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Implementing a Professional Development Program by Kenny Foley

If you’re looking for a way to strengthen internal and external customer relationships, provide prospects with a forum to familiarize themselves with your expertise, and add value to your industry, consider implementing a professional development program. Not a product training program, although that can be a separate, related component, but a professional development program whereby you share current and emerging industry knowledge that helps participants be more successful on the job.

If this sounds overwhelming, consider different ways you could focus your efforts: provide specialized training that addresses specific individual or group skill gaps; train new hires and transfers on specific operating procedures and standards as they join the department; or keep an existing workforce updated on new industry trends.

In-house reliability professionals can also consider creating professional development programs for their internal customers, particularly for situations where close collaboration is required. These departmental presentations can help others in the organization understand current policies and processes, why they’re important, and the roles and responsibilities of the personnel involved. An added benefit is the potential for improvement that comes about when everyone has greater awareness, understanding and credibility.

Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure an effective professional development program.

Start Small

Master one topic and delivery platform, then evaluate customer and prospect responses to the offering, participant engagement and subsequent financial return. Evaluate others who offer the same kind of training that you’re considering. What gaps remain?

Test your topic with small groups at trade shows, lunch and learns, and association events. Ask for detailed feedback and follow up with participants weeks or months after to see if your training truly made a difference.

Use this opportunity to develop an accompanying resource guide. Start with a handout and augment it as you gain more experience and refine your training. For example, you could have a manual for a three-day program that is over an inch thick and a manual for a one to two day session that is 43 pages long. Each manual should be developed to serve as a longtime reference guide that reinforces the training and knowledge.

If you don’t charge a fee for your professional development program, make sure your financials include income from business resulting from attendees. You may not always be able to attribute the additional business directly to the training, however, you can confidently attribute a percentage.

Man with pull quote

Focus on the Content

Spend the necessary resources to create a curriculum that can’t be replicated through YouTube™ and a few good books. Identify an instructor or two who has significant and current real-world experience and can link the classroom subject matter with his/her practical experience. Look within your company for would-be instructors who have expertise and deep experience. You probably have people already on staff who can fill this role and simply need a little practice time to hone their onstage presence. The testing process mentioned previously is a good time to train this talent and prepare them for the high stakes presentations.

Make sure the content stays current with continual updates. The overall flow and themes may remain the same, but you want to make sure you have examples that are weeks/months old, not years.

Fight the urge to focus on company products or services. It’s tempting to tout your latest and greatest, however, it’s also the best way to erode credibility and your chances of continuing a relationship with the participants.

Mine Existing Custom Programs for Scalable Ideas

Look at presentations you’re currently putting together for customers and prospects. Can these be made customer-agnostic and turned into a training class? Or could you put several different presentations together for a longer class?

What questions are your customers and prospects asking about the industry? What concerns do they have about developments in your product category? Are there some questions or topics that come up repeatedly? Or is there a need that they have that could also fit other companies? Track these for a few weeks or months to identify trends, then use these trends to drive your next steps.

This strategy was recently used to create a digital training program for an international soft drink company. The company needed a digital vehicle that allowed it to deliver a skills-based assessment to its reliability professionals. Once the project was completed, the digital training program was used as a template for other customers. The process of developing and completing the project also revealed potential bottlenecks, as well as opportunities for expansion and additional customization.

Expand Deliberately – Begin With the End in Mind

As you look to expand, consider building out multiple ways to deliver the same topic. Assuming you’ve already mastered presenting in person, evaluate how you could incorporate a webinar, either live or recorded. Experiment with posting snippets of a webinar or recorded presentation on your website or LinkedIn® page. You can also record the entire presentation and make it available to attendees as a refresher. This works best if the training is for a specific purpose and won’t be valuable to others. You don’t want your videos to replace your involvement in the process.

Turn sections of your presentation into blogs that can be serialized on your website or an association or trade media publication, or incorporated into an e-mail campaign to customers and prospects. This keeps your company’s brand and its availability as a professional development resource in front of people who are looking for the guidance you offer.

Offer current customers a presentation of your core topic with specific ideas on how you could add custom content to address their current or future needs. Use this as an opportunity to visit their offices (if you haven’t) or invite them to yours (if they haven’t).

Capitalize on the Human Nature of Networking

If you’re hosting participants from multiple organizations, deliberately mix the groups so individuals expand their network during the learning process. This elevates their experience and helps them learn from one another.

Separate preexisting groups that already know one another through seat assignments for presentations and meals, provide everyone with a name tag and use table tent cards to reinforce the individual’s and organization’s name. Use class participation to encourage the exchange of best practices. Allow participants to exchange contact information themselves; you’ll want to respect their ability to select whom they prefer to interact with beyond the training experience.

Whether your intent is to influence internal or external customers or prospects, a professional development or training program of any scale provides a replicable tool you can scale for your needs and that of your audience.

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