Four key elements for professional growth

In a prior post, I presented the concept of an employer having an on-site development coach, available to work with all employees. In this post, I’ll explore that concept and share my own experience.

During my HR career, I have had the opportunity to facilitate professional development discussions with more than 100 employees. The purpose of the discussion is for the employee to talk about their career goals, strengths and development areas and to develop an action plan to support the achievement of their goals. Included in the discussion are the employee’s manager and next level manager.

What I found over time is that employees aren’t always clear on their career goals which many times would lead them to delay the discussion or avoid doing it all together. Others worried that if they were too specific with their goal, they would get pigeonholed, and may be overlooked for other opportunities that may be of interest. As a result of this feedback, I shifted the discussions from focusing exclusively on goals, to focusing on feelings; what do you get excited to see on your calendar and what do you dread? When do you feel most accomplished and fulfilled at the end of the day and when do you feel most drained? What would you love the opportunity to do more of and what would you stop doing if you could, always encouraging employees to think beyond current state and instead think about possibilities for future state. I also ensure employees there are no right or wrong answers and no trick questions, encouraging them to be authentic and honest with their answers. The answers to these questions are often very telling to everyone in the room, including the employee! What sometimes starts out as a nerve-wracking, stress-inducing meeting with your boss, bosses-boss and HR, evolves into a discussion about finding your passion, with people who can help make it a reality.

What happens after the discussion is just as important, if not more so than what happens during. This is where, over time, I’ve seen four key elements emerge as must haves for those who have not only achieved their goals but continued to grow. When individuals possess all of these in the right balance, the sky is the limit!

Self-awareness: Conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires

I can get a sense of how a development discussion will unfold, based on what an employee has listed under ‘development opportunities.’ If ‘development opportunities’ has more things listed than strengths, then we may need to work on confidence. If the development box is blank, we may need to work on coach-ability. I would often utilize a Predictive Index (PI) assessment as a tool to raise awareness of an employee’s inherent strengths and behavioral drivers and incite points of discussion.  Taking an honest assessment of who we are, our feelings, motives and desires, and owning what we see, is a critical first step to moving forward.

Self-confidence: A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment

I’ve seen many strong, capable employees struggle with self-confidence. Sometimes confidence is low because of something that has changed on the job; a new manager, new responsibilities or new technology, and sometimes it’s because of personal baggage the employee brings with them from outside their job that hinders their confidence in their job.  Taking a step back from our current role and reflecting on the bigger picture of who we are and where we want to go, is a necessary step if we want to grow.  A 360-degree feedback assessment can be a great tool for taking stock of our abilities, qualities and judgement from those we trust.

Coach-ability: The willingness to be corrected and to act on that correction

Nobody is perfect which means we all have development opportunities. Acknowledging this very fact and being open to accepting and applying constructive feedback is a huge strength in and of itself.  It’s important to surround ourselves with people we respect and can learn from and to actively seek out feedback.  It’s also important to let those we trust, know what we are working on so they can serve as accountability partners and support our development.  

Gratitude: The quality of being thankful

Career development doesn’t always come in the form of a promotion, and if money is the primary motivator, an employee will likely never be happy. I encourage employees to take every opportunity that comes their way as an opportunity for growth; to embrace, learn and be thankful for every experience. Whether it be an informational meeting, shadowing in another team, special project work or training, go in with an open mind and make the most of it.   Up close, the job that looked interesting from afar may be boring and mundane, and the training that sounded like a waste of time, may teach a new skill or be the connection to a future mentor.  Often times the most valuable experiences are the ones we didn’t expect.

In my experience, only a small percentage of employees have all of these elements in balance during our first discussion.  It takes time, commitment, patience and personal drive to work through a plan and to reach our goals.  The ironic part for me has always been when an employee apologizes for taking my time to talk about their development.  When it comes to my own career development, these discussions are what I get excited to see on my calendar, give me a sense of personal fulfillment and what I’d love the opportunity to do more of.

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