January 22, 2019

Make This Your Year of Professional Growth

Make This Your Year of Professional Growth

“Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative.”

This headline from The Economist made waves two years ago, but is now our new reality as digital transformation affects jobs and industries, including the association management profession. We all need to continually acquire new knowledge and skills—reskill and upskill, as the HR people say—if we wish to stay employable and promotable.

This new attitude toward professional development has its benefits. A LinkedIn survey found that “employees who spend time at work learning are 47% less likely to be stressed, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, 23% more ready to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy.”

However, some employers don’t provide sufficient professional development opportunities for their staff. This sad state of affairs is often a matter of budget. Senior management may get the funds for conferences and membership dues. But, if your job occupies the middle or bottom of the org chart, you may not have a professional development budget. Don’t despair, you have options.

Invest in Yourself

Don’t wait for someone else to give you the OK for professional development. Invest in your own future. You won’t grow professionally unless you make it happen. Invest some of your own time, and even some of your own money. Start small so you can build a sustainable learning habit.

If you hope to get support one day from your association, show them that you already are a committed learner. You have what it takes to get value out of any investment they make in you.

Make a Learning Wish List

It’s tempting to spend time on any learning opportunity that presents itself. But, time is a valuable resource you can’t afford to squander. You need a plan.

  • What skills or knowledge would help you do your job more effectively?
  • What does your performance evaluation suggest?
  • What have you taught yourself? Do you truly know what you’re doing or could you use professional guidance?
  • What would help you get promoted or get a better job?

Develop a wish list of knowledge and skills you want to acquire. Ask your boss for suggestions as well as colleagues who are in the type of position you’d like to occupy one day. Consultants and technology partners notice what successful association professionals are doing—ask them too.

Align Personal Learning Goals with Association Goals

Once, you figure out your wish list, look over your association’s and your department’s goals. How could your plan help your association or department meet its goals? If you can tie your professional development to revenue growth or cost savings, it will help you make a case for a budget.

Seek Out Learning Opportunities

A professional development budget gives you more options, but the association community offers many free learning opportunities. Start by dedicating 20 minutes a day to reading industry blogs like this one.

Many association consultants and technology partners regularly publish blog posts, as do industry sites like Association Success and ASAE’s Associations Now. Aggregator sites like Association Universe collect posts from many sources. Or, you can scroll through the #assnchat Twitter stream to find worthwhile reading.

ASAE, Association Forum, and other state and regional SAEs offer free idea swaps, brown bags, roundtables, and webinars. Find out if your association has an organizational membership, like ASAE’s, that includes a learning subscription for online courses, virtual conferences, and conferences.

Check with the IT department to see if you can access funds allocated to technology training. If you are a user of your association’s AMS or other software, see if any of your technology partners have user conferences, like MemberSuite’s Engage 2019, or other events you can attend.

Consider online courses from for-profit learning platforms, like LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Udacity, and Coursera. These platforms offer either free auditing options or monthly subscriptions.

Check both Association Brain Food Weekly and ASAE’s Collaborate events calendar for a list of free online and in-person educational events—some of them even provide CAE and CMP credits. Regularly scheduled events include:

Get Started

Schedule time for learning. It won’t happen unless you do. Enforce a learning habit by blocking off time during parts of the week in your control—whether that’s time at work or your own time. Eventually, you can ask your boss if you can dedicate an hour a week to reading or webinar participation. Let them know you already have skin in the game so they’re more likely to match your efforts.

Find Out Whether Your Association Will Pay

As you explore the many learning opportunities available within and outside the association community, you may find an online course or conference you want to attend. But, it has a price, a bigger one than your personal budget can bear.

Look over your employee handbook to see if you are eligible for any type of support. If it doesn’t provide an answer, talk to your boss or HR about your options.

  • Does your association ever pay for an employee’s professional development?
  • Who and what qualifies for support?
  • What do you need to do to get support?

Make a plan to invest your own time first before you ask for your association’s support. Show your boss you take learning seriously. You’ve gone far on your own but now you need help to take it further.

Your first “ask” shouldn’t be for an $1100 conference registration. You’re more likely to get a $98 short-term e-learning subscription approved. Align your choice with organizational or departmental goals, and with performance goals. Pick something that provides immediate ROI. You want to prove that your association’s investment pays off.

Don’t lose hope if your boss says “No.” You can move forward on your own by being resourceful. The association community provides many free and inexpensive opportunities for professional development—and networking. In fact, you may educate and network yourself into a better position with an employer who does support professional development.

Lifelong learning is transformational. Once you start, you will never be the same. As LinkedIn discovered in their survey, you will be more productive, successful, confident, and happy.

If you’re a MemberSuite client, you won’t want to miss the combination of technical and association management education—and networking—at Engage 2019. Early bird registration (with its $100 discount) ends on February 28.