If you asked a job-seeking candidate what their top criterion was for a new job, what would you guess they might respond with? Perhaps you’d guess it would be something like compensation or title. In actuality, one of the top criteria for job seekers is something that supersedes all of the above: work culture. Many companies spend enormous amounts of time and money developing three- and five-year plans, but without an enduring and authentic company culture, there’s a chance those plans will never come to fruition.

An investment in an employee’s professional growth and development is a key component of employee engagement, which is the greatest driver of culture – it’s also an investment back into your organization. When employees focus on their professional development, they are six times more engaged and 12 times more productive, and more engaged and happy employees lead to increased profits and higher retention rates.

As a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach, I know firsthand how adopting Strengths creates a culture based on professional development and how prioritizing professional development programs impacts every facet of an organization.

Incorporating professional development can happen on multiple levels. I’ve had the pleasure of working with multiple Jewish organizations to help them put their professional development goals in action. Here are several examples of the impact a commitment to professional development can have within an organization, on the team and individual levels.

Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) lives out their commitment to professional development on an organizational level and dramatically reduces turnover in the process.

When Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service, gives visitors an office tour, he makes it a point to draw a guest’s attention to the laminated signs every employee has hanging at their desks that shares their top five Strengths, letting everyone know JFS is a Strengths-based organization that has ingrained professional development into the heart of their culture. Impact: living out one’s commitment to professional development on an organizational level and dramatically reduces turnover.

JFS had a goal of being one of the best places to work in San Diego and to achieve that, they knew they needed more than just strategy. When I spoke with Michael about this, he shared: “We can have the most amazing strategies in the world but if the culture doesn’t support those, you’ll never get there. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

It was about halfway through implementing their strategic plan when Michael and his team experienced an “aha” moment: they realized culture is what really drives success and you can’t have one without the other. While they had an HR director, they realized they needed a VP of People and Culture. Making that hire provided the foundation for JFS’s approach to professional development. Michael shared, “You have to have a dedicated source for training and professional development because it doesn’t just happen on its own, it needs to be someone’s work plan.” Since making this investment, they’ve seen turnover reduce eight percent since 2018.

Avodah commits to team alignment and uses professional development as a way to strengthen the Jewish community.

Because Avodah is an organization of 25 people, team dynamics become really important to create alignment on goals and mission, especially during a pandemic with remote work in play. Gallup teaches us that it’s not people who are well-rounded, it’s teams, which is why Avodah uses Strengths to learn how to get the best out of each individual, contributing to a stronger team. Impact: committing to team alignment and using professional development to strengthen the Jewish community. 

When thinking about how to build the community we want to be part of, the answer starts with supporting the people who comprise that body, which is another reason for Avodah’s focus on professional development within the Jewish community. When employees feel invested in by other members of the Jewish community, they continue to work in the community. From Avodah’s CEO Cheryl Cook’s perspective, “The mentality becomes, ‘If the Jewish community wants to see me thrive, I want to stay in that space.’ In that way, when we strengthen individuals, we strengthen the Jewish community as a whole.”

Year over year, Cheryl and her team see high retention rates as people continue to stay at Avodah, which is her personal measure for the success of their professional development programs. She shares, “When people give five or ten plus years to the organization, that’s a real marker of success.”

Those of us in The Wexner Foundation network may be aware of how the Foundation empowers individuals through professional development by way of the Wexner Field Fellowship.

For Ruthie Warshenbrot, Director of the leadership initiative, a commitment to professional development on an individual level is a driving force behind the cohort-based leadership development program for Jewish professionals. This program engages coaches like myself to provide professional development to Jewish leaders.

Unfortunately, professional development is usually the first thing to get cut when times are tough, which is the wrong move according to Ruthie, and I’d agree. “When times are tough, that’s the moment to invest in people so they can navigate challenges cohesively. We’re in a moment like that right now as we come out of the pandemic, but most budgets are not back to normal yet. It’s important for organizations to consider maintaining any investments in continued learning and professional development, as those will have immediate returns in trying times.” When you consider the effects of this in the context of the Jewish community, the implications of cutting or continuing professional development programs amplifies.

Professional development is one of the single greatest contributing factors to an organization’s culture. Knowing people are the components of culture, any investment in their professional development should be seen as an investment in employees as people first. As we move through a new landscape for the professional world after a year of uncertainty and enormous change, incorporating professional development into your organization’s culture isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity for survival and growth.

While every approach may be different, an investment in professional development yields the same winning results across every level and emanates through the whole organization to yield happier employees and increased profits. And when we make investments in Jewish leadership, we’re investing back into the Jewish community.

Photo by kate.sade on Unsplash

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WHP Alum Marsha Berkson (San Diego 03) is a Gallup-Certified Clifton Strengths Coach/Consultant and a member of the Wexner Foundation Coaching Faculty.