How to accelerate your professional skills development
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” So said Mahatma Gandhi and it’s the learning issue that has many of us breaking into a sweat. But there is a way out.
Do you feel you need to improve your skills? Hone an existing strength? Train up in new areas?
You’re not alone.
In workplaces across the Asia Pacific, pressure is mounting on the skills front. According to the latest Hudson Report, an incredible 98% of employees say that developing their skills is either important or extremely important and 99% of employees say they take personal responsibility for their skills development.
Yet it’s not always easy. And many don’t feel it’s enough. Our research also found that 77% of employees feel more pressured to learn new skills today than they did two years ago and that almost one in three (34%) feel they’re not doing enough self-learning.
We live in a period of change unlike any since the Industrial Revolution – of digital disruption, emerging technologies, changing behaviour – and we all know it. This is the age of change and to stay competitive in it you need to keep up.
But keep up with what? With changing technologies, new apps? Or with smarter soft skills, better stakeholder management? Where should we start on personal skills development and will it ever be enough?
In my view, you can only start where you can start: where you are now. If you’re currently employed, then that is the place to begin: with the skills development opportunities available to you right here and now.
You would, however, be among just half the population to do that: The Hudson Report also found that 63% of employees today do not feel supported by their manager to learn new skills. This is an incredibly disappointing statistic when you think that almost 100 per cent of people say skills development really matters to them.
Yet I think there’s a way to fix this situation – by going about things in a smarter way.
Because your employer, believe me, is also looking for new skill sets in their team. What you need to do is find the sweet spot where the two converge; your needs and theirs.
It starts with where you personally want to develop. That is both from a practical career advancement perspective (What’s in hot demand in your field right now? What would move you forward in your current role?) and from personal motivation (What are your strengths? Your key values? What sets you apart from others?).
From here, if you want support on your skills development, then a smart move is to tie it back to the needs of your employer.
Find out what constitutes success in your current role. What does great performance look like? What would radically help the team? What would lead to a promotion? I don’t think enough people understand what successful performance looks like – the key things it entails, how it could be measured and the behaviours it would involve.
But it’s so critical.
Only once you understand what your employer or manager views as top performance can you have a clear conversation around where you are currently tracking. This, for many, is difficult. It can feel confronting to hear you’re not up to par in certain areas, or that Rebecca in Accounts excels at something you always thought you had down pat. But only by understanding where your manager currently sees your performance can you start working on fixing that, and going beyond it.
Because once you understand that you have ‘gaps’, then you really are in the clear to create, with your manager, a tailored development program.
In a world where managers are constantly tested on what good looks like in their organisation, and on what they need their teams to be delivering on, helping explain your needs through a lens they can understand is critical. Clearly articulate what you want and help them to understand why a particular skill set would really benefit the team. Bring it home for them, in their language.
By doing this you can be the change you want to happen. You can take your manager on the journey. You can avoid doing your own thing in isolation but instead marrying what your employer needs with what you want.
So go with ideas in hand. Be bold. Be brave with your conversation. And above all be honest – about where you are now, where you need to improve, and where you want to go.
How to amp up your skills development
- Map the skills the market wants
Research the skills currently in demand in your field, and the ones growing in demand. Look at job ads for trends and speak to a specialist recruiter.
- Identify the skills you personally want
Reflect on the skills you already have, and the ones you want to develop. Consider your career path and the skills most likely to propel you.
- Understand the skills your organisation needs
Speak to your manager to understand your current performance, which new skills would help her now and which she wants for the future.
- Have a structured conversation with your manager
Discuss the above findings with your manager, along with some suggested solutions, and together map a structured skills plan.
- Treat it with the seriousness it deserves
Treat your skills development like a project plan. Set yourself small, regular, achievable milestones and celebrate when you meet them.