2016 is off to a good start – you’re rejuvenated after the holidays, you’ve considered your past year and come up with goals you want to meet for the next one. But have you thought about the professional development that will help you focus and improve on the job you already have, move to the next level or get you the job you want? Improving yourself and your work beyond just numbers and task related goals is the key to creating forward momentum professionally – making your job more interesting and creating opportunities for the future.
Creating and implementing your own professional development plan will also help you stand out from the crowd. While the “obvious” results of a plan like this take time, the long-term benefit will be very clear. Being able to talk concretely about your plan and how it’s being implemented is just one of the many benefits to having a development plan in addition to goal mile markers for your upcoming work year.
The first step is developing a plan is to clarify your goals. There are myriad ways you can develop personally and professionally; in order to decide what action you’ll be taking, you need to know what your purpose is. It’s important to consider not only the growth you want to see for yourself but also for the job you’re doing and the industry you’re in. Linda, a non-profit lawyer who focuses on tenant’s rights was talking to me about her professional development plan. She’d been at the job for a few years and was feeling complacent. She thought that taking some classes and learning new skills would be her priority for 2016. On her list was taking a French class, something she’d always wanted to do. As we spoke it became clear speaking French, while it would satisfy a personal dream, would not impact her working life in any way. She had no French-speaking clients and likely never would. As a lawyer in Miami she did have many Spanish speaking clients, and while she spoke the basics of the language, she had to hire a translator when it came time to having more in-depth conversations and sometimes had to send work elsewhere. Taking a class, even a language class, was a good idea, but creating that learning within the context of her job helped her focus on what, exactly, that learning should be.
Once you’ve thought about your goals, remember that your professional development should be continuous and ongoing. To that end, create a timeline or outline of how you’ll be approaching the activities that you want to tackle. Do they build on each other? Are some of them discrete tasks? Having a plan is simply the beginning and it’s not written in stone. It may be that you need to tweak it as you learn more and discover new avenues to explore. But “winging it” is unlikely to give you a structure in which to succeed.
It could be that you’re thinking about vocational training or courses that lead to particular qualifications, but also consider informal training and development like mentorships. If you’re implementing a lot of your plan alone, try to work in some ways you can incorporate other people. Working with others has been shown to enhance learning and promote more lasting improvement. And whatever steps you take, document them. Having a record will remind you of how far you’ve come over time and will be great backup when you’re talking to your boss about a promotion or a hiring manager about a new job.
Your professional development is never done; there are always new skills to acquire and ways you can move your career forward. Creating a plan is simply the first step, but it’s critical to thriving for the rest of your career.