Whoever you are and whatever your field, there’s one big thing you can do for yourself that will open up opportunities for you and help you make concrete career progress: create your own development plan, if you don’t have one already.
I coach-up and-comers, and something I hear quite frequently is, “My boss won’t tell me what I need to do to get to the next level” and “I don’t have a development plan for the year.”
This is more frequent than you might realize. Senior managers have less and less time to develop their people, and may not be skilled in the art of development in any event (particularly if they were formerly a technical expert!).
What to do? Create your own plan, get input and confirmation from the boss that it aligns with what they need, and get to it!
What Should It Include?
For one, keep your plan to one page. If you can’t describe your year in one page, you may need to really take a hard look at how much is on your plate and how feasible it is for one person to have that much to achieve.
Get Clear on Your Present Role
Challenge yourself to describe your role in one sentence. I know we’re all complicated, complex creatures, but if you can’t describe what you do clearly, you don’t understand what role you play in your organization. And that isn’t helpful to you or the organization. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
Then, identify your three minimum responsibilities. What are the baseline responsibilities for your position or role? Why note this? You need to make sure you’re always meeting these to be able to move anywhere.
It’s in your best self-interest to get clear on these two things — it will help you explain to others (if you can’t already) what you currently offer, and why you can take on more in the future.
Identify What’s Ahead
The next step is to identify your big goals for the year and their desired outcomes. It’s not a bad idea to also note why these are important for the department or the company (or the world!). It turns out that focusing on the impact our actions have helps our motivation and performance and gives us a higher level of engagement (crucial when we’re going through a tough time in meeting a goal).
How do you come up with these goals? You probably have a pretty clear idea of what’s needed in the year ahead (and to get ahead), but do some brainstorming about what projects and needs the company has and what your boss would like to have done. Or, a goal could be to make an effective case for something you don’t think the company or your boss is paying enough attention to.
Also consider what you’d really like to do and what the organization might need you to learn to be able to promote you. Are there any skills or knowledge gaps between you and where you’d like to get to?
Don’t forget to take into account what is doable over a year, particularly when you’re determining how many goals to achieve. If you’re getting close to or over five, really step back. Is it feasible to take on that much? Look at what each goal is — maybe you aren’t identifying the overarching goal but are describing a milestone.
Then, note milestones for each goal and key activities for each milestone. As with any goal-setting, it’s really critical to break down the overarching big goal into executable — and doable — steps. We have a tendency to either get lost in the overwhelm of a big goal (particularly if it’s audacious) or not feel like we’re making any headway. Each milestones is an achievement that serves as a key marker on the way to the overall goal.
Pro tip: Maintaining a sense of what psychologists call “self-efficacy” is the secret of forward progress. Self-efficacy is created in large part when we accomplish things that we feel move things forward. So, the trick is to break goals down into small enough units that they’re achievable, but big enough that they create observably forward progress toward your goal.
Confirm Your Thoughts
You really have to get buy-in from your manager or boss for this to be an effective basis for your growth at the company. Plus, it builds tremendous goodwill if they can see that you’ve done some serious thinking about the priorities of the company and your boss.
Schedule a sit-down and send your draft plan to them to review prior to your meeting. At the meeting, try to be as open as possible to feedback and not instinctively defend your thoughts. (Tempting, I know, given all of your hard work!) Make sure you can meet any differing expectations and then adjust the plan if necessary based on the conversation.
If you just don’t work for the type of organization that does much development, or your boss simply isn’t interested, it’s still a good idea to run the plan by a trusted mentor in your industry or someone you trust and respect where you work.
Ask for a quarterly or six-month check-in with your boss on how the plan is going. First, it creates accountability, and we all do better at getting things done with the psychological pressure of having to report back to someone else. Second, it creates a way that your boss can pay attention to your hard work and dedication throughout the year, and not just at your end-of-year review.
To get the most from your professional development plan, build 15 – 30 minutes into your week to assess how things are going. How are you feeling — troubled, pleased, unsure, disappointed? What might you be able to do about whatever it is you’re feeling? What’s been going well, and what hasn’t?
Manage Your Expectations
Make sure you really understand the expectations set by your development plan. Are the milestones clearly delineated? Do you and your boss agree on what the expected outcome is for the goals?
Ensure that you understand what you’ll be measured against. This helps reduce surprises or any gaps between what was achieved and what was expected, which can lead to disappointment and frustration on both sides.
Creating your own development plan allows you to maximize your opportunities and feel more in control of your career — a pretty nice two-fer.
Are you ready to take control of your career?