It is easy to get tied in knots when thinking about your own professional growth. What does growth mean? Where do I start? How do I know if I am growing? Ultimately, growth is simple. Growth means getting better at what you are doing in an intentional, strategic, and consistent way. And the best news? Investing in getting better at what you are doing today is the best way to prepare for advancement in the future.
That being said, how do you ensure that you are being intentional, strategic, and consistent?
Be intentional: what does professional growth mean to you?
Get clear about what professional growth means to you. Below is a list of questions to get you started. I suggest free writing the answers to these questions: It is a great exercise and you will be surprised at what comes out.
What part of your current job is hardest for you that you want to focus on?
What is your ideal next job? Or the job after that? What is the job you will have when you picture yourself thinking, “Yes, I have made it!”?
Is that job a straight line from the role you have now or will you need to shift skill sets/departments/focus?
What did your most recent performance review say about what you do well, opportunities for improvement, and what you need to do to take the next step in your organization?
Be strategic: the how and the who of professional growth
Once you have a sense of what you want to work on, think about the how and the who.
The how: This is where people can get tripped up. Often, the best opportunities for professional growth come from your current role. Ask yourself: Are you showing up, doing your best work, being creative and innovative, hungry and pushing boundaries in all aspects of your job every day? If the answer is no, you have room to grow in your current role. And more than that, if the answer is no and you go to your manager to talk about growth, they will be less excited to support you and less open to the conversation because there is room for you to push harder in your current role.
The who: This is a piece that people often miss. Doing more and doing it better can be great, but if it is not noticed or obvious, it can be missed by busy managers or leaders. Here are great ways to build the who:
Managers often have good intentions but get stuck in their to-dos. Own your professional growth.
The goal here is to make sure that you and your managers are talking about professional growth on a regular basis. How you achieve that goal will depend on your relationship with your manager and their preferences. It’s your choice whether to make it a part of your regular meetings or to schedule dedicated growth meetings with your manager.
Think about the tone of your regular check-ins. Are they rushed, and do you often run out of time? Are they pretty focused on day-to-day minutiae? Then schedule a separate time to talk about growth; let your manager know the purpose of the meeting so they are prepared. Or are your meetings more strategic, big-picture brainstorming and strategy sessions? That might lend itself more to a growth conversation. Again, let your manager know ahead of time that you want to add it to the agenda. Alternatively, is your manager swamped and is it impossible to get time with them outside of your check-in? Then start the conversation in the check-in and see where it leads you. Flex with the when but make sure it happens!
Be explicit. Let your managers know what you are hungry for and working on. Tell them all the ways you are leveraging your current role to get stronger and better. Ask them to pay special attention to those things and give you both positive reinforcement and constructive feedback.
Ask for what you want. If your manager knows your professional growth goals, you will be top of mind for them when opportunities come up. For example, let them know that public speaking or leading projects are key to your growth. Let them know that you are hungry for a promotion over the next one to two cycles and want to know how to ensure you will be competitive when it comes time. Help focus them on what you need.
Leaders in your organization.
Leaders in your organization: People love to help others. Honest. I know it feels like it is asking a lot of someone to sit down with you so you can hear about their career path and get their advice. But you know what? People love to talk about themselves. They love to help others the way someone helped them. Give people a chance. Reach out to the person in the company whose job is your dream job. Ask them for thirty minutes of their time. The catch? Come prepared. People don’t like to have their time wasted.
Ask to shadow them in a key meeting, or to learn from them about a project they are working on. Ask to pitch in and help! And when you are done, follow up not only with a thank you email, but with the concrete ways you are putting their advice into action. Maintain that network; it will support you down the line.
Vulnerability is a key to growth. In order to grow, we have to admit that there are things we don’t know how to do yet or can do better. That vulnerability can help you if you leverage it with your peers. Share with a colleague that you want to grow in the organization and ask them what they think you should work on. Or let them know what your growth area is and how you are working on it, and ask them to observe you and to give you feedback. Then offer to help them!
Be consistent: make professional growth a priority
You have been intentional and strategic - kudos! The biggest trap you can fall into now is not being consistent. If you have one growth conversation with your manager and then never bring it up again, it will fall to the bottom of their priority list until your next review. Here are some tips:
Use Nodabl to keep yourself organized and on track
Set goals in Nodabl with target end dates, and create action plans to achieve those goals. Set deadlines for your actions so you get reminders and you hold yourself accountable.
Make it easy for your manager to support you
Give your manager access to your goals in Nodabl so they can see what you’re working on and see your progress. Integrate Nodabl into regular growth conversations with your manager - either as part of your 1-1s or as dedicated periodic conversations. By tracking everything in one place, you’ll make it easy for your manager to know what you’re working on, what you’ve done, and where you need help. The less your manager has to remember or track for themselves, the more productive your conversations will be. You can also communicate via Nodabl so that you’re not waiting for meetings and all conversations are documented and in context.
Get outside perspectives
Make sure you are talking to two people who aren’t your manager every month about your growth and your career. Talk to HR, people senior to you, your peers, people in different departments - getting outside perspectives, and learning from others experiences will only help you.