Development is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

performance review“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

“The man who moved a mountain was the one who began carrying away small stones.” – Chinese Proverb

It’s that time of the year again, the time in which managers sit down with their team members and provide feedback on their respective performance over the prior year.  And while these reviews should merely be a confirmation of performance feedback that management provides throughout the year, they are an opportunity for a deeper discussion on the impact of that performance and the trajectory it foretells for us as individual contributors.

Understanding one’s performance in the recent past is always helpful.  But what I’ve found to be more important in these reviews are the discussions around professional development – the opportunity it provides for each individual to establish a formal development plan and improve their performance as a member of the team while positioning them for future growth as an individual. 

Surprisingly, this is not an article about how management should focus on providing the right development plan for their team members.  I think that’s a given.  Instead, this is an article about the importance of the individual in taking control of their own development, establishing clear and realistic goals, and recognizing the importance that time and experience can play in that development.

You see, I think we often lose sight of the importance and value that experience gives us – in becoming a more effective leader, a solid contributor, and a resource of value to the organization.  And I don’t know if we spend the proper time individually establishing a plan on how to get there.  And I’m not just talking about the long term goal of “being the boss”.  What I’m referring to are the basics of development that are necessary to do an outstanding job in the role we perform today.  Developing the skills we need to be strong recruiters, or program professionals, to be good program managers and directors, or to be the best administrators we could possibly be.

Instead, we push for that next opportunity, that next role.  We focus on the development we need to assume a role, two or three levels out before we master the skills and expertise needed to perform the roles we hold today.  To use an analogy, we stretch for that rung on the ladder just out of reach before we have a sure footing in where we stand today.  You can imagine what that leads to.

Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting we lose our ambition.  I would NEVER EVER suggest that.  In fact, I want each and every one of you to aspire to be the next leader for your company.  I’m dead serious when I say that.  As Wilfred Peterson once said, “Big thinking precedes great achievement”. 

What I am suggesting is that you should be measured in how to achieve that.  To help in that effort, here are some tips to consider as you approach the performance review process and create your own professional development plan:

  • Develop a plan – The most successful people I’ve met in my years of leadership are those who are diligent about having a plan.  A plan for what priorities they will complete daily.  A plan for their week.  A plan for finishing a big project.  So why do so many of us put such little effort in to developing a plan for our own development.  And I’m talking about a written plan, with specific goals and objectives, and timelines for each.  You can’t get where you want to go unless you know how to get there.
  • Focus on the here and now – Keep a sharp focus on what you can be doing today to develop your skills for the future.  But be careful that those goals help you achieve the roles you are tasked with today.  In other words, if you are a recruiter or a program manager, you probably don’t need to be devoting significant portions of your time this year to learning how to present to the Board of Directors.  At least that’s the theory…
  • Be realistic – I’ve always used an old tried and true approach to goal setting – it’s called SMART – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timed.  In other words, set goals you can achieve and measure, and have a timeline for when they must be done.
  • You own it – Your development is your responsibility.  You own it.  Now to be fair, management MUST be committed to supporting it and providing opportunities for such.  But in the end you have to take responsibility for following through, for investing the time in that development.  If you want to get ahead, recognize that fact.  I often spend hours of my time in the evening and on weekends investing in my own development – from reading up on economic and global developments to learning Spanish using Rosetta Stone.  That’s my choice, but it’s also my responsibility.
  • Grow in to your current role first – And last, but certainly not least, take the time to grow in to your own role first.  Ambition is a great thing, but that ambition evolves and accelerates as your core competencies strengthen.  Make sure you focus on that first.

So as you develop your own 2014 professional development plans, keep these tips in mind, and I promise you growth and success will come much quicker and much richer than you think.  I’ll leave you with this closing quote for thought…

“You have to ‘be’ before you can ‘do’, and do before you can ‘have’.” – Zig Ziglar

– Kip

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