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  • Aaron Zaslofsky

Your company doesn't support your development. Now what?

“Third time's the charm” is what a former colleague said sarcastically over breakfast. The third time in this case was the number of times she initiated discussion about her career path with her leader. The charm was the decision she made to leave her company, disillusioned by an approach to professional development that, as she said, “left her disheartened and feeling alone.” The company said the right things about how they would support her growth, but their inaction painted a different picture.

Situations like this play out in our work world too often. The reasons why are situation-specific, but these are a few I’ve encountered in conversations with my executive coaching clients.

(This list is long to make a point. Skip it if you’ve already identified a scenario true to your current or past career growth stagnation.)

  • You don't present with a specific personality, leadership profile, or match the company archetype of those they invest in.

  • The organization operates with the irresponsible belief (my view) that “development is the employee's responsibility” and absolves itself of the responsibility in the process.

  • Your emotional intelligence is undeveloped, along with corresponding self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness.

  • Your company has a talent philosophy that overvalues “meets expectations” performance at the expense of emerging high performers or those young in their career.

  • Talent management, learning and development, or organizational development/effectiveness are immature functions, or not in place at all as with some non-profits or smaller companies.

  • Development resources are allocated within business/operating units or functional areas and at the discretion of individual leaders (vs. a centralized function responsible for all employees).

  • The company budgets development resources through channels you don't participate in like rotational programs for those who are geographically mobile, or only for formally designated “top talent, high potential employees.”

  • You simply didn’t luck into the right boss, company, or position with a defined path.

I could go on, but you get the point.

So, what to do? Here are a few ideas that work and may fit you at this time in your professional growth journey:

1.     Get resourceful and discover growth potential in your community. It’s incredibly rewarding when you solve a problem yourself, especially one that benefits your growth and career. You also become capable of helping others in your professional community do the same.

Here’s an idea: identify executive/leadership coach training programs in your area or online. Those going through training need training hours for certification and some offer short-term coaching for free. I personally partnered with an executive-level HR leader who was working toward coaching certification. She offered me a six-session coaching program at no-cost. Our work together was so impactful that I re-contracted with her on my dime after our initial program finished up.

2.     Be crystal clear in your ask for support, while demonstrating your knowledge of development programs available. If you ask for generic help, who knows what you’ll get. But if you ask for something specific, you stand a better chance to receive it. You’ll also better understand the company belief in your potential if you don’t get access.

For example, when I worked for McDonald’s, I wasn’t asked to participate in a new and coveted development program within Corporate Communications. I was disappointed, for sure, but made a strong case given my interests and career path. When the program was offered the following year, I was asked to join.

I can say with certainty that my self-advocacy played a role in my invitation and that I also burnished my reputation by showing the care I had for my career. I also made sure to communicate how the company would benefit from my boosted skills and effectiveness.

3.     Selflessly self-promote your performance. A track record of performance is a prerequisite for the development/training you want and the dollars the company will spend to support you. As my dad says, “keep your head up so everyone can see your face.” Fight the old and unhelpful notion that keeping your head down will produce the recognition you need to earn scarce development dollars.

For example, I once asked to facilitate a panel of company executives on the topic of professional development. I’m serious about my development and realized that aligning myself with the topic in a public forum would be helpful to my career. I was also able to demonstrate strong executive presence, which is a top consideration when companies determine who gets development dollars. And one other benefit? Facilitation of the panel allowed me time with executive participants during the planning process, one of whom became a cherished mentor of mine.

4.     Pursue those who share your drive and ambitions. You’ll likely only find a few folks with similar aspirations, which makes for fewer relationships to cultivate, but ones of greater depth and meaning.

As you identify peers with shared ambitions, be thoughtful about who can and will help you in a specific moment. Know that not everyone is ready to dedicate the time and creativity to their development at this point in their life, which is OK.

What does this look like in practice? I formed a coaching circle with three professionals who shared my interest in growth and mutual benefit. They were willing to push me to go deeper and to explore my issues from different angles. We met monthly and rotated the “spotlight” on a different person each time. As we shared our career hopes and frustrations, we built trust and confidence in one another. I felt truly cared for in my career and became comfortable asking for help and sharing my disappointments, which had always been hard for me.

The coaching circle was so useful (and inspirational) that I plan to form another group soon.

Now it’s your turn to avail yourself of guidance and encouragement from trusted peers. As you do, you’ll find the type of fulfillment that comes from being imaginative and resourceful in service of your own career path.

First time’s the charm!

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