Now more than ever, professional development is a critical benefit to offer new hires who are placing a priority on career growth and mobility. With existing staff, who like many in the workforce right now may be looking at new opportunities, career training is a powerful lever for retention. This, of course, is in addition to the obvious benefits of upskilling your creative team in new disciplines, platforms and ways of working that empower your agency to offer new and better services to your clients. There are many considerations to take into account when enhancing or establishing your professional development program.

 Professional development should be individualized, both in content and delivery platform. You can start by discussing goals with your team members and also identifying skills gaps based on the type of work coming into your agency and then mapping a professional development program to those goals and gaps. It’s important to also determine how your staff best takes in information. It could be through reading, or in person in classes or workshops. Design a program that takes learning styles into account. 

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Branding and formalizing your professional development program helps lend gravitas to the program. Come up with a name and logo. Brand your materials and package up content in a compelling format. Develop a documented quarterly curriculum for your team members that spans the course of a year.

While there is no single silver bullet for implementing powerful professional development practices, there are fortunately some quick wins that you can achieve to incrementally build up a program and culture that will enhance your group's performance and even drive engagement. Many of the ideas below were the result of roundtable brainstorming sessions that Cella facilitated. Hopefully, you'll find a few that you can put in place relatively easily and will quickly yield results.

Create Pinterest Boards

Develop boards that capture inspiration ideas, new design and concepting trends. You may want to ask your team members to each choose an area of personal interest that is also relevant to your business and then create a board about their passion to share with the team. To jumpstart the process, you should consider starting boards that you know will resonate with your group. This practice can also be applied to specific assignments for brainstorming and concepting.

Leverage Existing Meetings by Piggybacking a Professional Development Segment

It can be difficult to find the time to hold a meeting dedicated to exploring new technological or functional best practices trends so carving out time within existing recurring meetings provides an opportunity for you and others to talk about new ideas and best practices relevant to creative groups. They don’t have to be involved and can even be as simple as sharing a new website or video that speaks to an innovative industry development.

Document and Distribute Soft Skills Best Practices

When it comes to email, meeting and general communication proper etiquette, simply providing a list of do's and don'ts can go a long way toward improving your team's collaborative skills and even enhance client relations as a bonus. It's not like most of the folks working in our creative groups received significant training or guidance in this area so a few engagingly-crafted nuggets of guidance can go a long way. Create a “Dear Abby”-like online presence or design fun games on soft skills topics.

Share Online Content

The range and amount of virtual content that can support the development of your team in both hard and soft skills and that will inspire them as well, is staggering. You probably already have an idea of areas where you'd like to support your team, and it's no more difficult than throwing out a couple of keywords in Google to retrieve an abundance of resources. The key is to establish a set schedule of when you share links with your team and to consistently send those recommendations out with a brief description both of what you're sharing and how long it will take them to read or view the content.

Hold "Lunch and Learns"

It's not always reasonable to expect your team to attend after-hours events and this makes "Lunch and Learns" a perfect venue for professional development engagement. Your team is already on site or at work (if remote) and they're probably going to be eating lunch, so hopefully, they won't see attending a "Lunch and Learn" either in person or virtually, as a big ask. Like the sharing of online content, you can focus on hard or soft skills, assign team members to run L&Ls or make it really easy and curate movies, videos and online training to watch and discuss as a group. Subject Matter Experts on your team should have hosting L&Ls as a key responsibility in their job description.

Buy Books or Magazines

Be sure that you believe the selections would be of interest to your team and leave them on their desks. 'Nuff said.

Take Advantage of Prearranged Studio Tours

There is much to learn from seeing first-hand how our peers work. If you know the leaders of other in-house or external agencies, you can reach out to them to schedule tours. An even easier route is to research what industry groups in your area are sponsoring tours and have your team join in. You can extend this idea to include inspirational trips to galleries and museums.

Give your Team Opportunities to Try New Skills

If you're looking to develop the presentation or communication skills of certain members of your team, set up internal meetings where they can practice in front of their peers. When they step out into the "real world" and actually speak with clients, be there to support them, maybe even having them shadow you or another skilled presenter prior to their big debut.

Shadowing Internal and External Team Members

A "day in the life" of more senior coworkers or peers working in other disciplines and even colleagues in other departments in the company that your group partners with provides first-hand valuable insights into how your team works and interfaces with other groups. Your team may also get a more real-world view of the industry your company is in. Imagine your team touring your company’s R&D department or sitting in on an annual sales meeting.

Set up a Reverse Mentorship Program

Many of our teams have staff with long tenures who are, to put it kindly, stuck in a rut. With so many new technologies and business practices impacting companies, many organizations have established programs where younger employees are mentoring their older co-workers in the new world order. Creative teams check off all the boxes as a perfect candidate for this type of program. This isn’t to say that more traditional mentorship programs should be ignored. There’s great value to be had from those programs as well. It has the dual benefit of supporting new hires and onboarding them more quickly as well as showing more senior team members that they’re valued and respected.

Establish a Studio Marketing Initiative Designed to Engage the Whole Agency

Some ideas to enroll the entire team in include creating a promotional calendar (assigning teams of 2 to each month), designing clever interoffice-oriented greeting cards to give to clients to share with their peers or launching a studio website (adhering to corporate security mandates, of course).

Here's a Quick Short List

The list includes some additional resources that are either free or very inexpensive to tap into:

  • Competiscan - showcases work of other creative teams
  • Grammarly - like its name, this platform corrects poor grammar (oh yes, and please mandate that your team use spellcheck)
  • Toastmasters - they've been around forever - and that's because the program effectively supports presentation skills
  • Smartbrief - an online digest of a slew of business best practices
  • Harvard Business Review - great content for your leadership team
  • TEDtalks - if you don't know about this platform, make it your first stop

Not all of the above will work for you or your group, especially with the pandemic and remote work as complicating factors, but there are surely 1 or 2 practices that, with minimal effort, could be put in place. The key is to take it slow and, more importantly, stay committed to the practices you establish. Many small successes over time can and will have a long-term positive impact on your team's development, sense of accomplishment and engagement and ultimately their performance.

Related post: In-House Agency Hiring Best Practices