Creating A Customized Professional Development Program

Creating A Custom Professional Development Program

To be successful, we’re told to go to school, study hard, learn career-specific skills and gain a depth of experiences, all to bring value to our current and future employers. But the truth is, there are many ways in which we can make ourselves valuable to a company that have nothing to do with our formal training or experience - things like networking, negotiating, communicating, leading and even career planning are all unwritten -- and until recently, mostly untaught - skills that we need to succeed. Today, we are joined by Mark Herschberg, author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. Here, he explains:

  • Why these skills have not traditionally been taught;
  • How professional development programs can improve ROI and engagement;
  • How to create a custom professional development program for your organization; and
  • How these programs can connect your workforce, encourage networking and improve diversity and inclusion at all levels!


If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 


“Unwritten Skills”

  • Historically, skills like networking, negotiating, communicating, leading and even career planning have not been included in our public education system because our typical education systems are based on basic core skills defined by societal needs.
  • College educations, on the other hand, while offering more advanced skills, are highly specialized. A degree states that a person is proficient in one area of knowledge, but  it doesn't say you're a good employee, a critical thinker, or that you can work well in a multifunctional team.
  • In the past, jobs were completed in a simple and straightforward way - your boss tells you what to do, and that task is worked on and completed. Today, people have to think proactively and work with hybrid groups, which require skills, ideas, and rules that are not taught in schools.
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Getting These “Unwritten Skills” Written

  • In his journey to become a CTO, Mr. Herschberg realized that to get where he wanted to go, it wasn't just the technical skills that he had to develop. Leadership, communications, and negotiation were just a few of the skills he needed, but he found that he had never been taught those skills.
  • These skills are important to everyone’s growth and advancement, not just executives.
  • At around the same time Mr. Herschberg began creating programs to teach these skills, MIT was also starting up a program. After speaking with business professionals all over the world, MIT determined that the way to instill these skills into students was through a side program. Mr. Herschberg helped them to develop this program and it allows students to understand how things work in the real world, which actually accelerates their learning overall.
  • These skills are often left as something to be gained with experience, but why leave it to chance? If we are proactive in everything we do in our companies, we also need to be proactive in training. Companies should create and utilize a custom professional development program to teach their employees these skills.

Inspiration For The Career Toolkit

  • Mr. Herschberg’s book, The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You, began as class notes of the program developed at MIT.
  • As he wrote these notes, they just kept expanding until he realized this was a book, and these are skills that can be applied to anyone and everyone. 
  • Mr. Herschberg urged MIT to share this course material with other universities, but the school did not have the resources for that, so he published it as a book himself.

Who Is A Custom Professional Development Program For?

  • Instead of the typical practice of selecting a few people who might have potential and spending time, money, and resources on their development, a broader custom professional development program that everyone can take part in will yield much better results and lead to better ROI and better employee engagement. 
  • There are numerous benefits of this kind of program but one in particular is the creation of a common language among employees. When all employees go through the same program, they can reference ideas, models, and stories within that program, which in turn helps everyone communicate.
  • A custom professional development program will also create a mixture of people from different departments and backgrounds, supporting and encouraging diversity and inclusion not only within departments, but between departments as well. 
  • Custom professional development programs allow employees to meet and interact with other employees working at different seniority levels, allowing for further networking that can benefit the individuals and the company as a whole.

Creating Your Custom Professional Development Program

  • While there are programs designed around Mr. Herschberg’s book, the book does not have to be used. 
  • The first step is thinking about your goals.
    • Your program could be a year long employee development program where every employee in the program works on developing their skills.
    • It could also be a shorter, limited program in which new hires understand the corporate culture or corporate value where they fit in and they can learn that as a group.
    • There are numerous types of programs that can be deployed.
  • These skills are taught through peer learning. 
    • If you just read The Career Toolkit, listen to great podcasts, or watch a video online, you can get useful knowledge, but the knowledge and skills we are striving for in a custom professional development program is different from other types of knowledge.
    • These skills are subtle, complex, and situational. 
  • The number of people within a program is also a consideration. Mr. Herschberg describes three different scales:
    • Small groups (5 to 8 participants): This is where everyone can have a small discussion and get deeper into some of the issues discussed.
    • Medium groups (20 to 50 participants): This is about the size of a class at a business school and will be more of a moderated discussion. Someone (such as an executive from HR or an outside facilitator) will need to come in and run the discussion to make sure it goes smoothly
    • Large groups (50+ people): This will be the hardest setting to have interactive discussion. Offline engagement such as questions being sent in or possibly a more detailed lecture will be necessary.
  • Each organization should choose the style that is the most effective for them.
  • When finding sources of content for your custom professional development program, there are many resources that could be utilized, including, but not limited to, Mr. Herschberg’s book & resources, other books & videos, case studies found online, and outside experts within your community. 
  • These programs don’t need to be structured in any one way - they can take the form of themed monthly meetings, or standing groups that focus on particular topics, or universal groups that cover multiple topics -- it’s entirely dependent on the needs of your learning group, and what structure might keep them best engaged.

Teaching & Facilitating A Custom Professional Development Program

  • The facilitation of the program is different from teaching.
    • When content is taken from an outside resource, the facilitator does not necessarily have to “teach” that content, they just need to foster discussion.
    • This will keep costs down because the knowledge and content is not actually coming from that person - it is coming from the resources and the experiences of everyone within the program.
  • The facilitator role can be fluid based on the program group size and flow.
    • For large groups, a “teacher” or outside expert is recommended simply due to the size of the group and disseminating that knowledge and information as efficiently as possible. 

Employee Developmental Goal Programs

  • This is another type of custom professional development program in which the groups are geared toward specific goals and often focus on helping people who are moving into managerial roles to develop people management skills that they might not already possess. 
    • This short cycle is to help these people quickly become ready for a managerial role.
  • The same type of smaller program can be applied to onboarding. 
    • These give new hires the tools and skills to understand how they fit into the larger picture. 
    • These skills will help new hires develop new relationships and fit into the organization. 
    • It allows them to know where they are and the value they add, but also, so they can bring in their expertise, knowledge, and experience that is unique to each person.

Standing Groups

  • Standing groups are a facet of a custom professional development program that provide a constant resource for employees to use that focuses on one specific skill or area of expertise. 
  • People can come in and out of these groups, and they can meet every week or two for a few months. 
    • Standing groups allow people from all over the organization to have a group to build skills that are applicable in any department or role.
  • Diversity of position is important within these types of groups because when you have different perspectives sharing knowledge and experiences on a topic, it will allow others to grow and learn.
    • Each company has a different structure, so the amount of position diversity can vary.

The Career Toolkit App

  • The app was developed to help people retain the information learned in these custom professional development programs. 
  • Mr. Herschberg basically took the contents from his book and put it into an app.
    • This is a simple and free app available for both iPhone and Android.
    • The app provides daily reminders and affirmations of the content of the book and allows users to keep what they have learned on the top of their minds. 
  • The app can be set to give tips on specific topics or on a broad spectrum of topics.
  • The goal of the app is to improve retention and to make users receptive to recognizing the opportunities to apply their knowledge or even recognizing when others do something so they can continue their development.

Mark Herschberg Background

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About the Author Jacqueline Gregory

As a creative, persuasive communications professional with extensive experience guiding projects from concept through completion Jacqui has produced custom communications for some of the world's best known brands. Producing ProjectHR has been one of her favorite ways to engage and delight HR and Labor Relations professionals!

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