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"We want systemic support for learning. We want our staff to always be world leaders in corporate communications"

The client represented the 300+ staff in the Public Affairs division of a major automotive manufacturer. As a subcontractor to The Arbor Consulting Group, we designed a comprehensive professional development program including a training needs analysis, policy development, Lifelong Learning Guide, monthly seminars, orientation program and quarterly publication review. The project involved the following five steps.

1. Create a model for professional development.

The needs analysis identified literally hundreds of learning topics that would be useful for this population. We organized these learning needs into a model with four major categories, each with three knowledge and skill areas, as illustrated. People thought it was a terrific job aid for learning. It provided a vision of a highly knowledgeable and skilled corporate communicator. It also provided a benchmark to help people assess their current capabilities and needs.

2. Develop a self-directed, dynamic learning process.

We created a Lifelong Learning Guide, designed to give people the information and tools they need to make individual development plans. The guide provides:

3. Foster awareness of issues, peer interaction and problem-solving.

Monthly breakfast meetings were set up to help communicators stay informed about public relations issues and were structured to encourage networking and problem-solving among colleagues. A monthly "Resource Bulletin" identified articles of significant worth or interest in the major business publications.

4. Provide resources and reinforcement.

Human Resources staff worked with individuals and management to provide any necessary support, such as lateral assignments, placement on cross-functional teams or finding an appropriate workshop. Additional support included:

5. Get new hires up to speed quickly.

A discovery-type orientation program was designed that included interviews with key people, site visits, product experience, and practice using information/communication resources. All new hires were supported by a manager and a colleague "buddy" who were responsible for helping them navigate both formal and informal company channels. When they finish orientation, new employees know more about operations, products and technologies than colleagues who have been here for years. Their book of contacts and resources is golden.

6. Link up with universities for mutual benefit.

The corporation supported a number of journalism scholarships and contributed resources to support high-quality communications curricula. Staff members enrolled in an on-line masters program from a university with an exceptional PR curriculum. In-person class meetings were conducted one weekend a month.