With most new jobs, we enjoy a certain “honeymoon phase.” We gush about the modern décor, our cool boss, the great benefits, or the fascinating work we do. We may even be accused of excessive PDA on LinkedIn, but we can’t help it! We are excited about the new opportunity. But what helps us remain engaged employees once the honeymoon is over? DecisionWise has found from over 20 years of research that there are 5 keys to employee engagement: Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection. Today I’d like to focus on the key of growth and our own role in driving our personal development at work.
While every organization has some responsibility/incentive to grow their employees, we must take active ownership in shaping our growth experience and trajectory. Regardless of whether you’ve just started your career or are well on your way, you may realize you haven’t been focusing on growth because you don’t know where to start or past efforts seemed fruitless. For this reason, I offer you thoughts and tools to help you prepare the grounds for growth or help you nourish and add to the plan you currently have.
Who Are You Right Now?
Thinking about the future and developing goals can feel overwhelming when you aren’t sure where to start. The first step in your plan should be to ascertain who you are right now.
Here are some questions to help you get to know yourself better.
- What are my strengths?
- What new activities am I interested in or willing to try?
- What do I believe?
- What do I value?
- If I wasn’t afraid I would __________
- What good things do people say about me?
- What have I accomplished?
- What are my relationships like?
- Am I an introvert or an extrovert?
- What do I get excited about?
- How do I handle negative experiences or setbacks?
- What frustrates me?
Search the web and you can find hundreds of simple questions or robust tools that will help you look inward. DecisionWise offers 360 feedback and various psychometric assessments to help individuals better understand their strengths, opportunity areas, and personality preferences. Studies have shown that assessments like 360-degree feedback help us strengthen our job performance, because our coworkers are better at seeing the traits affecting our job performance. Aim to do an assessment or self-reflection at least once a year. We change periodically, and we shouldn’t hold onto old ideas about ourselves. How often do you find yourself thinking, “I’m so (insert adjective).” Well, maybe you aren’t “that” anymore, and you need to start telling yourself, “I’ve made great strides, now I’m (insert adjective).” Consider also observing and analyzing your own behavioral patterns. Are there any loops you need to jump out of? Be honest about your weaknesses. Remember your goal: discover and understand who you are right now.
Envision the Future of Your Dreams
If you don’t know where you want to go, you don’t know where you want to grow. Be curious. Ask yourself questions about your future goals and aspirations, and then use those answers to create a clear vision. Do you value working as an individual contributor or do you want to manage people and projects? Do you want to own a company or be an executive? Do you want to make a certain amount of money? Why do you want to make that amount? Do you have certain conditions you’d like to work in? Find more questions here. Then, after you’ve answered a lot of soul-searching questions, think, dream, and plan. Think about the conditions that need to be met, the sacrifices you are willing to make, and the kind of person you want to be. TEDx speaker Pattie Dobrowolski says, “You can live the life you desire, it’s right there in front of you but in order to achieve it you must first see it, then believe it, and then you must graciously ask and train your brain to help you execute your vision.” Watch her TED Talk and learn how to “draw your future.”
What’s in Your Toolbox
Now that you’ve attained self-enlightenment, analyze the tools and skills you possess. You need to have complimentary soft skills and technical skills. I like this list on resume genius. They highlight the top 10 soft skills employers love and intricately break them down. Now that you’ve seen a good list, record your current soft skills. Jot down specific instances where you demonstrated these skills. Clear examples will you boost your confidence and help you nail future job interviews.
Next, write down your technical skills. What software do you know? Write down your job-related and non-job-related technical skills. Write down skills you are using and skills that could be used in other positions. Then, start looking for job posts and see what skills employers are looking for. Take note of the skills that you don’t have but would be interested in learning. If you have a specific company you’d like to work for some day, discover their requirements for your role. Finally, ask your manager what skills you should develop to add value to your company.
Set up a Support System to Achieve Your Goals
So far, we have paused and become better acquainted with ourselves and assessed our current knowledge and skills. In reviewing those things, the fog around our futures has subsided a bit, and we are now ready to set up our support system. Don’t venture too far into any job without identifying a mentor. Mentors aren’t just a nice idea. Mentors help us improve our career outcomes in numerous ways. Does higher compensation, a greater number of promotions, and greater job satisfaction sound good to you? Dr. Lauren Bidwell, has summarized 30 years of research on the subject in Why Mentors Matter: A summary of 30 years of research. Here are some steps to help you identify a mentor.
- Get to know your coworkers by asking them about their current projects, what they are excited about, or what problems they are trying to solve.
- Get to know your fellow employees on a more personal level by grabbing lunch or attending company events together.
- Observe your colleagues on client-facing phone calls or take note of how they run or contribute to meetings.
- Observe how you feel when certain people talk. Do you feel good around certain people? Do you feel excited by their ideas? Do they exhibit personality traits you’d like to improve? Do they inspire you to be more motivated, compassionate, hopeful, etc.?
- Read and listen to content your coworkers produce.
- Learn how to help those around you. Relationships develop naturally this way and become mutually beneficial.
Utilize Social Media for Career Success
Where would successful people be without partners, raving fans, loyal customers, friends and family who believed in them, or colleagues who pointed them in the right direction? We thrive when we are connected to others. Social media can help in this regard. I have enjoyed finding and following people on social media that inspire me, both in and outside my field. I also find value in following interesting companies in my city, people who have my same role, or competitors. In doing this, I have discovered useful meetups, workshops, unique ways of doing business, and more. Start engaging with the content of those you follow. Then, when appropriate, try a private message. This approach can then lead to on-line conversations, phones calls, or lunch. When done with emotional intelligence, relationships from social media can flourish and lead to incredible opportunities.
Consume Useful Content
Your next step is to find and consume content that will help you grow. Follow smart, engaged people. These people post content that will motivate you, teach you, and keep you informed on industry trends. Expose yourself to people who think and act differently than you. Challenging your own thoughts and beliefs sharpen your mind and make you practice critical thinking. Be strategic in whom you follow and avoid information overload.
How to Track Your Progress
If you can’t measure your effort and success, even the best intentions and plans to grow won’t yield results. Here is a brilliant career checklist that you can use to stay organized. Check in with yourself monthly to stay on track or find a more suitable interval. Put your list in a spreadsheet and date your check-ins with notes on each topic. This will help you track your progress and revisit your strategies. Now you have a powerful tool when you build a case for a raise, seek a promotion, or start the job hunt all over again.
Don’t you want to feel the same enthusiasm you had during your “honeymoon phase?” If you want to take control of your own engagement, rely less on your manager and more on yourself. An exceptional manager will help you, and they should, but there is no guarantee. The person who cares the most about your career and development is you. Take charge of your own advancement. You already took a small step by reading this article. Now, take an even bigger step. Go find your favorite goal setting template, take yourself on a date, fill it out, jot down your vision for the future, and start getting to know the people who will help you bloom where you are planted.