If you’re like most people, your employer provides an array of learning & personal development tips and tools. After all, they need to have the right people in the right jobs with the right skills at the right time. It’s in their best interest to help you grow, which in turn fuels organizational growth.
Yet no one will ever have more interest in your professional success than you. You need to own your personal development, engagement, and career success. That means it is up to you to take advantage of the opportunities offered. Ideally, you need to craft a personal learning strategy like the approach my colleague Matt Donovan talks about in the article “Work-Life Synergy and Self-Directed Learning.”
Learning (whether in a formal setting or on the job) can fill in the gaps when you don’t know how to do something. It is also helpful for building a common language with coworkers around how to get the work done. Yet as you plot your personal development journey, remember that acquiring new skills and knowledge is not enough. There are three additional requirements to build into your plan:
Feedback: Feedback provides the focus you need for successful development in the workplace. Before you can craft a strategy, you need to know what you do well and where your role requires you to demonstrate an even higher level of effectiveness. Take a look at your last performance appraisal or 360 assessment, but don’t stop there:
- Remember that everyone—even a high performer—has relative strengths and weaknesses. You want to continue to build on strengths and address weaknesses that are performance issues or career liabilities.
- Ask your manager for specific examples of where you excel and where you can improve. Reach out to colleagues and even customers for specific feedback.
- Clarify the organizational context for your expanding portfolio of knowledge and skills: How does your role fit in with the bigger organizational picture? What capabilities matter most now and in the future?
Coaching: Coaching provides the support you need for successful development. It’s hard to make it on your own. Even the best-trained, most-focused employees require guidance and course corrections sometimes. Make sure to:
- Start with your manager. If your manager understands your development goals, he or she can deliver more strategic, effective, and efficient coaching—and look for projects that help you grow.
- Take advantage of the expertise of colleagues. In the 70/20/10 approach, 20% of learning results from coaching or mentoring. Who is the best in the skill you want to develop? Which colleague has expertise that complements your own?
- Identify a success or accountability partner inside or outside your organization (e.g., in a networking group or professional association). Agree to coach each other. You don’t have to have similar expertise or interests. What you do have to share is an interest in professional growth and a commitment to regular check-ins to discuss progress.
Intrinsic motivation: You need to provide the fuel to stick to your development plan when other priorities on and off the job distract you. We all come to work each day with a unique blend of personal values and goals. When you are clear on what matters most to you, you’ll be better able to maintain momentum when new skills aren’t easy to apply or obstacles arise. So:
- Take time to reflect on your personal values and aspirations.
- Create a personal “why” statement, and post it where you can see it.
- Schedule regular check-ins with yourself to review your “why” statement and learning strategy.
The three requirements described above aren’t new news. We preached these essentials 40+ years ago, when overhead projectors represented the latest in learning technology. That’s because successful development is not merely about learning methodologies and tools. It’s about making sure that you have the focus, support, and personal fuel to apply what you learn in a way that will drive your own interests and the organization’s forward.
For more thought leadership and insights on trends in the learning industry, please visit our resource library.
When she joined GP Strategies’ BlessingWhite division in 2000, Mary Ann began to explore worlds beyond skills: The internal workings of individual learners – expressed as personal values and goals, the puzzling workings of organizational culture, and the often complicated dynamics of trust and relationships at work. She quickly realized there was no going back.
As Lead Consultant for BlessingWhite’s Engagement Practice, Mary Ann creates practical tools and strategies that clients worldwide apply to create successful businesses and thriving workplaces. Think of her approach as "research meets real world." She is passionate about great days at work – where individuals experience the highest levels of personal satisfaction, apply their skills to what matters most, and deliver their best work to drive their employers’ strategies. As lead consultant, she also works with senior HR and business leaders on how to take meaningful action on engagement survey results to drive organizational performance.
She is co-author of The Engagement Equation: Leadership Strategies for an Inspired Workforce (Wiley, Oct 2012), has written numerous research reports and articles, and is a well-regarded speaker on the leader’s role in engagement and building a culture of engagement.
Mary Ann's commitment to meaningful lives and meaningful work extends beyond her day job. She is a founding member of the Norma Pfriem Urban Outreach Initiatives, a not-for-profit that addresses food insecurity (serving 10,000 meals a year) and education of underserved adults and children. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University.
She enjoys her mostly-empty nest with her husband, 2 cats and a dog, cooking, reading and running (not simultaneously) in her spare time.