Tailoring a Professional Development Program

By Dan Vigeant

I get it, you’re busy. Your attention is constantly pulled in a thousand different directions, seemingly all at once: unit training, administrative actions, training meetings, maintenance meetings, property inventories, physical fitness, and the list goes on. However, if you are anything like me, you want to spend at least a portion of your time on the development of the people you are responsible for. You know their personal growth and success will elevate your organization to the next level and sustain it long after you’re gone, but you just can’t seem to find the time.

The answer is you have to make the time, which is easier said than done. The training calendar just keeps filling up. However, if leader development is important to you (it should be), you will find the time to make it a priority. A successful professional development program will have unimaginable short and long-term benefits. To survive, it must be focused on the intended audience, scheduled within the unit’s battle rhythm, and reinforced through ink to paper. Though this post is generally geared toward developing a professional development program at the company, troop, or battery level, many of the principles can be tailored to apply at any echelon. 

The Audience

Your organization likely has differing developmental needs at each echelon. Your junior Soldiers have different needs for growth than your NCOs. In that same vein, your NCOs require a different developmental focus than your junior officers. They are all simply at different stages in their growth and in their careers. If you want a program that will not only survive but flourish, it is important to tailor the program to the individual needs of your various populations and devote the appropriate time (frequency) to their growth.    

Junior Soldiers (E1-E4) should receive dedicated professional development in the form of Sergeants Time Training (STT). These soldiers are relatively inexperienced and should receive this targeted training weekly (no less than bi-weekly). While this developmental training can cover topics associated with the Soldier’s MOS, it should focus on the shoot, move, and communicate tasks identified in the organizations Army Warrior Task (AWT) list. As an added and, in my experience, much needed bonus, sprinkle in some non-military topics (personal finance, nutrition, goal setting, etc.). The purpose of these programs should be to create a well-rounded Soldier and human being. 

Non-Commissioned Officers (E5-E7) in your organization should receive professional development tailored toward honing leadership skills, managing administrative functions, and understanding DoD policies/programs. These Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development (NCOPD) events should be conducted monthly, but no less than quarterly. This population will certainly benefit from attending and teaching at Sergeants Time Training but they are at a critical stage in their leader development and must receive dedicated focus.

Junior Officers (O1-O3) have nearly the same developmental needs as junior Soldiers. Yes, they received advanced education and training. Yes, they are responsible for leading the Soldiers in your formation. However, they are also new to the military and inexperienced. Your responsibility is to prepare them for positions of increased responsibility. Admittedly, the topics will be markedly different from those you expose your junior Soldiers to, but the frequency should remain the same. Devote time once a week to mentor and develop these junior officers; the time spent will pay dividends in their careers and throughout your organization. 

The Battle Rhythm

For a professional development program to truly be successful, you must habitually dedicate time to it. Equally, that time must be protected. The easiest way to create these opportunities is to incorporate the program into your unit’s battle rhythm.  

A battle rhythm provides structure to an organization while synchronizing activities across time and space, facilitating interaction, building shared understanding, and establishing routine. While primarily intended for mission command nodes in a tactical environment, high-functioning organizations incorporate battle rhythms into garrison activities. In garrison, the battle rhythm identifies and visualizes recurring training events and meetings. Additionally, it allows subordinate units to develop and maintain their own battle rhythm and synchronize/deconflict their activities with higher headquarters.  

Time should be allotted toward a professional development program in company/troop/battery battle rhythms. Admittedly, this will require creativity and foresight. You may need to supplement or replace a physical fitness day with Sergeants Time Training. Junior Officer professional development sessions may need to be conducted during lunch hours on a Friday afternoon. Your organization’s priorities, OPTEMPO, and competing lines of effort will drive these decisions; there is no right or wrong answer. 

Whatever is agreed upon, in turn, must be protected. This time is devoted to growing the organization and the individual. Short of an emergency or mandatory requirement , you should eliminate distractors during these time blocks with the goal to maximize participation. Equally, leaders must enforce the importance of these sessions at every level. If the time you’ve blocked is creating challenges in bringing everyone together, change it. 

Write It Down

Once your professional development program is envisioned and synchronized into your organization’s battle rhythm, you must find ways to hold yourself, and your subordinate leaders, accountable for seeing it through. The easiest way to do this is by putting pen to paper and getting it in as many hands as possible. The act of writing your professional development plan down will emphasize its importance, provide structure to the program, and most importantly, hold you accountable for seeing the program through conception to execution. 

First, prioritize professional development in your leadership philosophy. If you are passionate about growing the next generation of leaders, you likely have professional development as part of your leadership philosophy. Use this philosophy as a vehicle for emphasizing the importance you place on your subordinate’s growth, laying the initial groundwork for future expansion of the program.    

Second, provide structure to your program through official memorandums, syllabi, and training aides. These can be as detailed or as simple as you like. At a minimum, these documents should cover program intent, topic overview, and date/time group for training. Taken a step further, you can include training objectives, training outcomes, questions for consideration, and prerequisite readings (bonus: use these documents to advertise an organizational reading list). This curriculum is where your program will truly come to life and is only inhibited by your imagination, the time you are able to devote, or resources you choose to expend.    

Lastly, advertise the importance of your program to your peers, subordinates, and higher headquarters. Through this effort, you will get organizational buy-in at all echelons. Annotate professional development events on the long-range training calendar. Brief upcoming sessions in your training meetings. Summarize topics covered in SITREPS and executive summaries. Discuss the benefits of your program with fellow leaders (in hopes they will enact a similar program in their organizations). You will be surprised how much support you get when you convert your efforts into tangible outputs. In turn, you can transform this organizational support into protected “white space” to further develop the program. 

Closing Thoughts

Professional development also occurs beyond the confines of a structured, focused program like the one described above. Individual development, through experience, occurs in everything we do as an organization. A structured program is intended to supplement, not replace, experience or even institutional PME. However, nurturing such a program will exponentially grow individuals and provide holistic benefits for your organization.

A few final thoughts:

  1. As previously stated, a professional development program like the one discussed is best implemented at the company/troop/battery level but could equally apply at all echelons. 
  2. Solicit input from leaders throughout your organization. If subordinate leaders have a voice in the program’s development, they will be more eager to see it prosper. 
  3. For a stepping off point in developing your own program, reference FM 6-22, ADP 6-22, From the Green Notebook, 3×5 Leadership, or countless other resources devoted to growing future leaders. 

Dan Vigeant is an active-duty Army Officer and editor/contributor for From the Green Notebook. He enlisted in 2004 and received his commission as an Aviation Officer from Arizona State University in 2014. He has published articles in Army Aviation Digest, Marine Corps University Journal, and the Journal for Advanced Military Studies

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policies or positions of the US Army or the Department of Defense.

One comment

  1. Thanks for taking the time to share your insights Dan. It hit home right from the start. It can be tough at times to stay consistent in any development program. In the end it’s worth the time/effort when you see the Soldiers that have stuck by your side all those months not only become better Leaders and experts in their craft, but outstanding people as a whole.

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