The days of putting the responsibility of your development in your employer’s hands are over. We are moving into a world where many will partake of the new “gig economy”, where artificial intelligence will render some of our jobs historical relics, and where jobs will be more like “tours of duty” and short project-based partnerships (as described in The Alliance). Therefore, all employees must become stewards of their own “start-ups” (i.e. careers) and cultivators of their “product” (i.e. their skillset and value-proposition to an employer) and personal brand.
Taking ownership of your own development is the first step. Developing yourself is second and can take many forms, and I suggest being proactive and strategic but including a development-lens to almost any activity in which you become involved.
Don’t limit yourself to training workshops or online courses
It is estimated that 70 percent of all development takes place via on-the-job experiences rather than formal learning events. The “70-20- 10 rule,” as this idea has become known, says that development happens in three ways: 70 percent on-the-job experience, 20 percent through relationships and feedback, and 10 percent from formal training opportunities.
All over the world, professionals like you are faced with a challenging task of growing and developing within limited budgets and timelines and ever-increasing pressures to perform more with less. Modern workers need alternatives and complements to the usual approach because it is not enough.
Many of us are so overwhelmed with a growing workload that we simply don’t have the time or the requisite knowledge to come up with creative ideas for developing skills within the parameters that are presented to us. In my book, Employee Development on a Shoestring, I’ve compiled eleven different outside-the-classroom development ideas, described possible obstacles to each method along with ways to overcome them, as well as designed tools and supports to help you quickly ensure that your employee development methods are successful and sustainable.
Always Match the Development Method to Your Individual Readiness and Needs
Before beginning to choose the best development method for you, you must figure out your readiness, needs, and goals. Otherwise, you’ll be putting the cart before the proverbial horse and you will end up with a development approach that may be ill-suited for you or unsustainable given your situational constraints.
1. Assess change-readiness. To set the most appropriate and tailored goals to your unique developmental needs, you must first assess what your level of readiness for change is. Are you at the discovery stage (awareness, acceptance, and grasping the impact of a skill/knowledge gap); the development stage (desire to improve, understanding and articulating the development goal, capacity to work on self-improvement, and engaging in learning activities); or the demonstration stage (practicing the new competency, seeking and accepting feedback and help, and demonstrating competence)?
This readiness assessment step is important because if you need to change a behavior but do not yet understand the impact of your actions on others, you will not be able to change this behavior. If this is the case, you need to figure out the ‘why’ before you can launch into a development method focused on the ‘what’ or ‘how’.
Do you need to gain more knowledge and information, more opportunities to practice applying the knowledge or skills, or more opportunities to apply the knowledge and skills effectively on the job?
2. Identify the learning needs. Once you identify your personal development needs, another important step is to identify the type of learning outcome you need to accomplish. Some questions that can help get you started with identifying your needs:
- What should change for you to become more successful?
- Is there a knowledge gap (you don’t know something)?
- Is there a skill gap (you can’t do something)?
- Is there an attitude gap (you don’t agree with something)
- Is there a personal trait gap (you can’t be something)?
The degree of difficulty for the development goal will increase with each type of learning on this spectrum.
3. Develop learning goals. Once you assess readiness and needs, you must develop learning goals and identify the best-fit development methods that can get you from where you are now to where you need (or want) to be with your skills, knowledge, and/or competencies. Some competencies can be best developed in a classroom environment, or using self-directed learning methods such as reading, watching video tutorials, or listening to recorded podcasts. Other competencies may be best developed through other, non-training development methods like teaching others, mentoring, social learning, volunteering, serving on special project teams, or by going on a sabbatical.
There are many different ways to learn, and the best way will depend on your learning needs, the resources and time available, and your learning style.
3 Examples of out-of-the-box learning and development approaches
Example 1: Developing software skills.
Let’s say that Isabella is a software programmer who has completed several software certifications and is quite competent with software development in the language that she needs to use in her current role. However, she sees that her organization is about to adopt a new software or that there is some new language on the market that is not yet adopted by her company. I would suggest she invest in learning that language to set herself apart from her peers and to help her become more highly sought-after.
But how she learns that particular software could take multiple forms depending on how much time she can invest, how she learns best, and what she can find and afford. Perhaps there is an online certification course? Maybe there are free courses such as MOOCs or Coursera or even YouTube tutorials? That would be a great place to try.
In addition or instead, Isabella could look for online forums that discuss that language and get involved in reading and participating in the discussions and Q+As there. She’ll gain more than just valuable insights – she’ll also develop a network of people who can mentor her and help her more directly and quickly.
Finally, a great way for a software developer to learn and get ahead is to actually dive in. How could Isabella dip her toes into this new language and begin building experience through practice? There are probably some open source opportunities out there and it’s a great way to practice where her learning and mistakes have no direct negative effect on her current job but the resulting improvements can directly be conveyed back to her job!
Example 2: Developing leadership skills.
Employees that want to grow their leadership and people-management skills could use volunteering as a development method. You could find an organization that allows you to build your leadership and management skills hands-on in some kind of volunteer leadership capacity.
Lots of community-based non-profit organizations are run on volunteer labor and are therefore much less picky about how much previous leadership experience and qualifications you bring to the role – they will gladly accept you into these unpaid roles based on your willingness to give your energy and time (which, of course, you can scale to your availability much more than in paid jobs).
So, by leading in a volunteer capacity, you can build leadership skills hands on (plus many other skills such as communication, organization, project management, and so on), get just-in-time feedback and support, and grow! These skills can then be brought back to your day job.
Example 3: “Soft” skills.
Soft skills like communication, emotional intelligence, and influence skills are critical to every job and every relationship. Under-developed ‘people skills’ are usually what trips people up in their roles and career growth, regardless of their industry or position.
To develop these kinds of skills, you could become a mentor or be mentored (with someone inside or outside your own organization). You could also take on a leadership role on a special team or project and practice these skills and seek feedback there.
Sometimes it can be as simple as developing a specific development goal with regard to these people skills and tracking it. For example, research shows that developing healthier workplace relationships involves having more positive to negative interactions. So to build these relationship or “soft” skills, you could set a goal like “I will make more positive than negative comments in my overall interactions with important stakeholders.” Then, journal about your progress so you can track it.
The opportunities for development are endless when you own your development and think outside the classroom
Every person no matter how new or seasoned should seek to keep developing him- or herself. Doing so will help you get more fulfillment from your current role, help future-proof your career, and make you an indispensable employee. Once you recognize that goal-driven, outcome-focused, and non-training development is limitless and within reach, you can truly become the steward of your career instead of the ward of your employer.
Halelly Azulay is a facilitator, speaker, and leadership development strategist and an expert in communication skills and emotional intelligence. She is the Founder & CEO of TalentGrow LLC, where she develops leaders and teams, especially for enterprises experiencing explosive growth or expansion, and the author of two books including Employee Development on a Shoestring. Her leadership podcast, blog, and videos can be found at talentgrow.com.
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