Personal development through the downturn

Cranfield School of Management

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Personal Development through the Downturn
By Mike Bourne & Steve Macaulay

Many organisations have reduced-or even cut completely-their learning and development budgets. Yet organisations must continue to improve their skills, maintain motivation and lead effectively in order to continue to be successful. This can still be achieved through a renewed emphasis on individuals taking charge of their own development. After all, there are a lot of things that you do to develop yourself in your job, taking advantage of opportunities that appear each day. This article takes you through how to make the most of those opportunities.

Important elements of self development
Mastering a critical cluster of skills can really differentiate individuals, and ultimately their organisations. These are like the tools in a work box, and the key to acquiring and honing them is to practise. Effective self development contains the following elements:

  • Development of skills and knowledge in a chosen field of activity
  • Honing core skills that will apply whatever people are doing and wherever they are doing it. These ‘oil the wheels’ in everything we do, skills such as managing time, participating in meetings, negotiating, dealing with people, presenting, listening, communication, and decision-making.
  • To become effective at work, self development should be underpinned by an attitude of mind: being creative and confident, communicating and listening well, and a willingness to make difficult decisions.
  • In management and leadership, achieving high performance requires a particular focus on actively broadening horizons, and drawing on what other people have to offer.
  • Personal awareness, and capitalising on that awareness: high performance is more likely to be attained through a combination of personal insight and knowing strengths and limitations, what you want to achieve, and working in an environment that you enjoy and are able to achieve what you want.

How do you go about self development?,

Set Personal Goals
First, clarify future goals. Picture yourself at various times in the future, say in three, five, and ten years time. What kind of organisation would I like to be working for? Secondly, analyse your strengths and limitations, encompassing three areas –basic professional ability, interpersonal or soft skills, and the knowledge and experience that they have acquired in both the sector(s) and the role(s) in which they have worked.

Make an honest list of strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities open to you and any potential threats in your current working context. This provides a picture of the development you may have to undertake to excel in your present situation, and the skills, knowledge, and experience you will need to acquire their next role.

In this way you can develop a personal ‘brand’, and differentiate oneself. It should reflect personal values and be unique. A personal brand needs to take into account your ‘target audience’, such as the organisation you work for and the customers you work with.

Plan for the Future
A personal plan gives a framework against which to measure progress. Have you achieved what you set out to achieve? If not, why not? A plan provides a reference to look back, but also to look forward and judge new opportunities.

A good plan needs to include four key elements:

  1. A vision statement that describes where you want to be
  2. A set of objectives that, if achieved, will lead to the vision
  3. A map of the actions needed for the objectives to be met
  4. An indicator describing what success will look like at each stage.

Regularly monitoring and steering personal progress, whether alone or with the help of else, is an integral part of the process.

Succeeding in Management and Leadership
A leader requires characteristics that make people want to follow them, the ability to create and communicate a purpose, and the personal touch to deal with people. To be a leader, people must want to become one and be committed to learning and practising their leadership skills.

One of the more challenging aspects of those new to leadership is that you will quickly realise that they cannot do everything yourself-leaders must develop skills in setting objectives for themselves and others, in delegating tasks, and in managing teams. If handled in the right way, this will help to develop others, by growing skills, experience, and confidence.

Useful Aspects of Self Development

Whilst self development is personally driven, it is not a lone activity. Two sometimes neglected aspects of self development are networking and mentoring. Individuals and organisations can be proactive in strengthening these activities.

Building good relationships will give you and your organisation a competitive edge. As your career progresses, who you know becomes increasingly important. Fostering networks give access to a wealth of knowledge and expertise; it also opens up competitive information, reputation building, and even sometimes getting your next job.

Working with a Mentor
Mentors are invaluable in helping you by talking through your issues in a way that makes you ask questions that will lead to the answers you need. Mentoring is important because it puts your problems and issues into context. Choice of mentors is important. They do not need to be experts in your field, but they should possess the experience you want to access and also have the ability to form a good relationship with you.

Review Plans and Progress

As new opportunities arise and circumstances change, it is vital to review progress. Are you making progress? What have you achieved that was not in your plans? If it isn’t working out for you, then make a new plan that will!

No Guarantees

Finally, self development is not a cast-iron, guaranteed route to success. However, organisations and individuals will certainly enhance their chances of succeeding by consciously managing the personal development process. In the same deliberate and planful way that work tasks have to be managed, investment in taking personal responsibility for personal development makes good sense.

Mike Bourne is Professor of Business Performance in The Centre for Business Performance at Cranfield School of Management. He is currently researching corporate performance measurement and management, including the interface with planning, budgeting and people performance.

Steve Macaulay is a Learning Development Executive within the Centre for Customised Executive Development of the School of Management.

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