Spring ushers in some wonderful changes. More hours of daylight, flowers …professional development planning.
Most organizations collect this information early on in the calendar year, to match their budgeting cycle. You may have recently been asked what kind of professional development you’d like over the next year, staring at a blinking cursor trying to think about what you wanted to put into your development plan. This is a critical career step.
If you’re having difficulty figuring out what you want to do for development you are in good company, most professionals aren’t intentional about planning for their career wellbeing and success. Aside from planning often being attached to performance management (a mildly to wildly stressful event), there is a deadline to submit development planning which assumes you immediately know what you need. At some points in your career you do, and at other points its more difficult.
There is good and bad news here. Learning and development as a field has come a long way since you first came into the workforce (good), but most organizations haven’t kept pace (bad) - organizations invest in a variety of development offerings and hope for the best; this is so widespread it has a nickname, it’s called “spray and pray”. So, there is often little thought or intentional business planning behind professional development investments at most organizations, which translates into a lack of meaningful guidance for you …so if you want to complete that development plan form you need know what you want to develop, with or without your employers’ help.
Adding to this, a modern approach to development for mid-career professionals requires more specialization to expressly meet both your development needs and your employer’s business needs (value-add).
Value-add development looks like this:
Where can you find a development program that can do all that?
I’ll tell you in a minute, but first if you’re struggling to identify career development activities it is likely because you care a lot about your organization and you want development to be a good investment for both of you; while going off for a three-day learning event is exciting, rarely do you come back to the office and leverage what you learned (zero to minimal value-add), which can feel unethical and doesn’t align with your values (it’s not about your ability to learn, but about the opportunities to apply what you've learned at work - this is the impact of “spray and pray” development). So, you may have reduced what you ask for in your development plan because you know it’s not a great investment for your organization. But what about your career?
Did you know that professional development budgets are often the most underutilized budgets in organizations (even though training investment has increased significantly in organizations year-over-year since the early 2000’s in North America)? The unspent dollars get used as a slush fund for unexpected budget over-runs, or works on a “use it or lose it” approach where it’s budgeted by quarter and any unused funds at the end of the quarter go back into the pot to be consumed elsewhere.
Critical skills and mandatory training aside, the longer in the year you wait to ask for professional development, the less chance there will be money (or the will) to approve it, particularly in for-profit organizations.
I promised to tell you what type of development program can meet both your career needs AND provide instant benefit to your employers (value-add). Here it is: it’s coaching. For the same price as that 3-day off-site learning event, coaching gives you everything you need without the ethical hangover. And, since coaching is exclusively focused on your developmental objectives, it builds your skill while also providing clear value-add for your employers – that’s right, employers, plural. What you develop doesn’t just benefit your employer today, but every employer you have in the future as well.
So, here is the strategic step you take: ask for coaching on that development planning form.
What is the worst that could happen? They politely say “no”?
Don’t leave it up to your employer to be the deciding factor in investing …in yourself. It’s your career, and if your employer won’t (or can’t) invest in you at the level your career needs today, don’t wait.
Professionals who invest in themselves through developmental coaching are more likely to be considered for:
To give you an example, coaching is what moved many of my clients from five figures to six in their careers (while doing work they love). Professionals who invest in career coaching also have more employment options over their career-span, meaning their income has more “future-proofing”.
You are the best investment you will ever make, take this critical step.