5 steps to ID your development needs

Plenty of people talk about ‘life-long learning’ and ‘continual professional development’ at work but how do you know what training and development you really need?

Do you pick something that is going to make you an expert in your current job?

Or do you play the long game and try to gain experience in something quite new that may not be relevant right now?

There is no straight answer to these questions but by following the advice below you should be able to make a less random choice - and share this with your manager when discussing your development needs.

1. Define your goals

It is impossible to make any choices about training and development without knowing why you need to do something. So your first step is to decide what your career goals are and when you want to achieve them.

To do this draw up a rough time-line - to start with plan for a 12 month period. when you are ready (usually after 2-3 years) you can then stretch it to 3-5 years adding within year targets to help you focus.

Not everyone can, or wants, to plan years ahead and it is not essential - some people prefer to see what jobs / careers they are ‘drawn’ to and then see what training and development they need. I certainly didn’t plan the first half of my career and did very well! So, if this is you then just prepare a timeline for the next year. However, if you feel that your career is starting to drift in the wrong direction or worse, getting nowhere, you may need to think about setting some longer term goals

When you have completed your career timeline you can share it with your manager at your review meetings if you wish (see point 4). The main point is that YOU own this timeline - not your employer - however, they can show their commitment by supporting you with time (to learn), appropriate work experience or funds for training.

2. Clarify the benefit to the business

Next identify areas where your current role fits into your long term career goals. Your company will want to see how investment in your development will add value to the business and when it will happen. This will help you win their support for your career plans and personal development.

Use your job description to identify areas where your development will help you improve your performance. If you don’t have a job description make a list of your core activities. If you are struggling to do this ask yourself the following questions:

  • What challenges are you facing and why?
  • What skills would help you work more efficiently or be more productively?
  • What aspects of your role (and your team) should know more about?
  • What areas of the organisation would you like to know about?
  • What personal goals would you like to achieve and will these help your performance at work?

3. Research development options

Once you have made a note of the areas you want to develop you can then start thinking about the best way to go about this. At one time this would mean taking some form of training course but there are many routes for example:

  • ‘On-the-job’ or ‘cross’ training where a co-worker teaches you operational skills.
  • Volunteer to complete challenging projects and assignments or propose a solution to a known team / organisational problem and offering to implement it. As well as developing new skills you will be seen as a problem-solver.
  • Mentoring or coaching support.
  • Reading! This can include text books, training manuals and on-line material (e.g. blogs, news sites and open learning sites).
  • Webinars, e-learning videos, on-line presentations (TED Talks are good as well).
  • Formal training courses from one-off training days through to ongoing courses that provide a formal qualification.

Match the development need to the best learning option based on cost, time available (yours and the company), content and quality. Make sure you include all long and short-term skill requirements so they can see you have a strategic career goal at the end.

4. Discuss your development needs with your manager

Take the information from steps 1 to 3 and present them to your manager. You may wish to do this formally (and prepare a 1-page proposal) or take the information along to the meeting for an informal discussion. Have a chat with your manager to find out what they would prefer.

Presenting the information in the right way will ensure the manager is engaged from the start. This will give you a better chance of getting their supporting especially if you do need formal training and they have to get approval from HR or their own manager as part of the process. Even if you are learning on the job you will be using valuable time (yours and possibly your colleagues) and this has to be be balanced with the needs of the team, the organisation and its customers.

Once you have agreed on a specific development activity make sure you define:

  • Timescales (i.e. when the learning will start and finish).
  • Outcomes (what skill or knowledge you will have developed).
  • Success (how you will know that the development activity has been successful).
  • Application (where you will apply the skill or knowledge).

NB: Don’t worry if your long term goal is to move into another field - most employers accept that jobs are not for life anymore and they may even be able to help you. However, if you plan on switching in the next 12 months you may need to be a bit more cautious about how much you share - your manager has to think ahead about resourcing and your plans will be taken into consideration when they are thinking about work allocation, promotions and pay rises. If you then decide to stay a bit longer you may find it difficult to catch up.

5. Make things happen

Once you have the go-ahead make sure you make it happen - especially if you are undertaking on-the-job training (or something similar). Set yourself a schedule of actions and deadlines and arrange to meet up with your manager on a regular basis to report back. This will create a sense of responsibility for you and reassure them that you are on track.

Now, get started and watch your career take shape in a way that helps you succeed!