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Posted: October 17, 2012

Make the investment in professional development

It can really pay off

Paul Larkins

Influential writer and management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “Knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” It is also the foundation of innovation for many of today’s companies. We are all part of a rapidly changing global market that requires each of us to constantly learn new skills, new information and new technology in order to remain competitive and successful, which is why I believe an investment in people is the single most important investment business leaders can make.

Earlier this year, I explained in an article in this space that today’s companies should strive for peak performance on multiple levels: for the individuals working at the company, the teams they comprise, and the company as a whole. At SquareTwo Financial, we are deeply committed to career-long learning and education, and I firmly believe continual self-development is one of the key ways to achieve peak performance. The Peak Performance Development Program is a major strategic objective for our company, as I believe professional development should be for all of today’s companies – regardless of size, revenue or industry.

A successful employee development program should consist of four key components:

Customization for each employee
Just as no two people follow the exact same path in their careers, neither should they follow the exact same path in their professional development. Like a student pursues a major in college, employees should have the freedom and the options available to pursue a customized professional development path. For example, at SquareTwo Financial employees are placed into one of the following four professional development tracks:

• Individual Contributor – for employees who contribute to the organization and do not have direct reports;
• People Manager – for employees who have direct reports;
• Professional Contributor – for individual contributors in a role with a broad scope of work and are not currently responsible for the direct management of other employees;
• Emerging Leader – employees who have demonstrated leadership aptitudes in which the company wishes to invest for the purpose of longer-term, broad-scope growth.

It is the company’s responsibility to make a variety of options available, but it is imperative that each person is responsible for his or her own professional development. Professional development is an investment of time, energy and corporate resources, and is only as successful as the employee wants it to be.

Access to coursework
Developing leadership skills is often one of the first things people think of when it comes to professional development, but corporate leaders must always be up-to-date on industry skills and knowledge. A professional development program should include coursework that teaches that latest information on industry regulations, the changing competitive landscape of the business, new industry resources, relevant technology advancements and other specific information necessary to do the job at hand.

The best professional development programs are also free and convenient for employees. For example, offer in-person classes on-site during the workday and online courses employees can access anytime from anywhere they have an Internet connection.

Leadership development
In addition to coursework, hands-on leadership development is an essential part of any professional development program. This can include increased access to the company’s leadership team, mentor programs, networking, opportunities to attend professional development seminars or conferences, and other opportunities to build the skills needed to effectively manage people.

Clearly defined objectives
Like any corporate initiative, every professional development series should have clearly defined goals and objectives for each participant. For example, SquareTwo Financial’s “Inspirational Leadership Series” is a six-month leadership program designed to help handpicked employees develop the leadership skills needed to drive the company’s growth and long-term success. The objectives of this program include:

• Building a clear, collective understanding of the leadership requirements and expectations needed for company success
• Increasing self-awareness and building strong understanding of the components of emotional and social intelligence
• Learning and applying a framework for leading innovation
• Building a set of practical skills to drive culture change and engage and inspire the workforce
• Developing strong, collaborative relationships with a set of colleagues from across the company
• Increasing personal effectiveness in leading teams and driving engagement and performance
• Addressing a company-wide leadership challenge or opportunity sponsored by the executive team

Every investment takes time to show a return, but executives that follow these guidelines are likely to find the investment in developing people is one of the best investments you can make.

Paul A. Larkins is president and CEO of SquareTwo Financial (www.squaretwofinancial.com ), a leader in the $100 billion asset recovery and management industry. He has more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry and was named a finalist in the 2011 ColoradoBiz CEO of the Year mid-sized company category. He can be reached at 303-296-3345.

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