PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT GUIDE: Professional Development In Practice

Not-for-profit organisations are feeling the funding pinch in the current economic environment but Sport Waikato will not be cutting training and development from the budget, chief executive officer Matthew Cooper says.
“You’re only as good as your people,” he says.
Giving people the right tools to do their jobs and opportunities to grow professionally are two ways to ensure they remain motivated and committed.
“This organisation budgets for professional development, and that is really an important part of the Sport Waikato way,” Cooper says.
Cooper started studying for post-graduate diploma in management studies in February. It will take him two years to complete at rate of eight papers per year.
He says returning to the classroom after many years away from it has put him outside his comfort zone but he realised the benefits almost immediately.
“I haven’t been in the classroom for long time. I am enjoying putting myself under bit of pressure,” he says.
“Not only am I hoping to challenge myself but hopefully come out with qualification.
“My first paper was around conflict management and straight away that helped me immeasurably in couple of things I’ve had to deal with externally in the work I do for Sport Waikato.
“The second paper I’m into at the moment is financial management. Now I know the right questions to ask around the statements, which in the past I may have done but now I can conceptually understand the reply.
“It provides real edge in terms of decision making and leadership,” Cooper says.
Cooper, former All Black (1987, 1992-1994 and 1996), believes the benefits from his study directly correlate with the effort he intends putting in.
“They [the university] provide the professionals and the resources, and the onus goes back on the individual to get as much out of it as you can.
“I actually want to enjoy it and that’s the approach I’m taking – do your best, put the work in. Nothing will be given to you on plate, you have to earn it,” he says.
The study has also helped Cooper’s time-management skills and he has found it valuable to network with others in his class.
“There are people in my group who are very, very sharp and potential leaders. lot of them are in the mid-management range and they are only going one way – they are going higher. They bring such neat ideas and have great input,” Cooper says.
Cooper, who leads staff of 80, with four in the management team and two strategic advisers, can see the benefits of both short-term management training and longer-term academic study. When he started the CEO role at Sport Waikato eight years ago, he was sent on two-week management development course at Mt Eliza in Sydney.
“That was fantastic opportunity. The board of Sport Waikato felt it was important for me to get immersed in learning and they felt the best approach would be to send me into an environment which was very concentrated,” Cooper says.
Sport Waikato’s vision is to inspire people to be active and healthy for life. The organisation works in schools, with community groups, clubs and volunteers, and the elderly.
Cooper says he has maintained the importance of investing in people and their learning.
“I believe package is not just about your remuneration. package is about the overall ability to provide important resources to upskill people,” he says.

Challenging conventions, strategic thinking, global perspective and more rounded skill set are few of the benefits Auckland Airport chief information officer Tony Wickstead has gained from an MBA.
Wickstead started studying 18 months ago when no one even thought about the recession. Now he’s close to finishing and his employers are realising the return on their investment.
MBA study has changed the way Wickstead thinks and made him question the status quo.
“My critical analysis and thinking is different and not just because of the macro economic environment and the recession, but also because of the learning and the effect the course has had on me,” he says.
“A good example would be strategic thinking around international business, where you might have thought going into particular market might have been good idea but, with number of new tools and different way of thinking, you may not think that same market is an attractive place to be as your next place of growth.”
These skills have been put into action throughout Wickstead’s study period.
Wickstead, who looks after technology and telecommunications not only for the airport company but tenants and stakeholders located at the port, is grateful for the support of his employers which, he believes, saw him as having the skills and talent to grow the company into the future.
“I think it is false economy not focusing on having training in the plans of today when times are tough,” Wickstead says.
“If you haven’t got people in the right place with the right skills, you are not going to come out of recessionary market with the ability to react and grow your businesses.”
Wickstead says he wanted to do an MBA number of years ago but the timing wasn’t right. He started more than 10 years ago and completed two post-graduate courses in marketing and operations. He was pleased to find these could be cross-credited towards his MBA.
Initially, Wickstead found the MBA study challenging – especially subjects he wasn’t familiar with.
“The first semester was very tough because it was economics and finance, so I was right in the deep end and over my head – but once I got over that, it did get better.
“The MBA is very challenging. I call it very relentless engagement. It doesn’t give up, it doesn’t stop. You have small breaks and you can’t let up on it otherwise it bites you. But it’s all part of learning how to deal with meeting deadlines and writing good documentation in short period of time,” he says.
Wickstead also encourages team members to take responsibility for their own professional development.
They should ask themselves what they want to achieve and what they need to do to achieve it, then look for professional development opportunities to match those goals.
He thinks continuous learning is important to grow great career.
“I think your brain is like your muscles – you keep using it and it stays vibrant and it wants more, but I see lot of people who just come to work every day, they do what they need to do but they don’t challenge themselves,” he says.
“Don’t stop learning no matter what position you are in. We go to tech, school or university as young people, then we come out of there and go into our working life and we stop that academic learning. You almost have key times in your working career where you should be going back to the academic industry and keep learning.
“I think managers are not focused enough on nurturing people.”
The cost is only one factor to consider in training and professional development decisions, Wickstead says. Managers also need to weigh up how the training would benefit the employee in their job now and into the future and how it affects the team and the wider organisation.
“Looking at those variables will help you reconcile the cost. If you get enough value from those facets, you are already developing the value,” Wickstead says.

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