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Stephen Walker

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What is continuing professional development?


As a part of our CPD month, Stephen Walker looks at three key building blocks of CPD programmes: the value of polishing our performance, thinking about what we do and learning how to persevere.


Continuing professional development (CPD) has become mandatory among many professional institutions as an activity we need to maintain as a part of our professional registration. It was not always the case.

CPD was introduced to ensure professionals kept themselves up to date with current practice and thinking. It is a fact that everything changes faster than it did. Rapid change in any profession meant people became out of date and unaware of new knowledge, procedures and possibilities.

The institutions argued carefully to build a system that ensured their professionals updated their knowledge and this update was proved to be learnt. This element of proof has become tarnished. In part due to resistance from the members of the institutions and partly to conform to modern ways of thinking.

"It seems to me there is a difference between knowledge remembered and knowledge understood."

I went to a meeting this week and received a certificate of attendance to show my CPD. While I did learn something, I’m not convinced the development value was significant. But we live in an age where so many people are assumed to be better at their job because they have been doing it for another year. That didn’t happen in my part of the private sector.

What I am arguing for is real CPD, real development. Real CPD is like real ale, you know when you’ve had some.

Below there are three suggestions for building blocks of real CPD.

To be better

I was very fortunate recently to meet and hear Cathy O’Dowd. Cathy is a professional keynote speaker and uses her experiences as a mountaineer (first woman to climb Everest from both sides) to talk through teamwork issues on the mountain, and therefore in business.

Cathy has given this keynote speech over 150 times in 10 years. You would think the speech has been perfected after all that time. But that isn’t Cathy’s approach. When something happens, a comment from the audience perhaps or a news item, that makes the speech feel imperfect, she polishes the speech again. She changes a few words, the delivery, and the order of words whatever it takes to make the speech the best it can be again.

Cathy doesn’t just know the content of her keynote speech, she knows the delivery too. Every nuance, pause, change in pitch, gesture – every breath has been practised until the delivery suits the material to suit the message.

She has crafted the speech to perfection and looks to achieve a higher standard of perfection tomorrow.

A fundamental building block of real CPD is the pursuit of perfection.

To think

It seems to me there is a difference between knowledge remembered and knowledge understood. In the dim distant days of my exams there were complaints that simply remembering things was sufficient to pass exams. There was no need to show much original thought around the subject.

Have we forgotten how to think as a nation? Our professionals need to be able to think. They need to be open to new ideas and have the trained brain to critically evaluate them.

On the openness to new ideas point, visitors to our website with .com addresses view seven times more files than those with addresses. Not a hard fact but a wide enough variation to ask why. Are US citizens more open to new ideas? Are they eager to explore the new frontier perhaps? Or are they looking for new things to think about in new ways?

I can’t think of a profession that isn’t affected substantially over a decade. So much changed in a year, never mind ten, that keeping up, understanding and thinking what the new ideas mean is key to remaining professionally competent.

Another building block of CPD is the ability to think and the pursuit of learning how to think better.

To persevere

As customers of the professionals, in whatever field, we expect them to do their best to fulfil their professional duty. We do not expect a dentist to leave a job half done, or our house to collapse because the architect went home instead of completing the calculations.

We expect these people to see the job through regardless. Striving to be better and learning how to think both provide inspiration, but success is just one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration.

Our professionals need to persevere with the thinking of, and the polishing of, their performances.

The third building block of CPD should include the motivation to persevere.


Whether you are a provider of CPD activities or a professional seeking CPD you should be thinking about the detailed content of your CPD.

  • Does your CPD demonstrate how you improve your performance day after day?
  • Does your CPD show you learning how to think and be open to new ideas?
  • Finally does your CPD make you better at perseverance?

Let’s make CPD worthwhile and valuable and use it to open minds and create new possibilities. Let’s develop rather than standing still.

Do you have another way of preparing for the future?

Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop the management of motivation to inspire greater performance. He has worked for organisations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. A published author of articles and Conference speaker, Stephen delivers workshops on “doing more with less” across the country. It is all about making people WANT to work he says. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blog.


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