Invest in Your Staff—It Can Pay Off

trombleyReleasing a staff member for a professional development opportunity can mean extra work for everyone else. But as he writes in a guest post today, Ed Trombley, learned that it can pay off. Mr. Trombley, the registrar at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide, was slated to present on this topic at a session of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers’ meeting this week.

For the past several years, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has partnered with the University of Central Florida to offer the Leadership Enhancement Program to populations that are underrepresented within the university management structure, specifically women and minority faculty and staff members. Operated under the supervision of each university’s Office of Diversity Initiatives, the stated goals of the program are to enable participants to gain career enhancing skills and experiences to become successful leaders. The program is tailored to meet the individual needs and career goals of participants, and to empower them and help them develop a sense of who they are.

When a member of my staff approached me about participating in the program, I realized that I would have to learn more about it and consider carefully what kind of commitment this would involve. An investment of time and effort in the education of a staffer should be an easy choice, but it does mean time away from the office, and as everyone knows, the workload doesn’t diminish simply because you have allowed time away for professional development opportunities. The hope is, of course, that the time invested will ultimately be worth the sacrifice, as the employee who returns from the training will be more valuable to you as a supervisor. Still, I wondered, how much time away from the office would it mean?

My staff member had spoken with me before applying for entering the program, and had sought my written recommendation for her candidacy. She was eager for a challenge.  I had involved her in new and varied projects whenever possible to facilitate her gaining new experience, but I had no immediate opportunities that would facilitate advancement or promotion in the office. However, I encouraged her participation, which entailed quite a few days away to allow for attendance at lectures and guest speaker presentations, project work, public speaking opportunities, and travel. She took full advantage of the opportunity; month by month she was growing and thriving in the program, and cultivating a new network of professional contacts. I was pleased to see the goals of the program being met for the participants. Still, I wondered what her reward would be when she returned to the same job with expanded horizons.

I attended her graduation from the program. As I reviewed the projects created by the graduates, listened to their newly-sharpened public speaking skills and watched them networking with their new professional peers, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the seriousness of purpose with which they undertook this educational opportunity and the pride that they took in their accomplishments. This pride was reflected in the faces of the family, friends, and co-workers who attended the graduation ceremony. I could see that this experience had made a lasting difference in the lives of the participants. I was reminded that graduation ultimately produces the same feelings of attainment and of new beginnings for all graduates—whether they are our students earning their bachelor’s or master’s degrees and walking across the stage on a Saturday morning in May, or working professionals who are, at heart, life-long learners, though they walk a different stage.

Though I had wondered what the reward for my staff member and my office would be after her experience, I didn’t have to wonder for too long. Only a few months later, my boss sat down with me to lay out an organizational realignment. One of my staff members was being promoted to a different department, and in my office, some staff members would be promoted and two positions would be combined.

Though the subsequent changes allowed for promotion of a couple of deserving staff members and didn’t result in anyone leaving the University, the fact remained that I would have one fewer high level position. I was faced with the common managerial problem of how to do more, but with less. In a moment of clarity, my newly trained graduate came to mind, and my action plan formed quickly. I unexpectedly had a leadership opportunity, and a staff member who wanted a challenge and had been through training in project management, efficient use of time, and team building skills. I combined two positions into one, reallocated some responsibilities and got to work creating this new position. The time we had carved out for training, without any foreseeable benefit to my employee, other than self-enrichment, had suddenly become a prudent investment that could help my office maintain standards while coping with the loss of a staff position.

After this experience, I would encourage any manager who questions the wisdom of investing time, money, or office coverage to training the leaders of the future to plan ahead, and in so doing, hopefully avert a crisis tomorrow. It proved to be a shrewd investment in my staff and for my office.

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