In my previous post on the topic of professional development, I proposed that this practice should be embraced as a team priority. Assuming I was successful in presenting a convincing rationale, and you're ready to jump onboard the professional development train, there are two immediate challenges you may face: resources (read money and time) and the difficulty of coming up with appropriate topics and delivery vehicles.
In the 2014 In-House Industry Survey, 65% of creative leaders noted they had access to some level of funding for development. Hopefully you're in that group AND your budget is adequate. If not though, don't fret. There are cost-effective, educational options included in the list below. The trick is to mix them up so they don't get monotonous.
Determining appropriate topics and venues can possibly be more problematic than securing the needed time and money for your team's development. There are several approaches to move this boulder up the hill. First, look at your group's performance reviews or assessments, their skill sets and your current business needs to identify expertise gaps you may want to narrow with appropriate targeted training. Talk to or survey your clients regarding potential soft skills lapses you may want to address. Finally, reach out to the managers on your team, as well as your entire group, and get their feedback on what training they'd like to engage in.
Once you have a broad and deep list, meet with your managers and determine quick wins, affordable options and the most impactful and business-critical topics you'd like to focus the team's development efforts on. Then move on to assigning delivery options for targeted topics. The criteria to take into consideration when going through this final exercise include cost, available venues, individual vs. group needs, customized programming and learning styles.
Here is a list of options with topline insights.
- Lunch & Learns: Food and learning are always a good mix. The presenter can be either a team member with a particular area of expertise or an outside speaker. Many industry thought leaders will come if expenses are covered and they are offered a nominal honorarium (sometimes, they will present at no cost if your company is well known). Viewing relevant video presentations and then holding a facilitated discussion on the topic is also a low-cost, but effective option.
- Conferences: This option can be pricey. but if an appropriate event is chosen, it can be a powerful development tool. If you're on a tight budget, you might consider choosing one or two people from your team to attend, gather information and present to the larger group what they learned. This exercise also helps develop their presentation and leadership skills.
- University adult education classes: Many local colleges and universities offer evening classes often taught by seasoned professionals in the creative industry. Community colleges are generally less expensive if cost is an issue.
- Industry speakers: If you want to bring in a big name, high-profile speaker but you're on a limited budget, you may want to reach out to your in-house neighbors, pool your resources and bag that industry thought leader while also introducing your team to their peers working at other nearby companies.
- Field trips: The trip could be anything from a museum visit and gallery tours to more business-focused trips to other in-house teams or local ad agencies and design firms. A debrief after the event can help reinforce important insights.
- Company training programs: It's very possible that your company has management and other broad-based business skills programs that you can take advantage of to enhance your team's soft skills.
- Mentoring programs: There may be experts on your own team who, while not comfortable presenting to a large group, might welcome the opportunity to school up a younger, less-experienced co-worker.
- Online training: Pay resources such as Lynda.com, as well as free industry blogs, are a fantastic resource for both hard and soft skills development. For the best results, you should consider assessing the individual training opportunities for each team member and then create tailored curricula for them. You may also want to gather those who took the same training for a debrief to discuss and reinforce what they learned.
- Online media: In addition to online training, there's a bounty of video, audio and text-based content that you can point your team to that will help them develop their aptitudes in a variety of areas. Most of the business journals, creative industry publications and organizations post relevant content you can tap into. (Definitely check out Ted Talks.) I often come across short insightful posts that I send out to my team through informal emails.
- Industry events/lectures/workshops: Most industry organizations such as AIGA, the Art Directors Club and The American Marketing Association have local chapters that produce educational events that may be appropriate for your team. There's the added value of your team getting to network with fellow creatives.
- Book group: There are hundreds of books that focus on topics to support your team's professional growth. Instead of just doling out reading assignments, you may want to consider creating a book group. This format encourages the group to share and expand on key takeaways from the reading material.
- Professional training courses: Professional for-profit training organizations with a focus on the creative community are a good source for in-person development. Most conduct local events and can be easily found on the internet.
- Digests of training materials: It can be hard to keep up with all the training content constantly being created and updated. Compiling a digest of sites that are continually adding new and relevant industry information can assist your team in quickly scanning for and reviewing information that will help them grow professionally. You can encourage your team to add to the list as they discover appropriate sites and materials.
 The BOSS Group, Cella Consulting, LLC and InSource, 2014 In-House Creative Services Industry Survey data, accessed 24 April 2014. N = 418.