Recently, I was advising someone who was frustrated about the lack of investment her company was making in her development. She was unhappy at the limited training they offered and the lack of support they had given her in finding a mentor. Although I could empathise with her frustration about the feeling that her development had stalled, I could not support the assumption that it was her company that was responsible for providing her with the solution.
However, this is a pretty common perspective. Research by EdAssist found that more than 70% of employees believe it is their employer’s responsibility to provide training and identify career paths. Conversely, 85% of managers believe it is employees’ responsibility. This is a fundamental disconnect that ultimately affects the individual’s development.
Personal development is exactly that. It is unique to you and should be owned by you. It doesn’t mean your organisation can’t help, but it does mean that you should be in the driving seat of what that support looks like. The downsides of not taking ownership are significant.
First, your development may stall as you wait for solutions to come to you. Or, you may be given training that doesn’t fit your personal development needs. It may be a great programme that your organisation has bought into and it might help you generally, but it won’t necessarily help you to be your best. And being at your best is what it’s all about.
I’d advise you to be a bit more short-term about your development thinking, which I appreciate is very counter-intuitive advice.
This is the sweet spot where you’re delivering the most value for your organisation while at the same time feeling positive about the work you’re doing and the impact you’re having. Being at your best is foundational to a happy career.
Clearly, though, it’s not that easy or we’d all be perfectly happy and feeling like we’re in control of our development – and I’d hazard a guess that is not the case for several of you reading this.
There are a number of things that hold us back from taking the lead in our career development, such as having the insight about what development we really need, developing the confidence to ask for it and identifying creative solutions for training and development (and the funds to pay for them). I’ll tackle each of these in turn to give you some practical ideas to take forward.
What development do you need?
Given the pace of change we’re all working with, the knowledge we have today is not going to be sufficient for the jobs of our future. Planning for long-term career development is pretty challenging in this environment and to be successful, we’ll all need to develop our learning muscles and have an iterative career development plan. Because of this, I’d advise you to be a bit more short-term about your development thinking, which I appreciate is very counter-intuitive advice.
Think about your career in 12 months’ time. What would ‘happy’ look like for you? Now think about one specific development activity you could invest time and potentially money into that would bring that 12-month view into sharper focus. For example, a year from now, I’d like to be sharing my ideas on a bigger scale and to a bigger audience, so I need to hone my speaking and writing skills. That provides a very specific learning agenda for me to start with.
This is not to say that there isn’t a role for longer term thinking, but if you want to make progress and get some momentum into your development, start with what’s in sight.
Have confidence to ask for it
Most career development asks come with a request for time or money, many of which people can find daunting to make to their manager. I’ve been there too. The challenge here really lies in your own limiting beliefs about what you think is the worst thing that could happen.
This often sounds like ‘what if they say no?’ or ‘what if they think I’m too ambitious?’. Answer that ‘what if’ question for yourself. The reality is often nowhere near as dramatic as the scenario you have running through your mind. So what if that say no? At least they know you are passionate about investing in your career and it’s great if they think you are ambitious – you are and they should know about it.
Of course, there are ways you can best position your ask. It starts with being clear about the benefit to your career and your employer’s business. Also think through your manager’s practical objections, such as: how will you ensure this doesn’t impact your role, how can you bring your learning back into the business, how will this be funded?
Personal development is exactly that. It is unique to you and should be owned by you.
Brainstorm those objections and think through your responses. This will show that you have taken the time to think this through deeply and it’s not a request made on a whim.
It doesn’t always pay to put a manager under pressure to say yes there and then. Instead, give them time to reflect on your request and follow your meeting up with a summary of your ask and the rationale.
Creative solutions for development
Many people default to training programmes provided by professional or academic bodies. I’m all for these and have done several of them myself, but they are expensive and this can be a big hurdle to get over. There are, however, lots of solutions where you can find and build your own unique learning programme.
Think how you can combine peer-to-peer learning, mentoring, reading, online courses and in-person courses to curate your learning experience. Online sources like Udemy, FutureLearn, SkillShare and Coursera all have free or affordable courses. Sources like Meetup or Eventbrite are also useful for finding in-person training and events that could support your development.
Reading book summaries via Blinkist can also be an efficient way of gaining knowledge. Don’t forget as well that you can bring people together to create a learning experience. People could share perspectives on an article or a book that covers your development focus and thus provide a more collaborative learning environment.
When you take ownership of your career development, you can create much more meaningful learning opportunities in which you are more committed to investing your time. If you’re feeling like your development has stalled, I’d encourage you to think about these areas and start to lead the conversation – and creation of opportunities – to get what you need.
Helen Tupper is commercial marketing director at Microsoft and found of Amazing If.