As part of our recent careers campaign we chatted to Meg Burton, an executive coach and leadership facilitator, about the importance of continued professional development and why it’s not always necessary to move on to move up.
Here’s what we learned.
Many of us assume we have to change companies to get ahead. Often however that’s not the case at all. Taking the initiative to develop in our existing roles, learning new skills by taking on new responsibilities, and expanding our skill set all present very real opportunities to move ahead without moving on. Continued professional development is the key - but how is it achieved?
Learning doesn’t stop when we leave the education system. We may not be aware of it but we’re learning all the time. The term lifelong learning is something more and more of us are embracing. Whether it’s for personal or professional gain, learning is a hugely important aspect of our lives.
Here’s another myth: learning only takes place in a formal setting. The truth is that traditional learning techniques make up a very small proportion of our overall learning. The vast majority actually comes from experience - as we see from the 70:20:10 approach.
10% formal learning: courses, workshops, books, conferences
20% informal learning: working with others, coaching, mentoring, observing, feedback and self-assessments
70% on the job experience: learning from real-life situations, taking part in a project or group, exposure to new and/or difficult situations
When does learning take place?
So now we know where learning takes place, the next task is to find out when.
Learning takes place all the time, however significant learning takes place every time we experience change - whether big or small. These changes/experiences push us out of our comfort zones into the ‘stretch’ category.
It’s here when most of our learning takes place. The more we push outside of our comfort zones, the wider it becomes. This helps increase our confidence to learn and do more. But we need to be careful. We don’t want to be pushed into the ‘panic’ zone where we can feel completely lost. And while people do get through this panic and often succeed, it doesn’t make learning an enjoyable experience.
Boosting your mental wellbeing
According to the NHS, continuing to learn throughout life can help improve and maintain mental wellbeing. Learning can boost self-confidence and self-esteem, help build a sense of purpose, and help us connect with others.
Helping towards achieving your career and personal goals
'Where do you want to be in five years?' It’s a common question. Some of us have a very clear answer. Many don’t. When considering your continued professional development we don’t always have to think a long way into the future. If you’re not sure where you want to be in five years, why not start by asking where do you want to be in six months or a year? Then review regularly.
Whatever your future-gazing timescale, the first step is to assess where you are in your career now. Which one of the three career stages below are you currently in - and it’s natural to move in and out of these numerous times during your working life?
By assessing where you are and where you want to be, you can begin to plan the steps required to achieve your goal - considering the skills and knowledge that will be needed.
With the end result in mind you can plan your development and set regular review slots to ensure you’re meeting your milestones. If you’re in a company with a regular review programme then take advantage of this process and use it as a chance to update your development log. If not, set aside some time every six months to review your goals and record your achievements.
'A plan that is not written down is like a dream that ends when you wake up' Anon
It’s good practice to write down your goals. By doing this you’re less likely to forget them (or at least the specifics of your goals) and are more likely to work hard to achieve them.
It’s easy to forget the 70:20:10 rule when considering our own development - and we therefore assume that our companies have failed to provide enough learning opportunities. But as we’ve seen, learning opportunities are available all the time, through our day-to-day experiences. It’s up to individuals to recognise and take advantage of them. Remembering this will help you to identify your learning opportunities and achievements.
Capturing and recording this information regularly makes it much easier to identify any opportunities that can help you to achieve your goals. This learning and achievement record is particularly useful when you’re preparing for a promotion or a move – be that internal or external. Fail to record these opportunities and outcomes, and you may forget the great strides you have taken. You’ll certainly have a much bigger task on your hands when preparing for your move if you don’t.
Even if you have no intention of moving from your current role it’s still a good idea to keep track of your achievements for when that next opportunity does arise. This also helps to ensure that you’re up-to-date with current trends, and that your employability remains high.
'Every little choice you make is magic'
Every individual is responsible for his or her own learning. With the right support and resources it can be hugely effective. And while learning doesn’t stop at qualifications many of us get enough satisfaction from our current roles so the only learning we need is to keep our skills up-to-date. Similarly, while passing professional exams is a huge achievement, if our sights are set on progression we’ll need other skills alongside our technical knowledge - such as leadership, business and people skills.
Often people wait for their company to determine a career path for them. In reality however it’s up to the individual to set a direction, and to identify the learning opportunities that are right for them. If those opportunities don’t seem to exist ask or find another mentor in the business that can help. It works the other way too. If you’re interested in a leadership position why not offer to mentor a colleague to gain some experience of people management?
'Successful people make time'
There are many reasons for not focusing on our professional development. These typically include:
Continued development shouldn’t be a long and arduous process. It’s about taking some time to consciously think about where you are, where you want to be, and then actively seeking opportunities to help you to get there.
Continued professional development is essentially about reflecting back on what you have done, being aware of what you’re doing now, and planning for the future. Both personal and professional circumstances change continuously and so your priorities and values may change also. This may postpone certain plans, or even change your path altogether. But reviewing your goals regularly, and evolving them in line with your current situation, ensures you’ll remain on track.
Even if you have a plan, be prepared to seize opportunities as they present themselves - even if they’re not in line with current plans. Sometimes the unexpected can present an exciting change of course.