We all agree that colleges are facing significant financial challenges and need to do everything possible to improve the bottom line. We would also agree that developing our employees professionally is important.
So, can you cut the professional development budget?
When tough financial times challenge us to cut costs, the professional development budget is often the first expense to go. It is an easy target, since the doors will stay open without it.
Yet, to effectively compete in the academia market in tough times and at all times, focusing on short-term cost control and survival is not necessarily the answer. Let us focus instead on the significantly more difficult work of making the changes required to compete effectively.
Institutions too often make changes only at the margins and use a “cut back and hope” approach. This only perpetuates the status quo, when, in reality, it is innovation that is most needed.
Professional development promotes innovation in the following ways:
- Increases knowledge and skills,
- Increases motivation,
- Increases job satisfaction,
- Increases capacity for innovation and creativity,
- Makes it easier to attract in-demand candidates,
- Improves the retention of existing employees, and
- Makes succession planning easier.
Often times the WORST place to think creatively is in your office where there are constant idea-stifling interruptions and the usual responsibilities of your job, The best creative thinking is done OUTSIDE of the office, interacting with colleagues, listening to new and thought-provoking ideas, and having the ability to focus solely on the issue at hand.
Eliminating the professional development budget eliminates the opportunity for deep-dive creativity where our people can engage in stimulating environments that might well be the incubator for the innovative solution your institution is seeking.
We need the best out of our employees. We need their dedication and hard work, we need their creativity, and we need them to accomplish challenging goals beyond their current skills and knowledge.
Maintaining the status quo is simply unacceptable.
Leadership IQ CEO Mark Murphy says, “Goals that propel an individual to accomplish significant results [to] propel an organization forward require employees to learn new skills to accomplish the goals.”
Professional development provides the new skills and knowledge employees need to achieve very challenging goals.
When institutions cut the PD budget, it communicates that it doesn’t care enough to help their staff achieve their best. It hurts morale and increases turnover. But we still ask our discouraged employees to do everything they can to help recruit and retain students. It is certain that the discouragement we foster in our employees will negatively affect our customers.
It is true that many institutions need to make significant reductions in expenditures to remain viable. They need to cut deeply enough to have the resources needed to invest in new innovative programs and delivery models. Their future likely depends on this innovation and will require their employees to develop skills and knowledge currently beyond their reach to achieve institutional goals.
That means professional development stays in the budget and may even need to be increased and prioritized.
Institutions who have or are considering cutting the professional development budget are exacerbating the problem. They are applying a “cut back and hope” strategy that will not work.
The better solution is to determine how we best inspire our employees to achieve goals that will propel our institution forward. What can we do to unleash the best creative energy? Our future depends on innovation, and our ability to innovate depends on our people.
Investing in our people is investing in the future health and well-being of the institution.
 Murphy, Mark (2014). Hundred percenters: Challenge your employees to give you your best, and they will give you even more. New York: McGraw Hill.