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How to plan your professional development for career success

It takes more than doing your job well to get the next promotion 

4 minute read
Young Woman On Bean Bag With Laptop

Getting a work promotion usually includes the perks of greater influence and more money, but if you think a job well done makes you worthy of advancement, you would be wrong.

It is not enough for employees to be good at their current role, according to AIM WA Chief Operating Officer Shaun Ridley FAIM.

“In order to be considered for a higher position, you need to demonstrate that you have the capacity and desire to succeed at the next level up,” he said.

“Without this underlying principle, we would be promoting people beyond their level of competence – the Peter Principle – and that is not a good outcome for the individual or the organisation.”

This is where professional development comes into play.

What is professional development?

Professional development is any activity that enables a person to enhance their knowledge, skills or behaviours.

The focus can be on an immediate need like learning how to format an Excel spreadsheet, to achieving a longer-term awareness and implementation of a subject such as emotional intelligence.

Dr Ridley said everyone should look for ways to improve themselves or how they operate.

Those who sought out professional development were more likely to see their career progression accelerate.

“People who want to improve and are active in seeking opportunities to do so will probably be seen as more motivated, more engaged and more likely to succeed,” Dr Ridley said.

“This point is better illustrated by considering the opposite position – someone who is content with their current level, declines opportunities to develop themselves further and does not see value in getting better at what they do.

“Such a person would not be top of mind if there was an exciting new project on offer or a promotion to a higher level.”

How do I assess my needs to create a professional development plan?

When it comes to assessing your professional development needs, Dr Ridley said there were two schools of thought.

“The first recommends some analysis, surveys and/or interviews to determine an individual’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

“Then, focus on the areas of weakness in order of priority to address any gaps between the desired level of performance and the individual’s current level.”

The second approach used the same assessment methods but instead concentrated on their strengths.

“The theory here is that unless the weakness is in a mission critical aspect of the role, we are much better off enhancing our strengths than trying to repair a weakness,” Dr Ridley said.

“Consider this sporting example – if you play cricket and are a really good fast bowler, you may be better off further enhancing your bowling skill, rather than devoting hours and hours to becoming a better batter.”

Regardless of the approach, Dr Ridley said it was important to gather as much information from as many people as possible to diagnose your current strengths and weaknesses.

“Don’t rely on your own observations or the views of close colleagues and consider asking internal customers, leaders from other business units or even some key clients to get feedback on what you could do to improve,” he said.

In addition to training courses, what are other ways to learn?

Typically, formal training springs to mind when making professional development plans, but there are other ways to improve your performance, including these seven examples:

1. Taking on a challenging project
2. One-on-one coaching
3. Finding a mentor, or mentoring someone else
4. Shadowing a more senior staff member
5. Reading important journals in your field
6. Attending briefings or networking events
7. Learning about a completely new area, seemingly unrelated to your work and seeing how it might apply.

Dr Ridley said there were also other external options that could enhance work performance.

“For example, if accounting and finance is an area you would like to develop, consider taking on the treasurer role at your local club or community group,” he said.

“This is a low-risk approach that, over time, will build your confidence and help you ask the right questions when looking at the finances at work.”

In addition to learning new things, Dr Ridley said an important element of ongoing professional development was to challenge what we thought we already knew.

“It is probably harder to unlearn something that is deeply ingrained than to learn something new, but this is an important skill in a world of constant change, where our long-held beliefs are no longer relevant and we have to change direction,” he said.

How to get the most out of a professional development course

For many, the last time they were in a learning environment was at school or university, which may not have been a pleasant experience.

So, the prospect of being placed in a situation where they don’t know all the answers and risk being embarrassed is daunting.

That’s why it is important for managers to support staff by encouraging their ongoing professional development and acting as role models by engaging in development themselves.

“Some research conducted by AIM WA, in conjunction with The University of Western Australia Business School, revealed there are three important ingredients for someone to consider the learning worthwhile and that they would be able to transfer it to the workplace,” Dr Ridley said.

“The person had to have the confidence they could transfer the learning and a reason to do so, and they also needed to be energised to transfer the learning.

“Each of these elements can be addressed through collaboration between the learner, their manager and the provider of the learning.”

Where to from here?

If you'd like some guidance on which course at AIM WA would be best for you, please call our Client Services Team on 08 9383 8000 or email