Investing in Professional Development

by Rabbi Yoni (Yonatan) Gordis

As organizational leanness becomes a more necessary mode of thinking across the Jewish community, investment in professional development is becoming an increasingly wise approach for those seeking to weather these times in organizational health and sustainability. Over recent years, the world of professional development, ranging from formal graduate degrees to less formal workshops, skills trainings and personal/professional growth opportunities, has grown more robust and more interesting. If one accepts the premise that the well-being of an organization is a direct function of the well-being of its composite parts, then increased focus on organizational health should zoom our gaze onto the most valuable commodity we have in our organizations, not dollars but people.

The value and relevance of human capital increase in times of tumult and uncertainty. To spin off an old expression, “People will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no people.” Where some might see investment in professional development as a “perk” which must be discarded in times of fiscal scarcity, a more strategic view would offer the following four arguments in favor of increased – rather than decreased – investment in professional development for team members:

1. Retention of good staff is more important than ever in trying economic times. A team that has organizational memory and deep organizational knowledge has a greater chance of bending and moving with the times. Building on a foundation of your team knowing its history and its culture will provide greater options for change and innovation when surprises lie around the bend. All evidence shows that investing in staff professional development increases the chances of retaining good people in your organization.

2. Professional development makes fiscal sense. It is cheaper to retain than to hire. The amount of time and money invested in recruitment and orientation of professionals, from junior to senior, is enormous until they get “up to speed” and begin producing real return on that investment. For much less money, invested at a slower pace over time, investing in professional development for your existing staffs gets you better trained professionals, providing higher return because of a higher baseline of knowledge.

3. New professionals are looking at professional development packages. The best and the brightest of the next generation of organizational leaders know that what is learned in the workplace is what will shape their trajectory more than their academic record. They value organizations that invest in their professionals and see these organizations as more attractive places to work. That in-kind offering is a large asset that employers can bring to the table in times of lower salaries.

4. Individual growth is team growth. Organizations that provide professional development opportunities for their staff members are strengthening the individuals in their organizations but are ultimately strengthening the team culture, something which may make the difference between weathering these unpredictable times and not. Team loyalty is built when everyone is growing, and that makes for a more resilient organization. Organizational assets are not just financial and these are the times to increase those which are based in knowledge, creativity and connectivity as well.

By contributing to a professional’s sense of loyalty, trust and self-worth, organizations have the ability to strengthen them in times of uncertainty, perhaps even using turmoil as an opportunity to shape model institutions. With the Jewish propensity to be constant learners, professional development must take a renewed central place on the stage of organizational sustainability. There is nothing more Jewish that an organization could do.

Rabbi Yoni Gordis is the Executive Director of the Center for Leadership Initiatives. This post originally apeared in the March 2009 newsletter of the Jewish Communal Service Assocition of America. Posted with permission.