearing a powerful keynote.
But I believe there’s also a different kind of profound and lasting way we can develop our employees and set them on a course for successful career growth and leadership.
It’s this: our personal investment in their future.
There’s not a resource out there that can replace the time we give, the opportunity we provide, the coaching we share. There’s not enough money in any budget that can fully equip someone for not only their now but their next if we’re not involved in the equation.
What does our investment look like?
It starts with listening to our employees, with discovering both their strengths and their areas for growth. And learning what they’d like to do in the future—even if their future goals mean they leave our ministry or organization.
Our investment then takes what we’ve learned and seeks ways for real-world learning to take place. Invite them into budgeting processes or strategic planning sessions. Ask for their input on challenging issues. Give them opportunities to lead.
We wrap those real-world opportunities with care and coaching, setting aside good time to have genuine conversations about not only what our employees are learning but what we’re learning as well.
And we encourage our employees to take risks covered in prayer and wise counsel. Our responsibility to them is not to leave them out to dry or throw them in the deep end to see if they swim. And yes, I’ve heard that last phrase used by well-meaning leaders when they are trying to “grow their people.” If we are worth our salt, we should develop our employees by not only providing them with the “what” they need, but also showing them the “how.”
And those conferences, webinars, boot camps, training sessions, and books? Let’s not be afraid to provide them—and then be bold in using them well. Don’t let what’s learned collect dust. Ask your employees to share newfound knowledge and wisdom. Allow it to become part of your conversation. Remember what I said about real-world learning? Every bullet point captured at a keynote or new method learned at a round-table discussion is an invitation.