When we talk about L&D in the workplace, we generally think of things like mandatory corporate training, or professional upskilling. However, we cannot overlook the fact that human beings are singular organisms. There is no “work side” and “personal side” to us. We’re one individual.

The immediate upshot of this realization is that self-development can and will help you become better at what you do professionally. More and more organizations are realizing just how critical it is to support their employees in developing skills and capabilities that go beyond their immediate role in the company, as well. Of course, there’s a lot of ambiguity about self-development and how to institute it in the workplace, but this guide will help provide some clarity.

Your Guide to Instituting Self-Development at Work

Why Focus on Self-Development?

First, let’s explore why self-development is important in the first place. It delivers quite a few advantages, including the following:

  • A sense of autonomy: Too often, employees don’t feel that they are in control over their professional lives. Self-development in the workplace can help provide them with a sense of autonomy and control over their destiny. That translates into benefits for the workplace in several ways, including improved confidence, better communication, and an enhanced ability to collaborate with others.
  • A sense of progress: Employees often feel “stuck” in place. This is most often the case with those in roles that see little upward momentum, with long periods between advancements. Self-development can provide these employees with a sense of forward momentum and achievement that enhances their satisfaction and self-esteem.
  • Better engagement: The cost of disengaged employees is incredibly high. Self-development helps to enhance their engagement, which boosts productivity and performance.
  • Easier to handle change: Change happens in all industries, and it’s occurring with increasing rapidity. Employees who invest time in self-development are better able to cope with change, and those benefits extend to the organization, helping you emerge stronger and better able to compete.

What Goals Should You Set?

What goals should you set for self-development? The sky’s the limit here because these are personal growth-related skills. They do bear on your performance in the workplace, but they don’t necessarily tie directly into your current role or even into a role that you hope to attain in the future.

However, while almost any goal can be set and be of value, you do need to ensure that those you set meet some important criteria. These include the following:

  • Offer improvement for your character
  • Help to improve your skills
  • Enhance existing or develop new capabilities

Some of the more common personal development skills include the following:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Self-confidence/self-esteem
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Work ethic
  • Improved ability to adapt

All of these skills can be built up through specific, focused training. Ideally, you’ll have access to training courses within your company’s learning management system. If not, work with HR to create or locate viable courses and then implement them.

Bringing Self-Development to Work Skills

In addition to personal development skills like those listed above, you can and should consider the implications of self-development when it comes to professional skills and abilities. In the normal course of events, your employer likely dictates most of what you learn here. There’s mandatory corporate training, and specific upskilling, or even professional CE that you need to complete.

However, by taking charge of some of your learning and development, you can improve your performance, make yourself a better candidate for higher positions, increase your productivity, and make yourself a more valuable asset to the company. How do you self-direct professional learning, though?

First, you need to identify areas where development is either needed or beneficial. Start by answering a few key questions, including:

  • What do I need to know to do my job better?
  • What resources do I need to be more effective in my current role?
  • How do I learn best – in formal education settings, or through work-based learning?
  • What skills do I need to advance to a higher position with the company?
  • Is there a career path in the company I want to pursue, and if so, is there a plan in place for me to follow in terms of skills development or certificate/licensure?

Next, you need to work with your manager or another leader within the business. In some cases, this could be someone in HR, but it will usually be your immediate manager. The goal here is to ensure that your self-development is at least in line with company goals and objectives. This is necessary if you’ll be completing your learning on company time or the company dime.

Does that mean you should follow an overarching development plan set by the company? Not at all. That eliminates the self from the self-development process.

Today’s employers should realize the value and necessity of allowing at least some degree of autonomy in L&D efforts and be committed to supporting employees in developing themselves to be the best they can be. Leadership should understand that even if these goals are not directly applicable to the employee’s role within the company, the organization will still reap tangential benefits that invest a “no brainer”.

Practical Tips

Finally, let’s wrap this all up with a few practical tips to help you identify areas you want to develop and the skills you want to learn.

Be Brave: First, be brave. It takes courage to grow and change. Evolving your abilities can be nerve-wracking. Don’t fear the risk. If necessary, find a mentor who will work with you.

Get Feedback: Seek out and be open to feedback from people in your organization whom you respect. That feedback can help you refine your goals and home in on areas where your efforts are best invested.

Learn Everywhere: Don’t limit your self-development to formal eLearning courses and the like. Realize that there are lessons to be learned everywhere, from everyone, and everything.

With a little time, effort, and a commitment to becoming your best self, you can learn new information, master new skills, and grow both as a person and as an employee.