How to Make the Most of Your Professional Development Trainings

Professional development training helps employees learn new skills they need for their careers. Sometimes employees seek out professional development training on their own, while other times employers and managers direct and shape professional development training to help achieve company goals and ensure that employees have the skills needed to excel at their jobs.

Some Guidelines for Choosing Professional Development Training

As an employer, you can choose professional development that will help your workers, but there are some guidelines that will maximize your efforts. Psychologists say that there are different learning styles and ways of learning, so you should:

  1.  Choose courses that correspond to your employees’ learning styles or that use different methods that cover all learning styles.

An individualized curriculum may be ideal when employees need to develop different skills. Sometimes one training does not fit all.

    2.    Have a trainer come and conduct one training for all employees.

Professional skills can be upgraded through training, but so can soft skills like team-building, collaboration, and leadership development. Investing in employee training can turn today’s entry level professionals into tomorrow’s managers and team leaders. You can short circuit the leadership shortages of the future by training promising employees now.

Creating a Culture That Values Learning

If you only do an occasional training and ignore learning all the rest of the time, your employees will not be encouraged to value it themselves.

Managers can create an atmosphere valuing learning, which will translate into employees eager to better their skills and expand their knowledge base.

The corporate environment is constantly changing, not only in the way business is conducted, but in the way employees need to conduct themselves in the workplace with each other and with clients and customers. If your employees don’t continue learning through professional development training programs, your entire company may be left behind or surpassed by other companies that invest in training programs.

Although online courses and trainings are becoming more available, there are advantages to learning in group settings face-to-face. Not only is the quality of interaction improved in face-to-face courses, but professional development can also be an opportunity to encourage team-building when some or all of your employees train together.

Using Technology in Learning

New technologies have become available in recent years that can make training more effective for employees. Courses can use recorded videos and can record your training sessions in order to replay them later or include employees that couldn’t be present when they happened.

There are many online content delivery systems that can also help trainers get their content in front of your employees. Continuing education professionals can make use of these technologies to maximize their effectiveness.

Central Connecticut State University offers continuing education courses that provide professional development for professionals of various kinds. Join our mailing list to learn more about valuable courses for your employees.

Why a Professional Development Plan is Essential for Success

Career and personal success do not happen by accident for the vast majority of people. Career success is far more likely to happen when you create a professional development plan that can guide you as you make decisions for your career.

Taking the Initiative

Although a few companies provide some help to employees in making professional development plans, for the most part, the planning will be up to the employees themselves. Not only will a plan you develop yourself be generally more effective in meeting your specific needs, but it will also be less complicated without the company mingling its own goals with yours.

Benefits of Professional Development Plans

A Harvard study showed that those who set goals and wrote them down were far more successful than those who didn’t. Specifically, the study showed that the three percent of MBA graduates who wrote down clear, specific goals (like a professional development plan) earned 10 times more income than the other 97 percent combined.

Clearly, it is beneficial to have a professional development plan and write it down, even in career fields that don’t lend themselves to high incomes. Knowing what you want is the first step to getting it, in any endeavor.

But there are even more benefits to making a professional development plan. A plan will help you figure out how to do more of what you enjoy in your job and, conversely, less of what you don’t.

A professional development plan will also help you to identify skills you still need to develop to move forward in your career and will help you identify steps to gaining those skills. Even non-technical skills, like leadership and team-building skills, can be systematically developed through training and coursework if that’s what is needed to advance.

Where to Get Help

Although an employer-directed plan may not reflect your true career goals and aspirations, you can use the insight of your boss and colleagues to help you formulate your plan. Asking questions and getting feedback about your current skill level and job performance may help you to determine aspects of your plan. People aren’t usually able to be completely objective about themselves, so asking for constructive criticism as well as positive feedback about yourself as an employee can help you see truths about yourself that you might otherwise miss.

You can also get help through professional training and continuing education opportunities like a course designed to help you formulate a professional development plan or by taking continuing education courses that will help you reach your professional goals. Central Connecticut State University offers a wide variety of continuing education courses designed for professional and personal development. Join our mailing list to see what opportunities are open to you.

Expert Interview Series: Ben Aston of The Digital Project Manager About the Trials and Tribulations of Today’s Project Managers

Ben Aston is the creator of the world’s most popular digital project management blog, The Digital Project Manager. Recently, we talked with Ben about the current challenges faced by project managers and the strategies they must embrace to overcome those challenges.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to start a project management blog?

Armed with an x386 PC and a 33k dial-up modem, I launched my first (frankly terrible) website at age 14 and was hooked. It was a message board and friend profile site (I’d argue that was then cloned by Facebook!), but it got me excited about all things web and digital.

After graduating from university, I spent some time at some traditional advertising agencies in London and found my sweet spot. Digital was a fascinating intersection of technology, communications, and business where I could put my “nerdiness” to good use as a project manager managing complex, digital projects.  I spent the first ten years of my career at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, DLKW Lowe, and DDB flitting between client services and project management.

But when I got into digital project management as a relatively new discipline within digital, I began to realize no one was really talking about it. As I rose up through the ranks and began managing a team of project managers, I realized I was giving the same lessons to up-and-coming project managers time and time again; so I thought I should begin to share my thoughts more widely on a blog.

That’s why I created The Digital Project Manager: to empower a community to learn from one another, and to provide specialist digital project management guidance that draws on existing schools of thought (including PRINCE2, SCRUM, and PMBOK), but that’s engineered to work within the Wild West of digital marketing and communications, particularly in agencies and studios. Our goal is to elevate the conversation surrounding digital, leadership, and the world of digital project management.

Is there somewhat of a disconnect between the project management knowledge available on the Internet and the reality of many projects or situations?

There’s certainly a lot of theory, best practices, and process that are widely available on the internet. This theory is actually a great starting point as a framework for thinking about how to run a project, and it provides some helpful common language for us to use to understand one another when talking about projects.

You’ll find lots of project management theory that can be directly applied to IT or software development. Traditional project management theory can be great for those large enterprise projects that tend to be run using a waterfall methodology. At the other extreme, lean agile development is great for software products; but again, it doesn’t really fit well with the realities of projects within the typical agency/client relationship.

In the world of digital agencies, there’s often a big difference between theory and practice. Theory is a great starting point, but it can’t be applied so easily to more rogue, fast, and loose projects –  like the everyday campaigns and deliverables of digital project management where crazy clients, tiny budgets, stupid deadlines, and standardized processes and methodologies simply don’t work. Theory and frameworks also don’t have a lot to say when projects don’t go to plan! Take, for example, the project manager’s iron triangle. It’s a great principle, but in the cutthroat and increasingly commoditized business of agencies, budget, timelines, scope, and quality are often agreed upon up front and are totally fixed. It’s the agency that then takes on the risk of delivery.

So in that sense, there’s a disconnect between the project management theory and the reality of delivery. In digital, I think soft skills are so much more important for successfully leading teams and managing clients. Being able to lead well, communicate effectively, and negotiate well become critical to managing projects well.

What are the advantages of PRINCE2 and Scrum? Which types of projects would be best-suited for each of these methodologies?

PRINCE2 is designed for large scale IT projects – a heavyweight, “full stack” waterfall project management methodology that includes principles, themes, and processes.  So as a methodology, its advantages are that it’s incredibly thorough. It leaves nothing to chance. It’s a great framework to use when you’re thinking about large, predictable enterprise projects. It clarifies what will be delivered, ensures a focus on the viability of the project, clearly defines roles and responsibilities, and provides a common vocabulary which we can apply to other methodologies. On the flipside, while the principles and themes are great, the process can make it laborious and onerous for small projects. The emphasis on developing a good business case with KPIs and value earned, clear roles and responsibilities, and managing change and risk are helpful when we consider managing projects for our clients.

Conversely, Scrum is about empowering a self-managing team to deliver. It’s great for software development where you can structure your team in the way that Scrum dictates: with a development team, a Scrum Master to support the development team, and a Product Owner to define what needs to be built. As a methodology (if you can call it that), it’s very lightweight. It simply defines roles and responsibilities designed to create a healthy tension between delivering the right thing, the right way, as fast as possible.  So Scrum can be a really useful framework for the development and maintenance of complex products. Scrum defines a simple set of roles, meetings, and tools to efficiently, iteratively, and incrementally deliver valuable, shippable functionality. Scrum is great for codifying some of the agile principles in a process to show how you can make it work in the real world using small, self-organizing, cross-functional teams, daily stand-ups, progress demos, and retrospectives.

What issues and problems that must be addressed by the project manager tend to arise in almost every single type of digital project?

Most digital projects tend to encounter issues around scope – “is this in scope or not?” If it’s not in scope, what happens? Should the client pay more, or do we just suck it up? Whose fault is it?

We’re often working on the bleeding edge of technology. We’re regularly doing things that no one has ever tried doing before, so there’s a lot of uncertainty and risk. And the technology is ever-evolving, so we’re often working out how to build something as we’re building it. This all can make it very difficult to definitively define scope; and for long-term success, it really takes a shared maturity from both the client and agency to shift the conversation from defining project “deliverables” to having a shared ownership around project outcomes.

If we’re able to get a really good understanding of success, we’re much more likely to be able to deliver on it. There’s massive benefit for us, our team, the project,  and our clients if we’re a bit more strategic. When we shift the conversation from what to why, we often get to a better solution. We need to be conversation shifters – from focusing on requirements and results to understanding the strategic importance of what we’re doing.

Finish this sentence: “The thing that often seems to surprise new project managers is…”

… how many different plates they have to keep spinning.

The “plates” are our competing priorities. We’ve got a very challenging role in determining what’s worthy of our attention, how much attention we should give it, and in what sequence. We’re continually trying to optimize the critical path of our projects so that they can run as fast as possible.

But we’ve often got a bewildering choice of what to do. Some tasks are seemingly urgent and require a lot of attention; but in truth, they aren’t that important. If the “plate” falls to the ground, it really isn’t a disaster. Conversely, there’ll be truly important “plates” that don’t seem as urgent but are monumentally disastrous if they fail. Doing the right thing at the wrong time is often what surprises new project managers – but getting it wrong can be disastrous.

For digital developers or IT personnel who want to learn how to become project managers, what innate advantages do they often have as compared to a typical project management student or trainee?

Subject matter expertise and real-world experience are certainly a bonus throughout the entire project lifecycle. Those with digital experience tend to know what needs to happen next, which can be a great help in leading the team. As they’re managing the team, they’ve also got an advantage in that they can often spot any sandbagging of estimates. And throughout the planning and implementation of the project, they can also help with technical design and solution development.

What will be the most important skills that must be mastered by future project managers who want to be successful in their field?

Success really comes down to the soft skills I mentioned earlier. But probably the most important skill of all is leadership – the ability to lead teams effectively.

We can lead the team first by providing vision. Great teamwork and magic happen when there’s leadership that provides a clear unifying vision. Help people get hold of that vision and understand, “Why are we doing this? Why should do we care? What’s the point?” And then drive the team towards taking ownership. “Where are we at? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? How can we be meaningfully involved?”

Building a great team isn’t simply being dictatorial; it’s empowering your teams to take ownership themselves and supporting them every step of the way. Your teams have got to know that you’ve got their back and that you’re supporting them. In practical terms, that also means working out how you as a project manager are going to make your team’s life better today. Proper briefs? A new computer? Donuts? Fetching the dry cleaning? As the project leaders, we need to be the person that moves mountains for them.

Project success doesn’t come from a team that is worked as hard as they can. It comes from a team that is happy, motivated, and enjoys working with one another.  It comes from a team that’s led to success by being enabled, empowered, and sharply focused on bringing a shared vision to life.

Thinking about changing your career? Check out our mailing list to see what courses can help you make that dream a reality.

8 Tips for Building a Stronger Team

So much of today’s business success depends upon team-building and collaboration. Building a strong team is not just important, it is essential for companies that want to be competitive and successful.

Here are some tips to help your company or department build a stronger team.

1. Foster open communication.

Team members will soon stop communicating honestly if they sense that open communication won’t be appreciated and valued. Fostering open communication means affirming all team members’ contributions so that they feel comfortable putting more ideas forward, which will lead to a better quality of ideas over time.

2. Find positives.

Keeping the atmosphere of the team positive will facilitate better functioning. Negativity like backbiting, put-downs, and lack of confidence will impede the team in numerous ways. Positivity removes these obstacles, resulting in stronger team progress.

3. Set goals collaboratively.

The team won’t function optimally without collaborative goal-setting. The team will be more likely to buy into goals it helped set, so it’s worth taking some time to meet and determine some long- and short-term goals to work toward.

4. Expect change.

Successful teams aren’t static – they change and develop constantly in order to reach goals and work with ever-greater productivity. Expecting – and even encouraging – things to stay the same not only isn’t practical, it won’t benefit the team in the long run.

5. Assign roles.

Each team member should have a specific role that contributes to the team. Teams need leaders, support members, and a variety of other position-specific roles that will depend on what the team is trying to accomplish. Specific roles will prevent duplication of efforts to maximize productivity.

6. Get to know each other.

A team whose members don’t know each other on a personal level will be at a disadvantage when trying to work cohesively together. Part of team-building is interacting on a personal level and finding out each others’ strengths and weaknesses as they relate to working together. It is impossible to completely separate the work self from who people are outside of work, so teams shouldn’t try.

7. Celebrate.

Celebrating when the team meets goals, lands a big client or gets to the next level in development will serve to help the team bond and keep everyone motivated to continue producing. Celebrations can take many forms, from bonuses – if management will give them – to a party or reception that marks a job well done.

8. Make adjustments.

There will be glitches and bumps in the road for even the most successful teams. The best teams know how to make adjustments when something isn’t working and turn a negative into a positive. Periodic evaluations will give some insight into problems that need to be fixed and adjustments that need to be made to move the group forward.

Interested in more helpful team-building and professional development tips? Join our mailing list to receive information about CCSU continuing education courses.

Expert Interview Series: Tom Haak of the HR Trend Institute on the Evolution of HR

Tom Haak is the director of the HR Trend Institute. We recently asked him for his insight on how HR has evolved over the past three decades and what types of training are essential for those in the profession today. Here’s what Tom shared:

Can you talk about your background and interest in HR?

After I studied Experimental Psychology, I started my career in HR in 1982, with Philips Electronics. I have worked 30-plus years in HR, many years in HR executive positions in multinationals. The focus of my interests have always been in organizational development, talent management and top teams in organizations. With small teams I have always been able to have a visible impact in the organizations where I worked. Generally, I think the impact of HR could be lot higher!

Can you tell us about the mission behind the HR Trend Institute?

Our belief is that life in organizations can me a lot more fun, and that the impact of HR on organizations can be a lot higher, if the opportunities offered by current trends are used better. Our mission is to inspire HR professionals and others responsible for HR. We study current trends, and use our findings for inspiration, through writing, speaking and conduction workshops. We also like to work with students, as they are the future of HR.

How has HR evolved since you started your career?

Unfortunately, HR is evolving slowly. The long-term trend is from HR as a more administrative function to a business-focused profession. Dave Ulrich has done a lot of good work for the development of the profession, but there is also a downside. In the last years everybody wants the become an “HR Business Partner,” focusing on HR strategy and change management. Many HR professionals do not have the skills to do this well. Ninety percent of the HR work is HR operations, and there has not been enough focus on HR operations in the last years. To be successful in HR operations you need IT skills and skills comparable to what is needed in the hospitality business. By focusing too much on management, HR has also drifted away from the people in the organization. The last years you can hear a plea for HR to become more “human” again.

What is having the biggest impact on the profession today?

The opportunities created by technology have the biggest impact on the profession. Everything is digital today. The impact is twofold. Organizations are transforming and HR has to play an important role in these transformations. Secondly, by using HR Tech, HR can change its impact a lot. Many jobs will be automated in the coming years and that will create major issues. On the positive side, technology allows people to make better decisions. Man and machine is a very powerful combination. Recruitment and selection is an area where you see many promising developments.

What types of education/training should those pursuing HR today be sure to attain to be more marketable?

A solid foundation of methodology and statistics is important. People analytics is getting more important, and the HR professionals should be able the set up experiments and work with data in a clever way.

Consulting skills are very important. Can you ask the right questions? Can you listen? Do you have a real interest and understanding of the business? Having experience with modern working methods, such as design thinking, agile and lean. Agility is necessary, in order to be able to adapt and take advantage of fast changing situations. A broad business knowledge is an advantage, as HR more and more has to work in multidisciplinary teams.

What are the most useful resources for HR students and professionals to be following today?

There are many useful online resources. Deloitte with Bersin publish a lot of valuable information. Harvard Business Review is excellent. Our site is worthwhile to follow, and we also publish a Flipboard magazine: The Future of HR. Personally I get a lot of good information via various channels: Twitter (there are various HR focused lists), LinkedIn, Flipboard and also Pinterest.

What are the most important or exciting trends you’re following in HR today? Why do they interest you?

Recently, we published our annual overview with HR trends: 10 HR Trends for 2017. I already mentioned man-machine collaboration and the opportunities created by artificial intelligence. I like to mention three others here. As first one “consumerization,” a trend that is closely related to “the employee experience.” People are more and more expecting an experience at work that is comparable to the experience they have at home. As second one: “Performance Consulting.” Many organizations are redesigning their performance management process. They want faster feedback, less ratings and a process that is not so top-down. The danger is that we forget that feedback needs to be very detailed and actionable. Good people want to become better, and performance consulting is the practice to support people in this area. An important role for HR. The last trend I would like to mention here is the movement from the focus from individuals to teams and networks of teams. Traditionally, HR and the HR processes and instruments are often directed to individuals and less on teams let alone networks of teams. I expect and hope for a change here.

What HR innovations are you keeping your eye on?

There are many interesting innovations. Fast feedback tools, as provided by Impraise and TruQu. Clever people analytics tools, as Crunchrapps, that can provide you with surprising insights, using available data. Tools that help you, using artificial intelligence, to overcome unconscious bias is the workplace. Here Joonko is an interesting supplier. Real time employee mood measurement is also an area with many interesting developments.

How should HR departments be working to balance the technology they use to do their jobs and the need for a human touch?

Technology can not replace the human touch. The human touch should be widely spread in an organization, it is worrying if the human touch should come from HR. Technology can help HR to become more human. Talent identification has always been very biased, as the line of sight of management and HR is limited. With clever technology we are able to detect hidden talent, and this has great advantages for the people in the organization. Less bias and more transparency are very human.

Interested in pursuing a career in HR or business? View open courses.

Further Your Young Learner’s Knowledge at Tech It Out 2017

Central Connecticut State University is pleased to offer the Tech it Out 2017 summer youth program for students entering 3rd through 12th grades. The program offers week-long STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) courses from late June through August through which students can learn such diverse topics as robotics, graphic design, and sports broadcasting.

Courses run from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and include lunch, t-shirts, and goodie bags. Students can take a different course each week to experience different topics throughout the summer. A discount is offered to children of CCSU staff members and those signing up for three or more classes.

The courses are taught by experienced CCSU faculty and educators from other local area schools as well as experts in their respective fields and provide hands-on activities along with group and teamwork experience.

New this summer is a Robotic Exploratory Adventure for third and fourth graders that will see participants designing and building a robot with the VEX IQ robotics platform. No previous experience in robotics is expected or needed for this course.

Minecraft and 2D Modeling Through Game Design is another course that is sure to be popular. It teaches 4th through 12th graders, grouped in two different classes, how to create a number of different buildings, scenes and vehicles in the popular Minecraft game. Students will work together and individually and will be able to save their projects to use when they play Minecraft at home.

Another new course this year is a two-week offering for middle schoolers in 6th through 9th grades called Zero Robotics, which will be run in partnership with MIT and other organizations. Students will use computers to program SPHERES, a type of space satellite. The students will then test the functionality of their programs, and the winning SPHERES will compete on board the International Space Station. NASA astronauts will narrate the competition, which students will see on a live feed.

Students in 6th through 12th grades can also learn how to create music with computer software in another new course called Waveform Warriors: Electronic Music Production. The course is taught by a musician who has participated in remix competitions for groups like Usher and Counting Crows. His music has also been used by Microsoft, Sony, and Samsung.

Through these innovative courses taught by renowned faculty, students can learn new skills and develop existing ones to experience STEAM subjects in ways that would not be possible in most traditional classrooms.

Parents can rest assured that their children are not only well supervised, but are getting a top notch STEAM learning experience in a fun environment that will have them soaking up all kinds of knowledge and quite possibly not even realizing they are doing it. A summer experience like this could lead to greater confidence and academic success when they go back to school in the fall as well.

Check out Tech it Out’s information page to find out more about these exciting summer classes for kids. Join our mailing list to be kept in the loop about upcoming courses.

6 Reasons Strategic Planning Isn’t a One-Time Event

It’s important for businesses to engage in strategic planning regularly.

Strategic planning is an essential part of running a business, but teams often do their planning once and figure that’s all they need to do. A better way to engage in strategic planning is to do so on an ongoing basis, which is more effective than planning once and then never revisiting the plan to see how it’s working.

Here are some reasons why strategic planning should not be a one-time event.

1. Goals are easy to forget.

Using the once-and-done planning model may seem to make sense, but goals don’t necessarily stay on our minds automatically once the planning is finished. Reviewing your plan periodically throughout the planning period will keep those goals fresh in mind so you stay on track to meet them.

2. Measuring progress will help you make adjustments.

Planning isn’t much good without measuring your progress to see whether your goals are being met and how fast you are getting there. With multiple strategic planning sessions, you will be able to spend some time measuring your progress and evaluating how to move forward even more successfully.

3. Planning sessions facilitate communication.

If everyone is expected to work together to move the company forward, communication is required to make sure everyone is on the same page and is aware of the goals that have been set. Leaders involved in the planning have an important role in helping others understand the company goals and how each person can do their part to reach them.

4. Planning can fix problems before they cause damage.

When you continuously plan company strategy, problems and potential pitfalls begin to reveal themselves. When you are attuned to what the company is doing, you can see what’s happening very early on and course-correct before damage is done. At the very least, you can minimize the damage and get things going in the right direction again quickly.

5. Regular planning leads to positive change.

Even better than catching problems early, regular planning sessions increase the likelihood of making positive changes that can lead to high levels of growth and greater effectiveness for the company overall. Without considering what changes might need to be made, it’s fairly unlikely that leaders will be able to implement the changes that will be best for the company.

6. Planning keeps creativity flowing.

Strategic planning is a creative process, and regular strategy sessions will keep key leaders at their creative peak so that the best ideas can move forward and benefit the business or organization. Creativity was most likely responsible for most of the company’s success when it first started, and creativity can bring success in the future as well when it is nurtured.

CCSU’s Strategic Planning course emphasizes the importance of regular strategic planning sessions and teaches business leaders how to conduct effective planning sessions that lead to long term success for the company. View our open courses to see how you can keep learning and developing professionally.