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Are You Taking Advantage of All Professional Development Opportunities Your Company Offers? (part 1 of 2)

Categories: Professional Development

professional_development_plantThis blog is the first of a two-part series written by guest blogger Sean Conrad.

While most of us want to develop and progress in our careers and know that it’s ultimately our own responsibility to take charge of our own development, few of us take advantage of all the opportunities our employers offer us.

Even if your company doesn’t offer to send you to conferences, to training programs or back to school, there may be many development tools available to you. Here are four specific areas that you may have overlooked or not considered to reap development opportunities in your current position.

1. Multi-rater Feedback

Whether formal or informal, feedback from others is your most valuable tool for assessing and improving your performance in your current position and your potential for the future. Feedback helps you see how others see you and identify blind spots, strengths and areas for development that you might not readily see yourself.

Your company may offer a formal multi-rater feedback survey tool ― often called 360 review ― that you can use to gather anonymous feedback from those who see your work from various angles. Choose superiors, peers, subordinates, teammates, customers and others who have the opportunity to see you at work. Don’t just include your fans ― you need a well-rounded, realistic view.

If your company doesn’t have a formal tool for gathering feedback, don’t let this stop you. Ask those who see you at work for specific feedback on your performance and listen carefully to what is said. Don’t let feedback providers get off the hook by making generic statements like, “You’re doing fine.”

Ask clarifying questions to make sure the information you get is specific and actionable. Listen carefully and quietly, and avoid the temptation to react defensively, even if you don’t like what you're hearing. Make notes and thank the provider whether or not you agree with what was said.

You can also seek an external coach for one-on-one sessions – well worth the out-of-pocket investment, if your company isn’t willing to defray the cost. BRODY offers such executive coaching services, which often includes multi-rater feedback and the use of the DISC Behavioral Styles assessment.

2. Competency Models / Career Paths / Job Descriptions

Your company may have developed a list of competencies (such as knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, character traits) that it deems are important in achieving success in the organization as a whole or for a specific job or job group. These can help you identify your current strengths and the gaps you'll need to fill to reach the next level.

Other sources of similar information are job descriptions or job requisitions for roles you aspire to. You don’t need to wait until jobs are posted to see the descriptions ― often your Human Resources Department will have a library of job descriptions as well as organization charts that you can access. Ask for any information they may have about various career paths within the company. This will help you chart your own career path.

Keep in mind that your next best move might be a lateral one to broaden your experience, and that you may also have to seek positions at other companies to fulfill your career goals.

3. Self-appraisal / Performance Journal

Although this is not strictly a company tool, an essential tool in managing your career is spending time on a regular basis assessing where you are, where you want to go and how to span the distance between.

Conducting your own self-appraisal offers the opportunity for reflection, self-knowledge and self-assessment that supports growth and change. Your company may have a formal program, guidance or suggestions for conducting a self-appraisal. Many require it as part of the performance review process.

Begin by keeping a performance journal ― a place to gather information about how well you're doing in your day-to-day work, as well as on any special projects you may be working on. Excelling in your current position is a prerequisite for advancement, so begin by focusing there.

When you receive formal or informal feedback, such as e-mails expressing appreciation for your work, keep them in your performance journal along with reports and other examples of your work. Spend a few minutes on a regular basis jotting down notes about what's going well, and what could be done better in your various responsibilities. Assess progress against any goals you've set or projects in process.

Then, at least once a year (more often is better!), schedule a “meeting with yourself” to put it all together and take a clear-eyed and realistic look at how you're doing, where you can improve and where you might need help. Write out a report that you can submit to your manager before he or she begins to assess your performance in preparation for your performance review.

4. Performance Reviews

Yes, you can even use the dreaded performance review to help in developing your career, even if your manager doesn’t do it particularly well.

Performance reviews offer an opportunity for getting feedback, setting performance and development goals, and getting career advice from the one who should know you best.

Help your manager help you by asking to participate in setting performance goals that support departmental and organizational goals and initiatives. Ask for regular feedback throughout the year and meet regularly to discuss your progress on goals. Submit a copy of your self-appraisal just before your manager will be assessing your performance for your review.

Go into your review with an open mind and seek clarity and actionable feedback. Use your written goals, performance journal and self-appraisal as tools to help keep the discussion objective and specific.

Even a poor performance review can be a catalyst for change that you'll ultimately look back on as helpful in your career. The Wall Street Journal How-To Guide recommends that in such a case you keep calm, take notes and give yourself a few days to process what you've heard before developing an action plan.

You may be able to discuss your career goals and development plans during your performance review, or you may need to ask for a separate meeting. Remember that your manager will expect a strong performance in your current position before you can be considered for advancement. Your manager can be a useful resource in helping you identify the knowledge, skills and abilities you'll need for the next step along your career path -- as well as the learning resources and assignments that will help you develop them.

Sean Conrad is a product analyst and former training specialist at Halogen Software. He is a frequent writer and speaker about employee development and talent management best practices and a regular contributor to Halogen's Exploring talent management blog.

For more information on BRODY’s executive coaching options (including the use of multi-rater feedback and DISC assessments), contact us today.

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