December 15, 2016
Feed Your Career: Professional Development Plans Made Easy

Tis the season for annual holiday parties, jamming to meet goals and of course the often-dreaded performance evaluation.  While managers might cringe at the daunting amount of work it takes to prepare a strong review, employees receiving them often don’t look forward to them either.  Why, you might ask?  Because for many strong performers, they don’t care about what they have done in the past; they want to focus on outlining how to optimize their opportunities in the future. 

Almost everyone aspires to grow and learn in their careers.  However, it’s one thing to want’s quite another to know exactly how to achieve it.  Whether you are an employee looking for guidance on how to craft your own plan or a manager taking the lead on helping your people, read on to learn how to create a roadmap for success. 

I Have a Dream

To create a plan that’s ultimately useful, it’s imperative to outline the concrete goals that you are working towards.  As we know, many successful people haven’t followed a prescribed, linear formula for success.  Sometimes climbing the career ladder feels more like scaling a career lattice; you may have an idea of where you ultimately want to go, but there a variety of different journeys people can take to get there. Determine your goals, and call them out to the extent that it’s clear to you – and everyone else playing a role in your career – what you seek to achieve.  

Do Some Coloring

Once you have the basic vision and goals established, spend some time coloring in the details.  If a new business development rep aspires to one day lead a sales organization, begin to craft the experiences and milestones they will need to work towards that achievement.  Balance the aspiration with some reality.  When people set huge goals, breaking them off in incremental pieces makes it far less daunting, as well as far more achievable.  Think of it like weight loss.  If someone wants to lose 50 pounds, it’s hard to know where to start.  If you fill in the details, like “I am going to commit to working out 3 days a week and lose 5 pounds by the end of the month” you can build from there.   

Keep it lean, and don’t try to boil the ocean.   Rather, pick one or two big things you want to achieve over the course of the next year.  As you make progress on the bite-size goals, look to map them back to your overall plan.  It’s not the complexity that matters; it’s the combination of clarity and connection back to the overall vision that is most important. 

Substance Over Form

Many people get hung up on wanting a perfect template to guide their plans. Candidly, it’s not the form that’s the driver here; it’s the substance that populates it along with the subsequent measurement of the goals that is far more critical. Capture the vision, goals, and milestones along the way, and build in reasonable and consistent checkpoints to assess progress. You may decide to tweak your plan along the way to ensure your goals and actions remain in alignment.  Life changes; so do goals.  

Dig Deep, Commit and Take Action

Professional development plans are great if you work them. Once you have outlined your plan, commit to taking quick steps to make some initial progress. It’s far easier to stay committed and ultimately reach your goals if you see even small forward movement right away.  

Think Big

Remember that development plans don’t need to require a big budget. While many believe conferences and workshops are a great investment in learning, the commitment to reading books, articles, etc. as a form of learning is relatively free. Networking and finding mentors is as well.  This doesn’t also require established formally assigned relationships; just connecting and learning with people who have achieved where you want to go can offer new perspective and guidance. Finding meet ups and other venues with like-minded people is another way to learn and explore. And finally, be flexible. Opportunities to grow and enhance your career don’t always land in your backyard. Stay open minded to shifting teams or departments, or even move to a different office - you just might expand your options and accelerate your pace of success. 

At the end of the day, a professional development plan isn’t a promise.  It’s a declaration of your intent to grow and learn, and should serve as a roadmap enabling you to accomplish your goals.  It’s not just about where you want to go; how you get there is just as important. 

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.