Becoming a “complete professional” requires the acquisition and perfection of so many skills – from theoretical knowledge of finance, to technical skills in using the various planning and investment tools, to practical understanding of the taxation, the financial industry and its markets to client relationship management, business development and the running of the business of advice. And this is just scratching the surface. To learn all those skills and develop them to levels of high effectiveness is truly the work of a career – a lifelong process.
As we develop as professionals, we learn from many sources – both internal within our firms (mentors and training) and external (universities, professional education and various training programs). Each of these sources is very valuable and perhaps absolutely necessary in order to facilitate the growth of a career.
Advisory firms clearly prefer internal training and “ad-hoc programs” but perhaps they should consider utilizing more external programs. In fact, I would propose that in some areas external training is more effective, more complete and creates a better foundation for continued future learning. That is the rationale behind our own training program, the G2 Leadership Institute. I believe there are some compelling arguments to be made for investing more time and money in formalized external training.
Training is absolutely necessary for professional development
First of all, many firms have no training for professionals at all. In our latest industry survey, we found that 17% of all firms do not use any professional training – internal or external. Thirty-five percent have no business development training of any kind, even though in our experience every firm wishes it had more business developers. Twenty-seven percent of firms offer no leadership or management training. You can’t run a marathon if you never train as a runner. This should be an obvious point – becoming a professional is a long-term and difficult pursuit of knowledge. Some form of training is needed to develop all skills – experience alone is not enough.
External training adds structure and resources
One of the benefits of external programs is that they are intentionally structured to develop a range of essential skills. When we try to develop knowledge on our own we often struggle where to begin. For example, I like studying languages on my own but I bump into some very common problems: How much time should I spend studying grammar versus practicing speaking? Should I emphasize verb conjugation or build my vocabulary? Which are the better textbooks and which are the “not so good” ones? A class in French answers all of those questions and provides all of those tools. On my own, I just spend a lot of money on books I never use.
External training exposes the firm to new ideas
One of the best benefits of external training is that it exposes you to new ideas and new approaches. Learning from each other within the firm can often result in stagnant knowledge or even the propagation of outdated methods. A well-organized external class will expose a professional to instructors who are well-informed about the latest developments within their field.
The external instructors may also be able to improve on some of the existing methods. Chances are that the internal mentors received their training some long time ago. Their knowledge, while valuable and time-tested may need a refresher. This is one of the overlooked benefits of external training – it may help train not just the young professionals but it may also teach something to their mentors.
Outside training creates a network for future learning
One of the great benefits of an external program is the exposure to other professionals from across the industry. What we find in our G2 Leadership Institute is that participants actively and eagerly learn from each other. I like to compare that process to a “potluck party” – everyone brings a dish and that way you can try a lot of dishes.
Every professional has a skill they can share and every firm has some methods that it can teach. Such cross-pollination will rarely happen on its own but training programs create the environment for such learning to flourish. We purposefully designed the G2 Leadership Institute to encourage it since it is highly effective in improving knowledge and retention.
Formal training can add focus
Going to a class not only provides you with an instructor and some materials but it also forces you to focus on learning. In the heat of battle, it is difficult to find the time to read a book and it is difficult to go through an hour-long discussion on a topic. Structured programs do exactly that – they remove a student from their natural environment and force them to focus on a topic. This is why we emphasize in-person meetings in our programs – they not only encourage the development of a network but they also create focus.
Ad-hoc training can often be Latin for “No training”
Finally, as much as learning from a mentor can be the most effective form of learning, it can also be a disguise for insufficient training. They say that “if you could learn just by watching, cats would be chefs because they always hang out in the kitchen.” This is never intentional but it is frequent – at times mentors can forget to challenge their learners. At times the conversations can be very one-sided. It is possible that mentees struggle with a skill but they can’t share that with a mentor. It could just be that the teaching methods are not working. A formal training program can in fact compliment the ad hoc programs very well – not replace them.
It takes a village to raise a kid and it takes an industry to raise a professional. There are many sources of knowledge and those sources are all of great importance. In fact, they feed into each other and improve each other. External training often spurs conversations with mentors and colleagues. Client experiences turn into presentations and articles, which lead to research and further reading. The theoretical knowledge acquired leads into new interests and new skills to be developed and the cycle continues – learning leads to wanting to learn more. Knowledge leads to wanting to grow even further. At least that is what we are hearing from the four classes of the G2 Leadership Institute.