Um, No, I Don’t Have A Development Plan For You

I remember being a junior project manager ready to take on new challenges and bring light to the darkest projects.  Question was, what’s the path I should follow to do that?   So in I marched to see my boss with a simple question: What is my development plan this year?  I can still hear her saying “I don’t have one for you.  What the hell do you want to do, Jason?”

You mean I have to figure this out on my own?  How do I know what I should do?  Isn’t this path already laid out and I just need to follow it?  Tell me next steps here!!

Fast forward about 18 years and I’m sitting at my desk working on a report when in walks a junior person who asks, “What should my 12 month development plan be?”

During those years between being a junior person and now leading large teams, I’ve learned a lot about development plans.  The first rule of development plans is, THERE IS NO STANDARD PATH!!  Every person is unique, therefore, their development plan should be unique to them.

Don’t let your boss dictate your development plan.  What if it’s not in line with what you want and sucks?  Before you know it, you’re burned out and bitter, wishing you’d done your own thing and not followed someone else’s plan.  You know yourself better than they do!  Here are 4 steps I follow when working with employees on development plans.

Figure out what & how you like to learn.  Unless you have a passion for something, it’s hard to figure out what you want to learn.  Know that up front.  For example, I love being a project manager, so my focus includes anything PM, leadership, and other areas I’d like to become better at (i.e. finance).  Then I find information on the topic that makes me better; books, blogs, classes, seminars, etc.  I prefer in person training, whereas someone else may like online.  Be proactive and take these to your manager at personal development time.

ID mentors, even if they’re not within your current company.  The best education I received wasn’t from books or classes, but spending time with people smarter than me.  My first mentor was inside the company, but my second was not.  They worked at another company and offered a different perspective when it came to learning how they operated and delivered projects.  If you know of someone who can mentor you and they’re willing to do it, be sure it’s in your plan.

Figure out your gaps.  You’ll never be good at everything.  That’s why we all have different jobs.  I’ve found that when learning new things or reinforcing what I “think” I already know, I find gaps and opportunities to learn something new.  Mentors, especially those good ones, can help ID gaps and areas of improvement.

Tell your boss what you’re GOING to do and what you’re going to work on.  Then, ask for any additional ideas and feedback.  Most often, I may recommend one or two things, but no more than that.  I may also look at alternatives if there’s a cost to which I don’t have the budget for.

As for my junior person, we looked at what they want to focus on over the next year and laid out 4 key tasks to accomplish those goals.  They also have a mentor from a small start-up willing to include them in their new product innovation sessions to learn the process of coming up with new features.  I asked this person to give me a summary report after each learning in accomplished so it reinforces it with them and I get to learn something new also (win/win)!

Remember, knowing what and how you like to learn helps you take a proactive role in determining your development plan.  Don’t let you boss do it for you.  Own it and make it yours!

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