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The Importance of Driving Your Own Career Development

📄 Contents

  1. Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Directed Development
  2. Assess Yourself
  3. Definitions of Behaviors
  4. Conclusion
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In this chapter from Driving Career Results, Linda Brenner explains why employees and job seekers must be in charge of their own learning and development and, ultimately, their career path.
This chapter is from the book

Not long ago, most employees could sit back and wait for their manager to “develop” them. The burden was on the shoulders of the leaders to identify the employee’s needs, create a plan for how to address those needs, and then provide the employee with ongoing feedback and coaching.

Those days are long gone. Managers these days are rarely expected to, or held accountable for, developing their people. In reality, it never worked well. Managers often didn’t have the tools, expertise, or information to do a good job developing their employees. Over time, it seems that organizations have simply given up. And it’s easy to see why. In the last 20 years, it’s become nearly impossible to expect such work from managers. After all, their span of control has grown to the point in which it’s unwieldy to do much more than share basic communication with their employees. In addition, changes in the workplace have reduced the opportunity for managers to observe their employees and provide timely, in-the-moment feedback. The advent of the virtual workplace, global teams, and nontraditional workers, such as contract employees, have added even more challenges to the old model. Lastly, managers still often lack the resources and knowledge to develop their employees in a targeted, meaningful, and successful way.

Even the expectation that managers will write annual performance reviews is waning. According to a 2015 PwC survey, an estimated 5% of organizations in 2015 are projected to join companies such as Accenture, Adobe, Microsoft, and Netflix in dropping their traditional, manager-led performance review approach.

If managers aren’t expected to complete annual performance reviews, what hope is there that they’ll create development plans for their people?

Very little.

Employees—and job seekers—must be in charge of their own learning and development and, ultimately, their career path. In truth, not just “employees” but any type of worker, including contractors, consultants, seasonals, temporary, part-time, virtual, interns, and such. Bottom line: We all own our own development.

As mentioned, managers often lack the information, resources, and know-how to drive their employees’ development. So if we take them out of the equation, what are employees left with? How can they drive their own learning, development, and improvement?

The purpose of this book is to put information into the hands of employees—and job seekers—so that they can be in the driver’s seat of their own career development. In that sense, consider this book a roadmap to help you drive between points along your career path.

This book is also written for HR leaders who seek to change the old, outdated, and nearly impossible model of manager-led development planning.

Whether you’re an employee seeking to advance your career, a job seeker, or an HR leader, this book is for you. It provides you with a step-by-step guide for taking control and achieving your personal career goals.

Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Directed Development

What is a development plan?

A development plan is a documented, personalized plan for guiding an individual’s career aspirations. It identifies the person’s strengths, along with goals for leveraging them, and areas for improvement, with plans for practicing and improving (see Figure 1.1). Development plans include manager input, concrete goals, timelines, roles, and desired outcomes. Inputs to development plans include feedback from performance reviews, assessments, informal feedback, input from clients, and performance-related data.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 What do we mean by “development planning”?

Who creates a development plan?

Traditionally, managers were responsible for building a development plan for their employees. Today, it’s the employee’s responsibility to create their own plan with input from their manager and other key leaders or co-workers. When employees create their own plan and take action to achieve goals within that plan, they can begin driving their own learning, development, and career management, rather than waiting for others to do it for them. In the end, no one cares about our career more than we do—so it’s up to us to get in the driver’s seat and get ourselves to the next destination.

What if I don’t have a job and can’t get input from a manager?

In such a case, you should identify friends, relatives, former co-workers, or classmates—people whom you trust and consider their input valuable—to provide insights, guidance, and feedback. This can be just as valuable as information provided in a work setting, particularly because our individual strengths and needs carry over in all aspects of our lives. In addition, sometimes our friends and family members—over co-workers—are more committed to helping us improve and will be more honest with their feedback!

What is the goal of a development plan?

The goal is to help an individual be more successful in the workplace. This is typically accomplished by identifying a person’s strengths and identifying concrete, time-bound ways that he can leverage those strengths, as well as areas of opportunities and specific ways to practice and improve on them. Ultimately, a plan should help an individual work more effectively with others and achieve work-related goals in a more efficient and effective way. As the workplace and our economy changes, our ability to adapt, learn on-the-fly, give and receive feedback, and demonstrate an interest in helping out in different parts of the business will be key to long-term success in any role or with any company.

What is included in a development plan?

The strengths to leverage and areas to improve that are at the core of a person’s development plan should come from feedback over time from others. This feedback could be in the form of performance reviews, work results, client or customer feedback, 360° survey feedback, or even input from friends, trusted advisors, or a spouse. The topics included in a development plan should focus on key themes related to a person’s strengths and needs. For example, David consistently misses deadlines and has for years. This is a problem that has affected him at school and then later at work. “Missing deadlines” should be reflected in his development plan as an area he should improve. David should talk to his manager and perhaps a trusted peer to determine why he misses deadlines. Is it an inability to prioritize, manage time, estimate how much time tasks will take, make decisions, and so on?

If I write my own plan, what is then the role of my manager in development planning?

An employee’s manager is critical (and always has been) to the employee’s success on the job. A manager should be viewed as a coach, and an employee should seek out her feedback regarding strengths, needs, ideas for improving, and career aspirations and opportunities. Managers should review key elements of a development plan, specific goals, learnings and outcomes, as well as provide feedback to the employee on a regular basis. Employees can help ensure this happens by scheduling regular time on a manager’s calendar to review progress, activities, learnings, and outcomes. Also, seeking a manager’s input on developmental goals and career objectives should be a key priority for employees in this process.

What if there is no money available for training classes or resources to help me develop?

This book proves to you that, often, the best development you can receive is free. Working with trusted peers, influential leaders, skilled co-workers, or smart friends to complete specific tasks that help you practice and improve costs nothing. Completing online courses, reading academic articles or blogs, and watching videos such as “Ted Talks” or free training videos from reputable sources can all be excellent ways to learn and improve skills.

How often should a development plan be written?

It used to be a common (and poor) practice that a development plan was written once a year and then, at the time of the performance appraisal, was reviewed by the manager and the employee. This, however, is an ineffective practice. In reality, most people need to work on certain behaviors that must be practiced and improved over time. For example, Nicole works in Operations and often has to collaborate with her peers in Finance, Human Resources, and Marketing. However, she struggles to influence these peers, which hampers her ability to get work completed in a timely way. For Nicole to improve her influencing skills, she will have to practice and improve over time—perhaps for years—in areas such as verbal and nonverbal communication, listening, and identifying mutually beneficial goals. This isn’t something she can improve by simply taking a class or practicing once or twice.

What’s the best way to improve in a particular area?

The concept of “70-20-10” is a long-standing belief that the way people learn new skills is by 70% doing (or on-the-job training), 20% from other people, and 10% from formal classroom-based or book learning (see Figure 1.2). Others have characterized 70-20-10 as experiential, social, and formal. In any event, hands-on training is a great way for adults to learn, but sometimes it’s not easy to figure out practical, hands-on activities that can help us learn. Therefore, this book is chock-full of such ideas for leveraging strengths and improving opportunity areas. Ultimately, practice and feedback and then more practice, repetitively, can drive improvement.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 A successfully proven approach: 70-20-10

How should development plans be evaluated?

A plan of any kind should contain measurable goals. Most often in a development plan, goals are time-bound. For example, Flora was working to improve her interviewing skills. One of her goals included observing an interview conducted by a peer considered to be an excellent interviewer and debriefing how he prepared for and conducted the interview. Flora committed to completing this within 60 days and discussing her learnings with her manager. In this case, it’s easy to determine whether Flora completed her goal in a timely way. Other measures can be used, too. For instance, Flora could track how many candidates that she recommended for hire were actually hired, and then, of those, how many performed well on the job.

Can anyone help me with my development plan?

Certainly. Collaborating with others is a great way to drive learning and development. Consider those within your organization (or your circle of friends and acquaintances) who can help you learn and develop (see Figure 1.3). Use them for advice and to give you feedback, review your work, observe you give a presentation, and more. Of course, it’s recommended that you collaborate with people who are skilled in areas that are important to your career growth. This book contains many ways that you can collaborate with others during the course of your development.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 What are the key influences on development?

Should I try to improve my “functional” skills or “soft” skills?

Sometimes, individuals need to improve functional skills to be more successful in a particular role or to achieve a wanted promotion. In this case, functional skills refers to essential skills that are critical to completing the technical aspect of a job. For example, this might mean programming for someone working in IT, market research for someone working in Marketing, change management for a person working in Human Resources, and so on. It could also refer to a specific software program such as Microsoft Excel. In any case, learning a functional skill might be the focus of a development plan. However, more often, individuals struggle in a role, not because of their lack of a functional skill set, but because of soft skills that they lack or struggle to master. Soft skills are personality traits associated with communication, collaboration, leading people, reading situations, managing emotions, and such. An inability to demonstrate these skills is the most common reason why people struggle in roles—particularly as they are promoted to positions with greater responsibilities. For this reason, development plans often focus on soft skills. These are also the types of skills that can take a long time (in some cases years) for individuals to master or even simply improve.

If I complete a development plan, will I get promoted?

Although there isn’t a clear or guaranteed link between taking action on a personal development plan and receiving a promotion, the two are closely related. Let’s first talk about why these two issues, development and promotions, are not linked. First, most companies have more people who want to be promoted than opportunities for promotions. As you move up in the organization, fewer roles exist and there is more competition for them. Second, just because an individual seeks a promotion, or a different role of any kind, it doesn’t mean that he deserves it, is the best person for it, or is the most qualified person to be appointed to the position. Simply wanting another job, and even taking steps to improve, doesn’t guarantee that the move will happen. However, often employees don’t have the chance to leverage all their strengths on the job and therefore fail to demonstrate critical reasons why they should be considered for other opportunities. However, we all have areas that we can improve, and sometimes these get in the way of succeeding in our current roles.

The intent of this book is to help employees improve their performance in their current role so that they can demonstrate their readiness for the next level role or additional responsibility (see Figure 1.4). It is also a resource for those who are seeking a job, such as a college student or an individual out of work, by helping them leverage their strengths and improve their areas of needs in a variety of nonwork settings.

Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4 Understanding yourself

What’s the difference between a development plan and a performance review?

The focus of a development plan should be behaviors related to our strengths and needs, which may not change often. A performance review relates to specific goals relative to a particular job. For instance, if Anika needs to improve her delegating skills, she will likely be working on that over time, regardless of her specific role. However, her performance review goals will change regularly, perhaps annually and certainly if she were to change jobs.

If a development plan doesn’t result in a promotion, then what’s the point?

The point is, in order to succeed, we must adapt. Adaptation comes from learning, evolving, growing, and changing our behaviors. The purpose of this book is to help you take control of what you learn and how you learn it, instead of putting your career destiny entirely into the hands of others. Although learning and improving may not result in an immediate and concrete result (you are awarded with a promotion, for example), it provides you with opportunities to interact with others, try new approaches, have meaningful discussions with people from whom you can learn, and challenge yourself to adapt and grow.

What’s the role of my HR partner in my development?

You should consider your HR partner a key stakeholder in your development. Your HR partner can be a source of feedback, development suggestions, training resources, learning tools, and connections to mentors and informal coaches. She can also help guide you regarding what you should be working on, how to learn about other roles within the organization, and how to navigate different situations and personalities. Like many in your circle of personal and professional acquaintances, your HR partner can help you build a learning and development plan as well as work toward your career goals.

What’s the best way to build an Individual Development Plan?

Your company may have a template for an Individual Development Plan (IDP) or access to a technology that powers development planning. For instance, enterprise-wide human capital technology systems such as Workday, Oracle, and Taleo have “Development Planning” modules containing web-based forms for building your plan. Often, organizations have Learning Management Systems with e-learning modules and other resources for training and development planning. If you don’t have access to such tools or technology, you can find a template within this book (and in Chapter 8, specifically) that you can reference. In addition, you can search online for development plan templates and find a variety in different formats, such as MS Word or Excel.

How will I know that I’ve improved?

It depends on what kinds of skills you want to improve. For example, if you want to learn a software package, such as Access or Excel, it is relatively easy to determine if you’ve mastered the aspects of the program. You can even complete an online skills assessment to objectively assess, and perhaps share with your manager, the outcomes of your efforts and learning. However, if you’re working on a soft skill such as business writing, you will need to get others to comment on the extent to which you’ve improved. If you’re working on a behavior such as decision making or prioritization, a great way to assess the degree to which you’ve learned and improved is through the use of an assessment tool such as 360° Feedback. With 360° Feedback, others complete anonymous surveys about your behavior. It’s called “360°” because feedback is typically gathered from a variety of sources, including direct reports, peers, senior leaders, and others. When completed at different points over time, it provides a more quantitative way to track progress from how others observe you. If a 360° Feedback program isn’t available to you, relying on simply asking others for their feedback on how you’re improving can be effective.

If I’m a people leader, what can I do to encourage my employees to develop their own plan?

Share this book with them! Talk to them about the importance of driving their own development and of the value of determining what strengths they most need to leverage and what areas they most need to develop (see Figure 1.5). Ask them to share their thoughts with you and talk about how they identified these developmental goals. Talk to them about how to build a plan and give them concrete action steps. Review their plan with them and help to ensure it’s realistic and meaningful. Ask them to set up 15-minute meetings monthly to review their progress, actions, and outcomes. Last, provide regular feedback about how they’re performing and improving. Along the way, recognize progress and great performance. Share successes and encourage the leveraging of strengths among the team.

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5 Reasons development planning is critical

How This Book Is Organized

This book is intended for use by anyone who seeks to improve their skills in the workplace. It can help you identify—through a self-assessment as well as self-reflection questions about feedback you’ve received in the past—your greatest strengths and needs. It can then act as a resource guide to enable you to quickly zero in on specific ways you can leverage your strengths and ideas for driving specific areas of improvement. It presents dozens of practical, bite-sized, free development suggestions for you to consider and add to a development plan. The suggestions in this book should not be seen as an all-inclusive list; they should inspire you to create your own development activities that reflect your work (or school), interests, and learning preferences.

Here’s how we recommend you proceed. Thanks for taking time to invest in yourself!

  1. Complete your self-assessment.
  2. Consider other feedback you’ve received in the past.
  3. Identify one or two greatest strengths.
  4. Use the resource guide to identify specific ways to leverage your strengths.
  5. Identify one or two greatest opportunities for improvement.
  6. Use the resource guide to identify specific ways to improve your areas of opportunity.
  7. Build a plan by documenting these action steps, add dates for completion, and if appropriate, others with whom you can collaborate.
  8. If appropriate, review your plan with your manager.
  9. Set up regular, quick updates with your manager or a trusted advisor on the calendar to review your plan, activities completed, lessons learned, and progress made.
  10. Continue to work your plan by noting which activities you’ve completed, adding more, expanding into other areas of strength and need, and collaborating with others over time.
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