When was the last time you invested in your professional development? Last month? Last year? Last decade? The amount of time professionals spends in their learning decreases significantly after completing formal education. This lack of continuing education and skill development causes individuals to get stagnant in their careers and for entrepreneurs to fail to reach their potential as a leader in their businesses. Professional development helps individuals stay on trend with the changes in the industry providing a competitive advantage amongst peers. It also results in increased job performance and job satisfaction. Whether the end goal is moving up the proverbial corporate ladder or growing as a leader in business, it is essential to continually assess capabilities and invest in professional development.
Simply put, if you want your career to be worthwhile, you must make the effort to make your professional development a priority. By using this 4-step process, you will create your own professional learning and development strategy to elevate in your profession.
Step 1: Define the end goal
First, as always, define the end goal. Once you know where you want to go, it’s easier to plot the path to get there. Imagine getting in your car and taking a road trip. You don’t know where you want to go but you know you want to move from your current location. While you may eventually make it to your final destination, you’ve exhausted time, resources, and energy by failing to have a direct route. Without a defined end goal, your professional development roadmap and career moves will mirror that road trip.
Action: Define your professional goals. Where do you want to be in 2-3 years (short-term) and in 5- 7 years (long-term)? Here are questions to ask yourself:
What types of roles do you desire?
What is your ideal working environment?
What are your desired work outcomes?
How will your personal life values be supported in these roles?
Take time to visualize your future goals, be in the moment, and see yourself and those around you when you get to your desired position. Now, write it down.
Now that you've defined end, you can move to the next step of mapping out the plan to get you there.
Step 2: Develop your personal SWOT analysis
Second, develop your personal SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. In business, a SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool used to help organizations uncover their unique value proposition, identify areas for improvement, plan for external factors to yield a competitive advantage, and mitigate potential derails to success. A SWOT analysis provides a proactive assessment of where a company is currently and opportunities to address the future of the business. This same strategic planning tool used for businesses is a tool you can also leverage for your personal development.
By knowing your strengths, you focus on and capitalize on areas your naturally excel. In understanding your weaknesses, you identify gaps hindering your success. With a thorough assessment of your weaknesses, you determine areas you need to develop, areas you could potentially outsource or delegate, or areas you could collaborate with a partner who excels in your area of weakness. Your opportunities identify your competitive advantage over your competition. And finally, your threats are external factors that could potentially hinder your advancement. These threats need to be managed, mitigated, or planned for, to ensure that your goals remain achievable.
Action: Develop your personal SWOT.
Step 3: Solicit feedback from others
Next, solicit feedback from others. In order to maximize the effectiveness of your SWOT analysis it is imperative for you to get feedback from others. As much as you believe you are aware of your strengths and even your weaknesses, there are still areas of your attitude, behaviors, and skills that you are blind to seeing. These areas are called blind spots--go figure. The Johari Window model is a technique used to improve self-awareness. In the Johari Window, the blind spot is identified as characteristics unknown to you but known to others. By soliciting feedback from others you can validate what you've defined as your strengths and weaknesses and get support in uncovering your blind spots.
The best way to get feedback from others is to ASK. Create a list of mentors, managers, employees, clients, and even close family and friends. Then decide who you will ask to participate in your development. The key is to ask individuals you respect and who will provide honest, constructive, and actionable feedback. Your goal is to receive well-rounded data to incorporate into your SWOT analysis and assist in the prioritization of your development efforts.
Action: Identify at least five individuals you want to solicit feedback. Sample questions to ask:
Remember, the goal is not to debate or even question the feedback received. The goal is to simply get feedback as data to support your growth and say, “Thank you.”
Step 4: Create your Professional Development Plan
Finally, it’s time to create your professional development plan.
Now, it’s up to you to determine the activities, encompassing both formal training and on-the-job training, you want to complete and by the desired timeframe.
Action: Focus on 3 areas maximum each year to develop. Include a mix of industry specific knowledge as well as leadership development topics. Once you know where you're going, you can then you can map out the activities by prioritizing how you plan to get there over time over the next 5 years.
“If you wish to achieve worthwhile things in your personal and career life, you must become a worthwhile person in your own self-development.” – Brian Tracy, Canadian-American self-development author books including, Maximum Achievement: Strategies and Skills that Will Unlock Your Hidden Powers to Succeed.
You’ve done the work in putting together your plan, now it’s time to execute and measure your results! Have fun learning!