Professional Development – 4 Missed Opportunities for Solution Providers
I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of solution providers in the information management industry, specifically as applied to education and professional development. In this post I am focusing on the members of solution providers’ staff that are marketing to customers, selling to customers, acting as the voice of the customer, and implementing and supporting customers’ solutions.
It strikes me that when I teach courses, it’s somewhat rare to see solution provider staff in attendance. Similarly, while there are lots of solution provider staff at the annual AIIM conference every year, most of them are there to work the booth rather than attend the conference. Sometimes they participate in the networking activities, though often "the team" has to go to a team dinner to meet with partners or clients, review the day's events, and strategize for the next day's events. But they don't attend any educational sessions, with the exception of the occasional session that's available on the show floor from another solution provider.
In both cases I think solution provider organizations are missing a major opportunity that has immediate and long-term ramifications.
Consider the old adage:
"What happens if we train our people and they leave?"
"What happens if we don't - and they stay?"
What, indeed? Here is a list of 4 opportunities for solution providers in professional development that often go untapped:
- Expert Positioning: A significant part of the value of going to an industry event, whether a training course or a conference, is the interaction with others who are at different places on the information management journey. If there are staff members present who are deep experts in some aspect of information management, they can share and demonstrate not just their individual expertise but the fact that that solution provider has smart folks like them on staff. And even world-class experts need to keep learning in the face of change. Nobody can know everything, and given the rapid rate of change, the half-life of technical and process knowledge continues to shrink.
- Maintaining Knowledge and Skills: Think about it another way, solution providers. You hired the individuals on your staff with a specific set of skills, knowledge, and experience. You're paying for that expertise – but if it isn’t maintained, it fades. Every white paper and conference has as an underlying theme how quickly the industry changes: the tools, the processes, the ways in which information moves and is used, and acceptable practices for how things get done. It's imperative that your people stay up to date with relevant changes. Yet how does your staff do that if they aren't getting training and if they aren't attending conference sessions? As good as your white papers and webinars undoubtedly are, they simply aren't sufficient. Even if they are the best coverage of that topic in the world, they still reflect only one point of view - your organization's.
- A Finger on the Pulse: You charge annual maintenance to your customers, so they have access to your upgrades, your technical support, your other resources, and sometimes even your training. You want them to stay up to speed on the latest and greatest. Your staff needs to do that as well. And it's more than just keeping up with your new release and the features and functions therein - they also need to understand the bigger picture. What are the trends in the industry? How have customers, or prospects, or just other organizations, addressed particular issues? How have your competitors and their customers done so, and to what extent have they succeeded?
- Staying Ahead of the Competition: According to the Association for Talent Development, the average company provides the average employee more than 53 hours of training per year. That's almost 9 full days of training per year (the typical training day is around 6-6.5 hours because of breaks, lunch, administrative tasks, etc.). If you’re not providing close to that amount of training to your staff, they are falling behind compared to the companies that are.
I know many, many exceptional people in the industry. Some of them have the great fortune to work for organizations that do support professional development, and there are a few of those out there. Others understand that they have to take responsibility for their own growth and development, and they go to training and conferences on their own dime, and they get out there to other events on their own time and dime. It is important that solution provider organizations recognize the worth of their people and the need to ensure they continue to grow and develop.