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The first time I came across true personal development was during a stint working with a public sector organisation on the fringes of healthcare. The organisation in question – which had around 60 employees – gave each team member £250 per year to put towards any personal development activity they wanted. And yes, that was any personal development they wanted: from basket weaving to tennis coaching and beyond….

Genius I thought. What a fabulous way to get people interested in learning as a process itself. Many questioned the link between this and any actual benefit to the business though. After all, how the hell do you get a Return on Investment from activities where the output seems just to be a few wonky pots proudly displayed in the office and anecdotes of someone’s ‘vastly improved’ back-hand….

This was quite some time ago however, and it’s a trend which has been gaining more ground recently. Only a few weeks ago, I heard on the radio show I was listening to, how all their employees had been given a set of classes to sign up for which included anything from art to singing.  So assuming that their management team wasn’t doing this with the sole purpose of unearthing the next Tracey Emin or Emili Sande (although you never know!), the evidence for the business benefits of activities must be there.

Whilst many companies might not see the benefits in encouraging pure personal development, aligning an individual’s personal interest development with that of your business is really the holy grail of learning & development at work. Simply allowing your team time off to do something different is likely to make them happy in itself. But helping someone develop in an area which they are interested in, can increase someone’s new motivation to life in general, which will in turn translate into greater motivation at work.

Dreaming Never Hurt Anybody

Cook is family run company based in my own neck of the woods. Over the last 10 years it has built its reputation on providing not just fantastic home-cooked frozen food, but by caring for those who work for and with them. Each year,  they offer up a handful of places into their very own Dream Academy: a personal development programme with a difference. One which brings their dreams to life be they personal or professional. From losing weight to even moving jobs (!), those who aspire to joining the academy jot down their desire each year and a lucky few they have catered for many employee’s desires over the years they have been running it, helped along by their own personal coach they call the Dream Manager (How cool is that?!).

Sadly the original personal development programme I was involved with came to a stuttering end not long after I’d left when someone had objected to their wine tasting course not being approved. Apparently the powers that be felt that someone might draw connections between public funds being used on an alcohol course and that risk of potentially ending up on the front cover of the Daily Mail was greater than the risk of holding back their development. And maybe there was something in that. But it’s a shame they couldn’t think of a way round it, as the implications were much greater than preventing one member staff from learning how to tell the difference between a Cote du Beaune and a Shiraz.

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Photo Credit: Native American Dream Catcher by Image Catalog