By SUZANNE MILLER
We live in tight times--budgets are tight, time is tight. Things that were taken for granted during more prosperous times, such as personal development, might seem like an unaffordable luxury when budgets have been cut and everyone is working harder and often longer. Even during today's telecom winter, developing work-related skills that improve your performance, productivity, and, ultimately, job satisfaction are still important. Developing your skills is especially true when other benefits like bonuses, stock options, and salary increases are not paying off as well and as often as they used to.
Assess needs and develop a plan
To be effective, you need a development plan that meets your needs and the needs of your company. Begin by working with your manager and/or your Human Resources department to identify what specific job-related skills you need to succeed in your current position and prepare yourself for future positions. Next, you and your manager will need to evaluate how well you actually perform at each of these job-related skills. Any resulting gap between required skills and acquired skills indicates where development is required. Results of the skills assessment can assist you and your manager in identifying development needs and tools you can use to enhance your job performance and prepare you for your future job.
In addition to specific skills that are needed to perform well at your job, many companies have identified core competencies that employees must display to make themselves and their company successful. Core competencies typically have a name, definition and behavioral indicators, which are the actions an individual should exhibit if he/she is proficient in the competency. Once you have an understanding of how your company defines its core competencies and measures success at these competencies, you can work with your Human Resources department and manager to leverage company resources or seek external resources to create a development plan specific to you needs.
An example of a general core competency is time management. Time management could be defined as effective and efficient use of individual and organizational time to achieve key business objectives. A behavioral indicator could be summarized as an employee who uses basic planning tools to control and schedule daily priorities, knows his/her own limits and does not over-commit, and identifies and eliminates inefficiencies and barriers, etc. Resources that can help you improve this competency could be company-taught courses or external courses. More economical resources such as e-learning courses that focus on how to make your time count or books like The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by William Oncken, Jr., Hal Burrows, and Kenneth Blanchard are just a few low-cost examples.
There are many cost-effective personal development tools available on the Internet that eliminate some of the time and costs associated with a more formal, structured training program. In addition, e-learning courses can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from anywhere. This round-the-clock convenience eliminates the concern that your time spent on training will take away from the time required to do your job.
If your company does not offer an e-learning resource, there are many e-learning vendors from which you or your Human Resources department can choose. Some vendors offer very specialized content, such as compliance topics, while others offer courses in a wide variety of topics such as computer software certification. Choosing a vendor with a full catalog of options can be a cost-effective option.
Most content offered through an e-learning vendor is quite basic. To customize content that is most relevant to your needs, you can take an e-learning course on your own and then attend a small group session with other employees from within your company who took the same e-learning class. In this group setting, a subject matter expert from within your company can teach you how to apply the concepts and theories from the e-learning course to your job/company or answer any of your questions. For example, after you take an e-learning course on budgeting, your company can facilitate a small group session that addresses company-specific budgeting issues and requirements.
This two-pronged approach--individual and group-setting e-learning classes--enables core learning to take place at your convenience and at a reasonable expense. Also with this approach, you can learn company-specific information presented in a group setting that makes more sense and can be more easily assimilated. Then, after completing the e-learning course, your manager should observe whether or not you are beginning to use the skills learned.
Online tool kits
Many Human Resources departments or consultants offer online tool kits to help develop your skills and competencies. For example, a toolkit for managers could include a series of relatively short guides or job aids on handling tasks such as goal setting, communication, and providing feedback. A manager can access the toolkit whenever needed and leverage the tools that he/she needs at any given time. For example, during a performance review period, a manager may need resources that help explain how best to provide feedback. This online toolkit for providing feedback gives the manager the information exactly when he/she needs it.
Whichever route you take, working with your manager and Human Resources department to create a versatile development program can ensure you will have the tools needed for continual skill development and enhanced job performance. This way, when the economy returns to healthier days, you will be well positioned to advance your career, and your company will have the best employees to be first out of the gate.
Suzanne Miller is director of organizational capability and performance at Tellabs, headquartered in Naperville, IL. She may be reached via the company's Web site at www.tellabs.com.