One of the best ways to position yourself for advancement within a company is by requesting the support and opportunity to enroll in professional development programs. This can be intimidating for many, just like requesting a pay increase or promotion can be, but the few moments of courage it takes to start this conversation can pay off in a big way and set you up for a lifetime of career success.
According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), only about 30% of employees take advantage of continuing education benefits offered by their employer. Some might fear education won’t fit into their schedule, while others are nervous to ask their boss or are simply unaware of the perk.
The reality is, gaining new leadership skills or strengthening those you have can accelerate career advancement. There’s a broad range of options for career training; from online courses and classroom lectures to active participation in a forum with other professionals, you’re bound to find something that matches your learning style and aligns with your career goals if you do a quick search. Based on a survey by City Square Associates for Harvard Business School Online, even a single online course can lead to a promotion and improve your confidence at work. For employers, demonstrating a commitment to the personal growth of employees can also be an extraordinary retention tool.
Most companies put these benefits in place because they genuinely want their people to take advantage of them, keep that in mind. For others, even if they don’t have a continuing education benefit in place, they’re likely still pretty fond of the notion that their people are continually learning new skills they can apply on the job. If you’re bold enough to bring this up as an opportunity, it can demonstrate your intentions to grow professionally while also influencing the adoption of something that benefits everyone company-wide.
Here are 6 steps you can take to get your employer to sponsor your professional development, even if they don’t have continuing education benefits in place.
- Determine what you’d like to learn and gather info on programs that may be the right fit.
- Outline what you stand to gain from professional development.
- Determine what you’re willing to commit in return.
- Identify the benefits this brings to your employer.
- Prepare how to best approach this with your leadership team.
- Find 30 seconds of courage and just ask.
1. Determine what you’d like to learn and gather info on programs that may be the right fit.
Identifying which skills or competencies you’d like to develop is the first step in this process. Once you know what your goal is, research programs that can help get you there and create a comparison list of offerings from different vendors. If you’re not quite sure or just want to increase the likelihood of success, pick something that applies to a larger group of employees and has a universal benefit for the company, like leadership development or project management. Even if there’s one solution in particular that you want to participate in, it’ll help to show you’ve done some research and have information on other options handy.
Capturing these details will better prepare you to answer possible questions:
- The program cost and if there may be grants or other funding available
- Time and duration (daily, weekly, or monthly)
- Location and any added travel expenses
- Descriptions and expected learnings
- Why this program is your top choice
- Is this program available for larger groups or those in other locations
2. Outline what you stand to gain from professional development.
While you can share some of this with your employer, this step is really just for you. Ask yourself these questions and let the answers give you confidence. Once you fully believe it, that conviction will come through when presenting the idea to others.
- What skills/tools can I immediately apply to make my work easier/better?
- What skills/tools may be transferable and could this allow me to position myself for future advancement internally or externally?
- Even if this isn’t approved, how might this affect senior leadership’s perception of me?
- How will this enable me to help others whose success I also care about?
- What’s the best outcome?
- What’s the worst outcome?
3. Determine what you’re willing to commit in return.
Show your employer you’re serious and committed by outlining what you plan to do in return for the investment. This could include working on company-specific projects, investing time in mentoring or special projects for impactful results, or perhaps even paying for a small portion of the program. If some of the sessions take place during normal work hours, you may want to consider what it’ll take for you to maintain performance despite missing a few days. It’s an objection that’ll likely come up so addressing it before it does is a good move.
An approach that generally works best is agreeing to approach each course with the intention of training others. You can conduct a teach-back session for your direct reports or a peer group, meet with the internal training team to share feedback on content and structure, and simply model the behaviors learned to serve as a catalyst for change in your group. All of these are worth pointing out.
*Be prepared, your employer MAY ask you to sign some sort of contract where you pay back all or part of this investment if you leave the company before xx date. This commonly comes up when an employee accepts a relocation or retention package and depending on the cost for your employer, it may come up here too. The fact that they ask this of you shouldn’t influence an immediate yes or no, rather it’s an opportunity to continue the dialogue once you’ve fully digested the terms and determined if they make sense for your situation.
4. Identify the benefits this brings to your employer.
You’ve already outlined some of these benefits when thinking through what you’re willing to do in return but think specifically about how this can solve some of their pains.
- Describe how the program will enable you to contribute at a higher level while demonstrating the company’s commitment to developing & retaining its people. This is likely going to get the company some good PR both internally and externally.
- Highlight that this will allow you to demonstrate your comprehension and for them to delegate more confidently.
- Since you’ll be serving as somewhat of a guinea pig, you may very well be piloting a solution that is scalable for the entire workforce to benefit from. Working with an outside vendor for some development solutions can layer nicely with existing internal learning and be far more cost-effective than building out functions that address everything internally.
- If you can find a way to tie the learning outcomes to the company’s core values and current initiatives, it’ll be much more of a layup.
5. Prepare how to best approach this with your leadership team.
While you should use the information you’ve outlined during the steps above to prepare for an in-person conversation with your direct supervisor and perhaps even a couple of senior managers from the organization, the email template below can be used to start the dialogue. CultureShoc has an open-enrollment forum-style development program for emerging leaders in NE Ohio and this is an example that was shared by one of our clients who requested financial assistance to enroll.
Hi [Name of Boss],I hope your day’s going well.
I believe in what we’re doing here and am determined to earn the opportunity to take on more responsibility. During performance reviews, I mentioned that is a goal of mine and wanted to share what I’m doing to take ownership of that. I’ve been looking for ways to continue my personal development and came across a unique program that aligns with many of my goals and my team’s needs: [CultureShoc]’s [Into The Storm Leadership Community Forum].
This program stood out to me because [it seems more practical and tangible than others, and is hosted by facilitators who’ve all grown businesses and led teams instead of professors talking about theory]. I believe it would help me [communicate more effectively and improve accountability in my team while also preparing me to take on more responsibilities in the future]. I’d also enjoy learning [best practices from emerging leaders in other industries that could be applied here] and think this would be a great way to do so.
I’d be willing to do some sort of a teach-back after each session to share things with the team, and am happy to touch base with [Lisa] from the training team to share feedback on valuable content and structure.
Does [Name of Company] provide funding for professional development opportunities like this? If so, I’d love to discuss this further.
Here are some of the program specifics:
- Start date: [2-Day kickoff on March 8th-9th, 2023]
- Duration: [Each session is a full day and occur every 6-8 weeks after the initial kickoff – 5 total]
- Cost: [$2,000 per participant in the program]
- Location: [Sessions are at CultureShoc’s Traction Leadership Center near Cleveland,OH so the commute is about the same as to the office]
- Scale: If this proves to be as valuable as I think it will be, they offer options for larger internal group development and virtual teams.
- Link with more information: [https://www.cultureshoc.com/its-leadership-forum/]
Either way, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to let you know where my head is at. Are you available to discuss more sometime in the next week?
I appreciate the consideration and am confident the value I bring back will be worth it for [Name of Company].
6. Find 30 seconds of courage and just ask.
Head trash. We all have it. Most of our biggest fears and concerns are built up to be far worse in our heads than the situation turns out to be once we confront them. The first step is always hardest, but in this case and so many others, it’s absolutely worth it.
At CultureShoc, we talk a lot about Buffalo and how they charge Into The Storm. That’s because when a storm does approach, cows turn in the opposite direction and try to run from it, inevitably prolonging their time in pain. Buffalo, on the other hand, know that by charging Into The Storm they reach sunny skies faster. How many times have you wished you’d been a buffalo? How many times have you thought to yourself, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be”, or “If I’d only dealt with that sooner it wouldn’t have turned into such an issue”? If you take nothing else from this article, remember that sentiment. Be intentional about your path, address things head on, and live without the feeling of “I wonder if I left something on the table”.
Muster up 30 seconds of courage and be a buffalo.
If you live in the Midwest don’t even bother adjusting the email template above, just come join us and level up your leadership ability at CultureShoc’s ITS Leadership Community Forum!
To sum things up.
At the end of the day, if employers see that they benefit from having you invested in continuing education, they’ll be more likely to cover the costs associated with your professional development program. It’s worth it to articulate the tangible benefits you can bring back, and how this could help elevate their team. With a compelling argument backed by some research, you position yourself for advancement in the company whether this request is approved or not.
CultureShoc is a high-performance team engagement & culture firm based in Westlake, OH. Established in 2014, our mission is to Discover, Engage, and Grow Leaders, and we’ve made a direct impact on over 30k leaders across the United States since then. We help companies differentiate themselves through stronger culture, with solutions such as EOS Implementation, ITS Leaders Programs, 1-on-1 Coaching, The Kolbe System, The 6 Types of Working Genius, Cultural Health Assessments, and Team Building Events.
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