Employees in most workplaces in the world look for a combination of factors from their employers. Some of these expectations are fulfilled to a large extent while some others are ignored by the employers. Training, career development and growth opportunities are some of the areas where employees expect a huge gap between their expectations and what they actually receive.
Interestingly, many employees tend to outsource a lot of their responsibilities to their employer. For example, all of us know that we need to exercise and remain physically active to enjoy good health. In spite of this knowledge, employees expect that their employer will take care of all their health woes. Many employers set up gymnasiums, appoint trainers in the gym, organize health camps, arrange sessions for employees to advise them on well-being, run campaigns to participate in physical fitness programs, reimburse or offer discounted rates for memberships in health clubs, provide insurance and so on. In spite of all these, employee health is an issue and organizations lose productivity due to sick days reported by employees.
I think, the root cause behind the mismatch between employee expectations and experiences lies in setting expectations around growth, career development and training. Employees need to take responsibility of their own growth and development to a large extent rather than outsourcing the responsibility to their employers. This might sound radical but is a bitter truth that the employee has to commit efforts and interest for his or her personal growth. Only then, efforts and investment of the employer organization will bear fruit.
So, the 1st step is to take ownership of one’s career development. Then, comes the other steps of finding one’s own strengths, matching them with areas of interest and arriving at a personal development plan. Then the execution and course-corrections.
First of all, one needs to discover the goals which are exciting. Many a times, people flow along the stream and expect to reach the goal. However, given the speed of business and the volatility that the business cycles have been witnessing, the streams are often constricted or redirected to accommodate the changing needs upstream or downstream. So, flowing along the stream with the hope of reaching a higher level is no more plausible. Hence, one has to discover one’s calling and work towards it. Reading books, journals and other such business publications – online as well as offline, provide a good idea of various possibilities; discussions with seniors in the industry, networking with colleagues and peers helps one gain clarity about various possibilities. In the process, one is able to broadly decide what goals should be pursued.
One should learn to write a career development plan. Ideally, the plan starts with an over-arching statement of purpose or a primary area of interest. Then it starts going deeper such as writing down the long-term plans which are time-bound and more specific. Then the next stage is to write a short-term plan which can be 1-3 years depending upon the context. At this stage, one draws up the threats or challenges that one might encounter and hence, a plan to mitigate the risks, the weaknesses which are to be bridged, the strengths to be leveraged and the opportunities in the environment which can be exploited.
Having taken all these 3 steps, one draws up the action plans which are specific, measurable, realistic and time-bound. One identifies the support and investments required from other sources to fulfill the action steps and the milestones.
The next stage is to review the progress on a periodic basis and make changes to the plan.
A mentor or a coach plays a significant role all along this process. Right from the time of drafting the development plan, the person supports till the plans are executed. The support ranges from helping you discover your strengths and weaknesses to working as a sounding board all along the journey, putting in place a rigorous mechanism to review the progress, helping you gather feedback from the stakeholders, interpret them and work on them.
Along the process of development, there will naturally be challenges. A coach, mentor, friend or co-traveller, whatever you may say, helps you overcome these challenges. One big challenge on the path of development is rigorous follow-through. Many people fail to sustain the momentum of the program. If you have someone helping you follow the regimen, it is easy for you to follow through the tasks in a disciplined manner. The second big challenge is to help you listen to the feedback from the stakeholders and interpreting them objectively. A big reason behind the failure of a career development plan is the self-defence mechanism and the ego. People tend to trivialise, rationalize and at times, sanitize the feedback they receive. A coach can help you see the inputs objectively and stay the course.
The way to develop one’s career is simple if one follows the process rigorously either with a high degree of self-confidence and self-awareness or take the help from someone who is skilled at leading one in the process. One cannot expect the employer organization to take the responsibility of learning and development. At best, one can expect facilitation and encouragement from the employer!
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