Strategically Spending Staff Development Dollars


How to strategically spend professional development dollars for you and your team can be tricky. When I served as CEO at Habitat Lehigh Valley, we had access to an international HFHI conference bi-annually in Atlanta. As you can imagine, this was a tremendous experience, but it required careful budgetary consideration. Conferences like this have multiple tracks; one for Executive Directors focused on management and one for staff in functional areas like volunteer programming or fundraising. As valuable as this conference was, it was not inexpensive to send one or even two attendees.

On a daily basis, nonprofit professionals receive invitations to attend things like Chamber events, educational seminars or professional organization activities. The question is how do you best match your opportunities, monetarily speaking, with your needs?

First, don't assume that everyone in your organization is seeking discretionary growth opportunities. There are two things that I think are prerequisites for professional development. One is enthusiasm for learning and one is an interest in personal reflection and receiving feedback. I have worked with highly competent staff who are excellent in their functional areas but who have little to no interest in developing their leadership muscles. And that's ok...if they are meeting or exceeding expectations in their roles. Remember that leadership is a choice.

Next, ask yourself whether you and/or your staff identifies as an emerging leader or established leader. This process might include consideration of such things as years of experience, size of organization, supervisory responsibilities and future job progression opportunity, but it is much more helpful to consider other factors, as identified below. Understanding where you and your team are on the emerging/established continuum is important to consider when determining how to spend your staff training dollars.  

Emerging Leaders

Emerging leaders may be experiencing the Impostor Syndrome. I wrote about this phenomenon in an early blog entitled "A Deer in Headlights." Authors Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes identified this phenomenon in 1978. They described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”

Emerging leaders may be interested in moving from being a functional expert to a leadership role. Mid-level managers get to a point in their careers where they have to consider the next step on their career path. 

Emerging leaders may be victims of "The Peter Principle. The "Peter Principle" is about promoting people who were successful in the trenches to a level beyond their competence. I see this a lot in my coaching practice. These otherwise valuable team members may begin to question whether they want to be where they are and might think “how the heck did I get put in a leadership role?”

Emerging leaders may need to focus more on building their confidence levels. 

Established Leaders

Established leaders may be feeling the effects of burnout. They may need a reset to recommit, re-energize, reconnect.

Established leaders may be moving from a small organization to a large organization that requires a different level of leadership agility. They may be facing an organizational change like a merger.

Established leaders may be supervising more staff, or they may see their role changing from that of a direct supervisor of many to a coach for a few. 

Established leaders may be considering a personal move like retirement or a career change and may be working on realigning their personal mission with organizational alignment.

Once you determine where you or your team members are on the emerging/established continuum, you can make mindful decisions about professional development. Set your staff up to be successful by providing to them the appropriate resources. New professionals often need to build their basic functional tool kits that are organizationally specific. Appropriate on-boarding is critical at this juncture. Consider development plans that both challenge and support new employees.

Emerging leaders often need exposure to management training that focuses on topics like delegation, budget building and conflict resolution. I call this Leadership 101 and exposure to these topics can begin with providing staff with recommended print resources or can involve traditional skill building classes, but it shouldn't end there.

The real magic happens when people are ready to develop a leadership mindset. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner position this concept as a core principle in their work on “The Leadership Challenge” where they wrote:

“Titles don’t make you a leader. It’s how you behave that makes the difference. Exemplary leaders know that if they want to gain commitment and achieve the highest standards, they must be models of the behavior they expect of others.”

Building a leadership mindset requires feedback, support and transparency. In June, 2018, Think Good Leadership will launch a new program, Synergy Leadership Circles, which will support leaders in owning a leadership mindset. Look for details in the weeks ahead....