Jeff McLanahan has been a member of ATD since 2010. Here's his story in his own words.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I began my career in operations and moved into training by accident. As an operator, I knew the value of training and utilized every company resource available. When we needed a third party for food safety training and became dependent on them to conduct the training, I volunteered to become a certified trainer for my company. This led to being selected as the market-wide trainer and eventually leading a company-wide training function on a global scale.
What are your personal and/or professional goals?
From a personal standpoint, my goal is to always be learning. There is so much content available in so many locations that learning opportunities are always available. From a professional standpoint, I continuously look to expand my network and learn from others as well as share from my experience.
What challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
A big challenge I had to overcome was convincing senior leadership to utilize technology for talent development. In the early days of online learning, communicating the ROI was difficult, as was overcoming the "We've always done it this way" mentality.
Another challenge was being a role model for continuous personal and professional development. It is easy to communicate the importance of this to the masses, but it is often difficult to schedule time for yourself. Even when you schedule time, if anything comes up unexpectedly, L&D professionals seem to push off their own development before anything else. I now schedule time and protect it ferociously. In my 15-20 minutes per day, I will read trade publications, review content on websites such as td.org, watch a webinar, or any other activity that helps me sharpen my saw.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve gained or experienced during your membership with ATD?
Narrowing the most valuable thing I have gained from my ATD membership to one would be difficult, but I would have to say it has been my expanded network of professionals. These peers readily share best practices and resources. One member invited me to their business location and provided wonderful insight into launching an LMS at my company.
Could you share any professional tips, specific to talent development, that you have picked up along the way?
A tip that has been very effective for me personally is to meet with your team regularly and use a structured format. It sounds so easy, but if it was we would all be doing it. Although I speak with my team daily, I meet with them formally on a monthly basis for an hour. The format I use divides our conversation into 3 parts; a developmental activity, a review of their performance against goals YTD and any barriers, and finally a topic of their choice. Getting started takes effort as the preparation for each individual can be time consuming, and setting aside an hour for each meeting can also be a challenge. The most difficult part is maintaining the meetings. While the monthly meeting time may be re-scheduled occasionally, I never cancel one as I believe it sends a message that the team members’ development is less important than other items. It is challenging however I have found the results to be well worth the effort.
What’s a common misconception you see when it comes to talent development?
A common misconception I see when it comes to talent development is that managers/leaders know how to develop their people. There seems to be a belief that since the manager/leader is in the role and has been successful, they can develop others. This is not necessarily true. Managers/leaders need training just like everyone else and this includes training on how to develop their team.
Do you have any advice for people looking to further their careers?
I have a couple of pieces of advice for furthering your career. First, stay current in your field. Do not wait for your supervisor to develop you, look for self-development activities yourself. Join a professional organization such as ATD and be an ACTIVE member - attend the annual conference, volunteer, submit a proposal to present a session, network with members, utilize the resources, share ideas, etc.
Next, stay in touch with your business. Tie your activities to the company goals. While it is sometimes difficult to calculate ROI on a learning event, keep working to demonstrate the impact.
What is your personal definition of talent development?
My personal definition of talent development is learning about those around you and finding out where they want to go and what they want to do in their life and career. Once you have identified these, provide opportunities for them to stretch themselves and help build the skills and capabilities needed to reach their goals.
How do you stay motivated?
I stay motivated by my desire to continuously improve. A large part of my success is due to acknowledging that I am rarely the most knowledgeable person in the room or meeting. This inspires and motivates me to learn from others as I work to improve myself.
How do you find meaning in your work?
I find meaning in my work by seeing others succeed. I often have team members that are promoted into new and exciting roles and I find that personally fulfilling. I have been asked if losing these team members is frustrating. My response is that not only am I happy for them, but I now have another advocate for learning and development within the company.
Sometimes the true meaning of your work is demonstrated out of the blue. As an example, after accepting a role that brought me back to Louisville, KY to live for a second time, my wife and I decided to have dinner at a favorite restaurant of ours. When the check came with a zero balance I questioned the waitress who informed me that the bill had been settled by her manager. She also shared that her manager had worked for me in a previous company and I had made a positive impact on him and his career during his training. That is how I find meaning in my work!