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Illustration by Traci Daberko​

An Investment in Employees

​Investing in personnel remains one of the most cost-effective business decisions in an organization's strategic planning, as well as in its formulation of short- and long-term budgetary projections.

Such investment is paramount to security programs where life safety and business risk are the focal point of operations. These programs' services are often the front lines of defense for mitigating risk and promoting safety.

Despite the business need for organizations to implement professional development programs (PDPs) in support of maintaining training standards, succession planning, and enhancing motivation within the workplace, some organizations may fall short in establishing dynamically structured programs. They can be used to nurture and develop employee talent, while generating a return on investment to further continued success within the public or private sector.​

PDP Basics

The framework for PDPs can be implemented with little to no cost—especially with collaboration from business partners or professional associations. Depending on the organization's budget allocations, developmental opportunities that consist of classes, seminars, mentoring, and coaching may be available to provide avenues for co-op partnerships.

Many successful PDPs rely upon pillars that focus on training courses that bolster specialized skill sets to include leadership, management, critical thinking, and soft skills. They capitalize upon mentoring and leadership coaching programs that provide training while emphasizing problem solving and the dynamics of situational and strategic leadership.

Most PDPs also include rotational assignments that provide opportunities to experience other organizational cultures. This allows employees to build an understanding of how different organizations operate and interact with stakeholders in pursuit of strategic goals. 

A PDP's development, and subsequent implementation, must have the buy-in and support from senior level management to be effective. This means management must see the program as a necessity for continued organizational efficiency, productivity, and growth to support the organization's mission, vision, and strategic goals.

A PDP must be aligned with the organization's vision statement. This vision statement, which is inherently adaptable in light of the organizational culture, environment, and business needs, should be a long-term strategically defined statement of what the organization aims to achieve as it continues to operate in the future.

The vision statement is the crux of any successful PDP that will empower employees to create a personalized career plan that enables them to align their goals with the company's vision statement.

The vision statement is fundamentally different from a mission statement. A mission statement outlines the essential purpose of the organization—how it carries out its processes while showcasing the values it holds true in support of upholding its vision.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Inspector General's mission statement is "to promote economy, efficiency, and integrity in [USDA] programs and operations through the successful execution of audits, investigations, and reviews." The agency's vision statement is "Our work advances the value, safety, and integrity of USDA programs and operations."

Many successful employee development programs have constructed leadership tenets for their respective organizations. These tenets are directly aligned with an organization's vision and mission statements, and provide a guideline for increased team and employee performance.

One successful model of leadership tenets is the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) Leadership Tenets. The foreword of these tenets concisely dovetails into DS's vision and mission statements in pursuit of codifying its leadership tenets for all employees.

"Strong, capable leadership is critical to the success of the Diplomatic Security mission of providing a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy through our protection, criminal, and overseas programs," the foreword reads. "As a law enforcement and security organization, we manage programs to protect personnel, facilities, and information, but we must lead our people. The Diplomatic Security Leadership Tenets establish our expectations for all DS employees, regardless of grade or position, in our pursuit of service to the Department and the Nation."

The DS Leadership Tenets embrace several key themes that are important to any organization, including moral courage, leadership by example, delegation, continuous learning, collaboration, and effective communication.

International organizations have taken their leadership tenets a step further by having them translated for their foreign-based offices. They have also delved deeper into the constructs of their tenets by creating talking points that address the importance and application of the tenets to provoke critical thinking within the organization.

An example of a talking point regarding the tenet of "learn constantly" focuses on the phrase that learning is a life-long endeavor. 

If we do not learn constantly, our performance will not be sustainable in light of organizational change. All personnel should actively seek opportunities to learn in furtherance of developing and enhancing their skill sets and identify learning opportunities available within the organization.

Employees should also explore their options. What internal and external training opportunities exist? Has the employee been taking advantage of these opportunities? If not, what barriers exist and how can they be remedied for them to take advantage of these training opportunities? 

This example provides an avenue to pursue constructive dialogue in a group setting. It promotes effective communication that employs a candid assessment to collaborate on a remedy—one that can be supported by the organization and its employees to cultivate new training opportunities.

Such an application is particularly important to further promote a sense of global citizenship within organizations where there are differences in cultural norms where they operate.​

Individual Planning

Another key component to an organization's PDP is the institution of individual development plans (IDPs) for employees. This tool provides an employee with a roadmap that identifies professional short- and long-term goals that are aligned with an organization's vision and mission statements.

IDPs can address countless objectives to concentrate on the development of specialized knowledge concerning a new process, crafting innovations that focus on enabling greater efficiency, or forging new relationships that empower the employee, as well as the organization.

IDPs also provide an avenue for management to work with the employee in solidifying career endeavors and to assist managers in better understanding an employee's ambitions.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) published a public resource that provides a blueprint for managers and employees to implement IDPs within the public and private sectors. OPM deliverables on this topic elaborate on IDP's phases of development that include the importance of preplanning, meetings to discuss plan formulation, drafting, implementing, and evaluating the IDP.

Managers should shepherd the employee's IDP development by ensuring that his or her career goals complement the organization's vision, mission, and strategic goals. Additionally, the selected goals should be constructed using the SMART methodology—where goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

Each goal needs to have specific characteristics embedded that directly address how the goal is important. Is the goal measurable—can an employee's progress be measured and tracked toward completion? Is the goal attainable—is it reasonable that an employee can accomplish this goal, including completing the requisite milestones needed to achieve it?  Furthermore, is the goal relevant—does it support the employee's personal vision statement? And is it timely—is the employee able to complete the goal within the timeframe identified for completion?

For example, "During the rating period, I will serve as a volunteer leader within a professional organization, council, or working group that enables the agency's mission and strategic goals to be broadcast to a greater audience while simultaneously developing partnerships that foster collaboration in support of shared organizational interests." This statement is an exemplar of a SMART goal that concisely addresses the aforementioned characteristics.

Since this is a personalized deliverable that is self-driven, the onus of responsibility for completing the IDP ultimately rests upon the employee. For instance, if a goal was to build upon one's interpersonal skills by broadcasting the company's brand to an outside organization during a meeting, seminar, or conference, the employee would need to conduct research and seek out potential speaking opportunities in support of completing this goal.

​Executive Connection

Many executives have taken their respective IDPs to the next level by strategically linking their goals to OPM's executive core qualifications (ECQs). These are, as defined by OPM, "the competencies needed to build a federal corporate culture that drives for results, serves customers, and builds successful teams and coalitions within and outside the organization."

These competencies transgress through the public and private sectors and focus on the concepts of Leading Change, Leading People, Results Driven, Business Acumen, and Building Coalitions.

These ECQs are grounded in OPM's outlined fundamental core competencies of Interpersonal Skills, Oral Communication, Integrity/Honesty, Written Communication, Continual Learning, and Public Service Motivation. The sustained emphasis on these foundational competencies serves as the cornerstone that empowers an employee's aptitude to develop ECQs in support of career advancement. Many government agencies align their managers' and executives' performance plans with these ECQs to further their continued professional development while concurrently advancing organizational endeavors.

When revisiting the previously provided SMART goal example that focuses on volunteer leadership, this goal is strategically linked to the ECQs of Leading People, Leading Change, and Building Coalitions. It is also inherently linked to the fundamental core competencies in terms of developing Interpersonal Skills. 

Furthermore, this particular illustration is an excellent IDP goal for an employee who currently does not have a managerial position, but wishes to actively seek out leadership opportunities to gain experience and demonstrate aptitude for career advancement. 

It is also important to note the process of how IDP goals were achieved and how they directly addressed an ECQ where such an assessment could be used in a performance evaluation that documents an employee's progression on these fronts. ​


Another vital component of an established PDP is the ability to increase substantive knowledge through training courses and seminars. While organizational budgets vary widely in terms of the amount of funding allocated for training, there are several avenues to seek training opportunities with minimal costs—especially for security professionals.

Frequently, professional associations offer discounted group rates, as well as free webinars to members.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Preparedness Institute also offers a myriad of free online classes to the general public. These courses focus on specialized topics, including the Incident Command System, emergency preparedness, continuity of operations, and workplace violence.

Collaborative partnerships with other organizations can also be cultivated to support a reduction in training costs. In-house trainers can be used to share case studies, lessons learned, and best practices with local businesses and agencies to create a grassroots co-op training initiative. Such avenues provide a platform for dynamic training opportunities at reasonable costs. 

Examples of government partnerships range from the various federal executive boards to fusion centers located throughout the United States. From an international perspective, many American embassies and consulates shepherd Overseas Security Advisory Councils that provide invaluable networking and training briefings that support business growth by addressing crime and safety trends that may affect American businesses and their employees operating abroad.

One common theme when assessing developmental opportunities for employees is that organizations often provide a training course to staff where there is little to no opportunity to apply the skills they learned from the instruction.

This lack of application to the workplace environment is a fatal flaw for a PDP where the concepts are not reinforced through application. Without this application, course concepts are not personally tested and reinforced. This negates the added value of the objectives of the course.

To address this deficiency, IDPs can be drafted to not only pursue training on a particular subject matter, but to build in the application facet of the training material to support a special project based upon business needs. Organizations can facilitate working groups to support deliverables or create shadowing programs where employees nurture additional skill sets that support the organization while employees pursue the opportunity to expound upon the concepts and practices they learned in their training.

Such an example is a sponsored leadership development program that uses a curriculum that examines leadership principles and traits by assessing case studies. After the classroom portion has been completed, students are assigned an experienced mentor who guides the recently trained employees in applying the lessons learned in the coursework to their current work environment where their sponsoring organization also provides them special projects to complete that enhance the overall learning experience.

Organizations can also turn to professional associations and nonprofit organizations to empower employees through training programs, leadership symposiums, and national conferences.

One model training program of a nonprofit organization that ties in the key elements of a vision statement, training, and its successful application in support of goal setting is the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Wood Badge Course. This six-day course, geared towards adult leaders of scouting groups, touches upon several key leadership principles that have been time tested within the military, civil service, and private business circles.

The course's five central themes of Living the Values, Bringing the Vision to Life, Models for Success, Tools of the Trade, and Leading to Make a Difference are not only applicable to professional endeavors but to personal development as well.

The curriculum is grounded from leadership training principles derived from Ken Blanchard, Max De Pree, and Stephen Covey. The same skills covered in this course can be found in many mainstream seminars, which can cost several thousands of dollars. BSA leaders can receive this same level of training at significantly reduced costs because BSA purchased royalties for some of its course material that is used by private vendors.

The course consists of classroom and practical field training outdoors that supports teamwork. After the course's completion, students have 18 months to complete five special projects, called "tickets." These tickets focus on program improvement at the local and regional levels of the BSA organization, as well as one personalized ticket for self-improvement.

Examples of such tickets could be planning and implementing targeted recruitment initiatives to generate more interest in scouting in a geographic area. They could also be streamlining social media and website platforms to convey a concise and targeted message to the general public about the benefits of scouting for today's youth.

Once all of the tickets have been completed and verified, attendees formally graduate the course. Feedback regarding the Wood Badge experience has been noteworthy through the years.

Serving as a chapter or council officer for one of these organizations can also give employees leadership, managerial, and budgetary experience. These opportunities directly support résumé building, especially if an employee has not had much involvement on these fronts or wants to build upon these attributes to further his or her career.

Mentoring programs can also prove to be a force multiplier in support of structured employee development programs. Numerous organizations possess formalized mentoring programs for employees that enable them to achieve a better sense of the organization's mission and how their duties and responsibilities impact the organization as a whole.

Another developmental opportunity that builds upon an employee being able to assess his or her standing in pursuit of his or her career goals is leadership coaching. Various U.S. federal government entities take advantage of their own in-house leadership coaching programs where certified coaches provide sessions to their employees for a duration of time.

U.S. federal agencies that do not have a leadership coaching program can partake in coaching programs offered by OPM and the U.S. Department of Treasury. Opportunities are also available for selected federal employees to receive free certification training. They then donate their time to provide leadership coaching sessions to other federal employees, as needed, to support a co-op coaching program.

Similar initiatives are also in place within the private sector where individuals who have completed their coaching coursework need a requisite number of coaching sessions to achieve a certification.

For instance, individuals who seek an International Coaching Federation (ICF) certification as an Associate Certified Coach must complete an ICF Accredited Coach Training Program, attest to 100 hours of coaching experience with at least eight clients—where 75 hours must be paid—and complete a Coach Knowledge Assessment.  

Certification opportunities such as these empower an organization to capitalize on an invaluable training opportunity for their employees, which in turn is an investment when the newly minted leadership coaches provide services to the company's personnel.​

Solicit Feedback

The final component of any successful PDP is the ability to receive constructive feedback to evaluate the program, as well as employees' progress.

Supervisors and employees should embrace the 360-degree evaluation process to support obtaining constructive feedback and performance assessments from their subordinates, peers, and supervisors to advance continued improvement of the program and employee target goals.

A model PDP should remain adaptable in light of the fiscal climate, while continuously striving to be resourceful in support of training and developmental opportunities for the employees. Management, in addition to curriculum and training specialists, should be cognizant of cost-effective deliverables where participation demonstrates a true return on investment.

A successful PDP will include several multifaceted concepts that rely on the organization to provide the framework of what it envisions for its future. These concepts should demonstrate a business need to develop employees and support career progression for the benefit of the organization.

This caliber of professional development planning capitalizes on promoting efficiency, while allowing the organization to bear the baseline cost for successfully implementing a model PDP that is innovative, resourceful, and forward leaning in furtherance of developing the next generation of strategic leaders. 

The views expressed in this article solely represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or otherwise constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA's Office of Inspector General, or the United States.


Robert Baggett, CPP, PCI, PSP, JD, MPA, is an assistant special agent-in-charge for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General's Western Region Office in Oakland, California. He serves as the chair of the ASIS International Academic and Training Programs Council and is a member of the ASIS Leadership and Management Practices council and the Investigations Council. During 17 years of public service, Baggett worked on several performance-based initiatives focused on professional development programs, individual development plan assessments, and organizational succession planning. ​