Development is the middle of the hierarchy. Compensation and Status lead up to it and autonomy and influence can follow for those who’s organization puts a great deal of value in them. As I’ve noted in prior posts, development can be found in any place and in any form, however for this context how a company or organization shows an individual how much they value them, is more formalized. For the purpose of this discussion development is the formal opportunities that the organization gives a person to help build their skills.
How does it show they value me, or don’t?
A development opportunity for an organization is an investment in you. It can be expensive and is often at least a little bit risky for the company because they are essentially making you more marketable and often times footing the bill. Development is a an opportunity to learn and show your abilities and emerging skills. While I realize that I did say for this conversation we’re using a more concrete definition of development, keep in mind that it still doesn’t need to be a class or an off sight retreat. Concrete development could come in the form of a request to have you assist with a task (building a report, taking a call, attending a meeting, etc) that typically a more senior member of the team would be responsible for.
Not every organization focuses on developing their staff and those that do don’t develop all people equally. If the organization doesn’t work to develop their people and hold this as a strong value they are setting themselves up for a very expensive model that won’t be sustainable. They will always need to hire from the outside for higher level roles and people who are finding their own means of development will go elsewhere for better opportunities. The companies that do emphasize development of their people and do so selectively as appropriate for each employee, are much healthier. When I say they develop selectively I don’t mean that they only offer it to some. I mean that they are intentional around what employees have potential in and are showing aptitude in which areas. If you are getting offers to increase your skill set in any area, they are showing the value they have in you.
Just as the organization shows value in specific people they also show value to specific traits or skills each person possesses. Again this doesn’t sound overly nice but this is a business, even if in the public sector, so they need to invest in where they see potential and where it matches an organizational need. For example, if you have skills in all aspects of communication and a real passion for presenting in front of groups but the skill that is needed is well crafted presentations that someone else will deliver, likely you’ll be driven to develop in creation rather than the actual presenting. This can be a great opportunity to dial in your skills or stretch into something completely new.
In some instances what started as development can turn into a dumping ground. For example, your manager has a weekly meeting and asks you to attend this week in their place and take notes. (Great exposure, status, and development opportunity!) Which turns into you becoming their personal secretary so they no longer need to attend said meeting because you provide such impeccable notes (dumping ground). First and foremost, have a conversation with your manager about what value this is adding to the organization and to your development. Ask if there is something specific they would like you to be getting from the meetings. If it doesn’t fit into the your schedule perhaps propose there be a round robin for the team of who attends. If this is you I would challenge you to truly understand the why behind your frustration. Then, if you are truly fed up with it and a direct yet respectful conversation isn’t resolving it, this is where the risk to the organization comes in. Consider what you’re learning in the meeting (or whatever your example is) and how you can apply it to your work, the work other leaders in the meeting are doing, and work outside the company. You have the investment of the development you’re getting, you have increased exposure, and you have the ability to take this skill or understanding wherever you might decide to go and grow.
If this is the level I’m in, what now?
Consider in what ways you’re currently being developed. Are you being asked to brush up on some general skills that you need for your daily work? For example take an Excel course, go to a seminar in your field, or create draft communications? Are you being asked to stretch your abilities into an area you hadn’t previously been involved in. Perhaps you were asked to join a committee, or test a new software. Both are indications that the organization values you as a contributor and what you can bring to those areas. At this stage I recommend that you focus on gratitude and plan to get the most out of it.
Approach each opportunity with gratitude. Too often when an organization offers someone a conference or a seminar or even to attend a webinar we look at it as, oh what’s wrong that I need to improve on. That isn’t what they are telling you. So take it as the compliment that it is. They are telling you that they see a seedling in you in that area that they want to water and watch it grow.
Make the absolute most of the opportunity you’re given. If you’re attending a workshop do the work while you’re there and take notes. When it is complete come back to the day to day and apply what you’re able and share with others what you think they might be able to make use of. When your manager asks you how the workshop (or insert any number of development opportunities here) went, share how you’re applying and implementing what you learned. Then sprinkle in some of the topics that are lofty or seem far off. This shows your appreciation for the opportunity and how their investment is already paying off. This part can be a little self serving too. You absolutely want to apply anything you can to help you be successful in your role and help the team and organization thrive. However, keep in mind that these are also resume boosters for you! Applying what you learned from a seminar and crushing the stretch opportunities that you’re given on the job will only enhance what you’re able to sell to others should you need to move on to another position or company.
Things I’m reminding myself of
Each area that you develop in is for you. Development opportunities can look like these shiny new objects and make us jealous. It can feel like a competition with fellow employees. He was selected to attend that conference, and she gets to work on that project, and all I got was this. It’s silly how our minds work sometimes. Keeping in mind how each opportunity you get is working for your good in the end will help you manage that desire to compare.
Be open but intentional around your development. Don’t close yourself off to new opportunities because it isn’t what you originally expected to get. Sometimes we’re a little blind to our talents so taking on the new opportunities can help lend some color to areas we weren’t even acknowledging. That being said, if you know the area you want to grow in, intentionally seek out, ask about, or find a way to tailor the opportunities toward it. For example if you’re assigned to help with a communication committee when you really wanted to lean into your analytical side, offer to compile and review the data around how people are getting and prefer to get their information today. If you start with gratitude and an open mind there is no telling how far you can take it.