How to Own Your Career Development

Eileen AzzaraCareer development, Individual Development Plan

career development
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Does your company offer career development resources and programs? While there are some great companies that do, they are in the minority. Chances are you don’t work for them.

People often tell me they felt stuck, trapped, or even powerless to focus on their career development because they feel their employers aren’t doing enough to help them. “My company doesn’t provide good training,” “My boss won’t support me in getting a cross-training assignment,”, or “I wish there was a clear career path laid out for me” are common criticisms I continue to hear despite the benefits that companies may reap by focusing on employee career development.

Back in the day, these might have been valid complaints. When employees signed on to spend the majority of their professional years in the same company, HR departments were charged with developing and implementing a host of career pathing options and skill-building programs to facilitate advancement and movement of internal employees. They also provided training for employees who intended to stay in the same job (ask a Baby Boomer about that concept if necessary) to keep their skills current and keep up with industry changes.

With all that hand-holding, it was easy for employees to sit back and wait to be invited (or ordered) to participate in career development activities. Today that really only happens with compliance training. And that is the way it should be, because if you think about it, it’s not an employer’s responsibility to develop its employees, it is the employees’ responsibility. Why should your company or even your boss be responsible for your career development? It’s your life, not theirs.

If you’re like many, you agree with this concept, but instead are struggling to figure out exactly what to do to facilitate your career development. Perhaps you’ve been handed a big pile of “resources” and a blank IDP template and told to figure it out. That’s also an old-school method that companies have traditionally provided to employees. There are much better options these days. Here  is a six-step process for how to go about it.

How to Facilitate Your Own Career Development

  1. Consider your career goal and the key skills or competencies required to achieve that goal. For example, if you aspire to work as a project manager, you may identify time management, delegation, and decision-making as important skills for that role.

2. Assess yourself on those key skills. And by “assess yourself”, I mean conduct a thorough analysis that barely includes your own perspective. Solicit feedback from your coworkers. Review results of previous projects where you applied, or tried to apply those skills. Read through your old performance reviews to identify any patterns or trends. Based on this data collection, put together a summary of what you’ve done well and what you need to work on regarding those areas.

3. Based on the analysis, choose one of the skills you determined is not a strength for you to focus on for development. Write a SMART goal to develop yourself in that skill. If you need guidance writing that SMART goal, read this post.

4. Identify the learning activities that will help you achieve your goal. Traditional examples of such activities are to read a book or attend a training, but there are also more innovative things you can do. Jump online to find some videos. Find some blogs related to the topic. Talk with or observe someone you work with who is strong in the skill you’re trying to develop. It doesn’t have to take forever, it just needs to teach you what you need to learn.

5. Seek out opportunities to apply what you’ve learned in your company. Let’s say you’ve chosen to focus on decision making. Specifically, you want to improve the quality of decisions you make when faced with a crisis. You’ve completed your learning activities and you’re now ready to deal with a live crisis. You could probably simulate one but that might be expensive. So, a better alternative would be to identify the people or places where crises tend to arise and make sure you will be involved in managing one in the future. For example, if you work in communications, you could ask to be part of the response team for the next Public Relations crisis that develops. Be careful not to throw yourself into the fire with no hope of being saved – make sure you will be accompanied by a colleague who can take over if necessary. (They probably won’t let you do that anyway!)

6. Implement what you’ve learned to your own job. After doing so for a reasonable amount of time, assess your development effort by collecting feedback from colleagues or reviewing other available data. How is this data different from your original analysis of this skill? What would people say about your skill in this area now?

Now you have a step-by-step guide for how to implement a career development plan targeted to improve your skill in an area important to your career goal. Remember that it’s not easy, it takes a lot of work, and it’s nobody else’s responsibility to hold you accountable for following through on this plan. Do you agree? Share why or why not in the comments!

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